Ocean Beach Planning Board Approves City’s Concept Design for New Library

by on September 9, 2022 · 21 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The future of the Ocean Beach Library was the single topic at the OB Planning Board’s regular monthly meeting Wednesday September 7. That future was moved a step closer when the board voted to approve a specific concept for the future library that will move the design and permitting process along.

The meeting was held at the New Break church on Ebers St. where the city of San Diego made a presentation titled “Ocean Beach Library Expansion Survey Results.” The survey was taken to see which of three concept designs for the library expansion and remodel the public preferred. The survey received 44 on-line results and 120 hand held results according to the city. A total of only 164 people chimed in, which seems a pretty small number for all of Ocean Beach.

Concept #2 received 84 votes as the winner. Concept #1 was second at 54 votes and concept #3 received only 26 votes. That means the voices of only 84 people, in all of OB, decided the concept design. But, the result would probably be fine with most people.

The meeting itself was a bit bizarre in some ways even though the end result was agreeable to most. For example, the festivities opened with our councilmember Jennifer Campbell. She was introduced and bounded to the front like a comic emcee has just been introduced. She actually said “Hi everybody, Dr. J here, your councilmember!”

Once the confusion cleared in this writer’s head, it became apparent that Campbell came forward in the Government Reports portion of the regular meeting agenda that occurs at every meeting. The various reports are usually provided by representatives from the city, the county, and even the state.

Campbell’s rep was there but Campbell seemed eager for some spotlight so she gave the report herself. Her report consisted of two things. The first was announcing the council’s support for Proposition 1 on the November ballot. It is a reproductive rights bill, a reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision on abortion. This is the current feel-good bandwagon today, guaranteed to elicit good press.

The second thing Campbell talked about was the vendor ordinance. She just repeated what has been in the news for over a week with nothing new. It looked like she was expecting a big atta girl from the crowd. There was very light clapping. But this was just her prelim, more later.

Once Campbell yielded the stage, two women came forward to read statements during the Non-Agenda Public Comment portion of the meeting. Leigh Eisen, Executive Vice President & CEO of AIA (American Institute of Architects) San Diego spoke first. The second woman was an architect. Both spoke on the same theme, that the city’s decision not to use a professional architect was a mistake and unprecedented.

The architects are very disturbed that the city decided to design the project in-house using a civil engineer. They alleged that this is a highly unusual departure from past practices on city projects. Eisen mentioned several architects in the city who had designed city libraries in the past. They want the city to reconsider this decision, which was the subject of a September 7 OB Rag story.

With a lifetime spent in the construction industry, what the representatives for the architects had to say made a lot of sense. This opinion is based on experience with cities and their internal design capabilities. The idea of doing the design in-house by people who admittedly had never designed a library, and were not architects, sounded like a bad idea.

Until the city began to talk about design-build.


When the city explained that it had chosen the “design-build” contract delivery method, the architect’s complaint began to fade. Simply put, design-build involves one entity designing and building a project as opposed to a project that is completely designed, bid out, and then built by the winner.

In traditional design-bid-build contracting, the contractor and designer are contracted separately with an owner.  A design-build entity consists of a contractor and a designer in a partnership. There are many advantages to this method, the main ones being a much faster and cheaper way to build.

In order to select a design-builder, an owner has to create a “concept” for the design-builders to propose on. Concepts usually consist of a minimal plan designed to 30% or less of the final design. The concept is created so the design-builders have a basis for their proposals.

The design may change a lot, depending on ideas from the design-builders, but the main specific features the owner wants will be included. So, the concept design is really just a reflection of what the owner wants, in this case the community of OB, and may not require an architect’s touch.

The concepts were all exterior designs. There was no discussion of the interior because what is needed now is an