Public Input Not Allowed on New OB Library Design – Is Ocean Beach Getting the Shaft, Again?

by on November 5, 2021 · 15 comments

in Ocean Beach

City Presentation of New OB Library Design Unsatisfactory

By Geoff Page

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Ocean Beach’s water…

No doubt the thought of coming to Ocean Beach, to speak for the City of San Diego, strikes terror in city employees. The largely negative reaction the city received at the November 3 Ocean Planning Board meeting presentation on the new OB Library expansion was an illustration why.

The meeting Wednesday night was held at the Water’s Edge Church, which struck this writer as a bit ironic. Some very definitely negative comments were expressed, which would not be unusual for a regular planning board meeting but seemed out of place in a church. Certainly, the venue did not discourage anyone.

The library discussion was the reason for the venue as the church had room for a large crowd that eventually swelled to 50+ people.

The city began with a presentation by Shannon Stoks, whose title is Project Manager/ Architectural Design. Two other city employees sat in the audience but said nothing. One did answer a question near the end, very briefly. Ms. Stoks carried the burden of the presentation and the subsequent criticisms.

Ms. Stoks has a cheerful disposition and somehow managed to smile throughout the ordeal. She appeared knowledgeable and was able to answer specific questions easily.

Where the evening went off the rails was when the audience began to realize that they were not there to contribute to the concept for the new library but were there to be told what the concept was. Apparently, according to Ms. Stoks, “The concept was already approved.”

When asked directly by this writer who approved the concept, the response was completely amorphous. Stoks appeared to struggle with the answer. She said it was approved by the Historical Board and by the Friends of the Library and by some city departments.

The expectation would be that approval of the concept for the new OB library would have come in a more formal process instead of what appeared to be a piece-by-piece method. And, in order to obtain those kinds of approvals for normal projects, someone has to come up with a design in the first place.  It looks like that was the city.

The approval that was clearly not obtained was this  community’s.

During the October OBPB meeting, Mary Cairns from the Friends of the Library explained that the city’s process only required a presentation to the OBPB and nothing else regarding public input. Cairns pushed for a public meeting to discuss the design and the OBPB responded. This “opportunity” for public input unfortunately looked more like folks waiting at a train station and watching the train just whiz on by.

The second strongest criticism during the evening was how the design was being handled.  The city is designing the library in-house and that drew a raft of criticisms, not surprisingly led by a number of local architects.

One of the first things asked had to do with the experience and credentials of the city staff working on the project. Two other people besides Stoks, were listed on the PowerPoint presentation.  They were Nikki Lewis, Civil Engineer and Christian Ruvalcaba, Architectural Design. It was established that no one working on the design was an architect.

When asked if anyone had actually designed a library, Stoks said she “worked on” the Julian library project but, beyond that, this specific experience appeared to be lacking. When asked why the city was designing this in-house instead of using a professional architect, the response was it would be less expensive.

This sort of an answer brings groans from people who understand how the city works. One issue is how the city accounts for its costs meaning projects do not show all the costs that actually go into them. Another, even more important issue is how the building holds up in the coming years. Poor decisions on the initial design can result in costs down the road that do contribute to the cost of the decision to save money on the cost of the design team.

Some of the architects attending stated they would have provided design services pro bono had the city consulted them, because they live in the community.  Stoks was asked how much would be saved by designing in-house. The answer appeared to be about $400,000 or $1.1 million compared to $1.5 million using private architects.  The overall budget was around $10 million meaning the design costs were about 10% of the total.  This drew a reaction from the architects because their fees usually run to 6% or less for their work.

The Design

The existing library is somewhere between 4,579/SF and 5,095/SF. An extension will add 4,205/SF. This will expand the library to somewhere between 8,784/SF to 9300/SF. Figures vary a little depending on the source.

The library has an historical designation. It opened in 1928. A small addition was built in 1962. The extension will be on the west side.  The building now on that side will be demolished and a new building will be constructed.

The inside of the existing library will be reconfigured and with the extension will contain:

  • An expanded book collection area
  • A community meeting room with kitchenette
  • A courtyard adjacent to the meeting room
  • A children’s area
  • Study rooms
  • Office space
  • A Teen area
  • Storage rooms
  • New restrooms

One area where it seemed the public was thrown a bone was landscaping.  The city presented two design “palettes.” One palette was a drought tolerant design and the other was a “tropical” design. The public gets to weigh in on which palette it prefers.

What was in short supply were details about the extension. It was intended to fit in with the design of the existing building but did not have to match it exactly. It was under 30 feet tall at around 25 feet. But, it was a one story building with very high ceilings.

Former OBPB member Dan Dennison was critical of the high ceilings.  He said there was no need for the high ceiling and that it would be more expensive to build and to heat and cool, which would conflict with city policy regarding reducing energy consumption. Dennison also said the high ceiling would cause acoustical problems during public meetings. He said a single-story design would be preferable for aesthetic reasons as it would match well with the existing structure.

Dennison’s point was well taken. The high ceiling seems to be an unnecessary architectural flair. But, this is exactly the kind of thing the community should have had a say in and not just be told the extension will have a high ceiling.

A few questions by Mark Winkie, former OBTC president, had to do with public meetings. He asked if the area will be open after library hours and was told it would be.  There are separate doors that lead directly to the community meeting area and the courtyard, which can be used together if necessary.  The meeting room should fit 85 to 100 people and the courtyard will accommodate a lot more people.

Kathy Blavatt of the OB Historical Society asked if there would be public art for the project and was told the Arts Commission did not allocate any money for that to the library.  The explanation was that project was not eligible for a public art set aside due to the library’s designation as an historical resource. There is a plan to install portable artworks from the Civic Art Collection inside the expanded library.

According to board member Tracy Dezenzo, who sits on the Arts and Culture Commission, there are some really amazing pieces in the public art collection that can be used in the interior.

Dezenzo said “For the new and non-historic wing, it may be that we will have to do a place making application and get the (Arts) Commission’s approval. That is a really cool way of getting art for public spaces but it would have to be paid for by the community or a donor.” Dezenzo provided this link:

The design is one thing, money to actually build the project is another and the money is not there yet. At the October OBPB meeting, Mary Cairns mentioned the library received a $3 million anonymous donation toward construction costs. During her presentation, Stoks said the original budget was $8.5 million but that needed to be updated as the estimate was a few years old. The current rough estimate is around $10 million. Considering the explosion is the cost of construction materials, any estimate today would be difficult.

In the end, the lack of an opportunity for public input and the city deciding to design it themselves, soured the mood. Looking at it objectively, however, this is a small project and there is not a lot that can be done with the space.  The floor plan seems to have everything anyone would want, certainly no one spoke up and complained about anything specific being left out.

Perhaps the arrangement of the floor plan could be improved, certainly the height of the addition could be questioned, and maybe some design features to the outside of the addition could be up for discussion. And, perhaps the public should have had an opportunity to be in the discussion about who designs the project. This is public money and the public should have a say.

After a career in the construction industry, with experience dealing with the city and many other agencies, this writer, for one, would opt for using a private industry architect. One reason is accountability.

A more important reason to use an architect would be experience.  Since this city team does not have library design experience, one has to wonder why the library in Ocean Beach is getting this treatment. Looking at the city website listing library building projects, the ones that provide information all show private architects as the designers.  Is OB getting the shaft, yet again?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

George November 5, 2021 at 11:41 am

Just one observation about the proposed high ceilings. I wouldn’t consider high ceilings to be simply “architectural flair.” A high ceiling also means the room will have a greater volume of air. We know now, more than ever, that more air when lots of people share space inside is better for our health. I only hope those high ceilings means there will be more operable windows to facilitate circulation of fresh air from outside.


kh November 5, 2021 at 3:56 pm

None of those high windows are going to be openable, and perhaps none of the low ones either. There is the potential for a large opening to the patio, in fair weather.

New buildings aren’t really designed with natural ventilation in mind, as it is difficult to control and adds energy consumption. But the hvac system will most certainly be designed to provide fresh air requirements based on CO2 measurements in the space.


Debbie November 6, 2021 at 2:50 am

This segment explains the benefits of air circulation.

Why didn’t the city ask for pro bono designs from local architects with cost design a major priority and make this library a WOW?


George November 6, 2021 at 9:58 am

Thanks for posting this 60 Minutes segment, Debbie. It was a good one.

Also, following up on my original comment, I’d like to point to the latest guidance from the California Department of Public Health:

“In general, the greater the number of people in an indoor environment, the greater the need for ventilation with outdoor air.”


George November 6, 2021 at 10:02 am

The above CDC guidance also says:

“Keep windows and other sources of natural ventilation open to the greatest extent possible.”


Tessa November 5, 2021 at 3:57 pm

Here’s hoping that the city will hire a private architect – if only to firm up a design that seems to meet most of the stated goals of the O B community. We’ve been waiting for a long time, so it would be nice to have that added assurance and experience. Thanks to the city and to all who’ve worked so hard to get us this far.


kh November 5, 2021 at 3:58 pm

I did notice the irony of the city specifying palm trees for aesthetics while they try to kill them in front of everywhere else’s house in the name of canopy/environmentalism/airport.


PMcKeon November 5, 2021 at 4:00 pm

I have been unable to see a rendering of the exterior of the current plan. Can anyone assist me? Thanks


Frank Gormlie November 5, 2021 at 4:32 pm

The top graphics to the article are such.


Bruce Coons November 5, 2021 at 9:19 pm

That is truly one of the ugliest new designs I’ve seen and I have seen some doozy’s in recent years. Should not be allowed.


Meas Misa November 5, 2021 at 9:50 pm

you keep calling it a new library. it is library demolition plan.


Geoff Page November 6, 2021 at 11:09 am

They are not demolishing the existing library. The building next to it is being demolished to make way for the extension.


Dan Gallagher November 6, 2021 at 10:24 am

Public input is part of the project development and environmental review process.


Kathleen Blavatt November 8, 2021 at 10:37 am

Why do they have a “Teen Room”? Why not a general meeting room for different groups to use? Can it be a teen room for certain hrs. if it is needed? Is nobody going to be able use the room during school hour… or only teens that are ditching school or drop-outs?
I know the OB Historical Society needs a meeting room for some of its board meetings. I bet there are other organizations too.
Also, the programs that the Friend’s of the Library puts on many times packed the room, maybe they conference rum should hold more people?
I think more thought needs to go into the design and its uses.


Mary Cairns November 9, 2021 at 11:04 am

Kathleen: There are 2 rooms for “meetings” in the current renderings…1) the larger community room that is designed to hold approx. 100-125 people (and more if you include folk out on the patio); and 2) the “teen room.” The community room can be used for musical events (we have suggested having a piano available), Friends meetings, OBHS and OBTC and other meetings, an area for the Friends book sales, etc. The “teen” room has been mentioned to be flexible, that is, storage space for equipment for a maker space, a room for after school tutoring, a room for homework, small meetings, etc. This “teen” room would also have a large window facing the front desk area (similar to the downstair rooms at the PL Library). I hope this provides additional information for you.


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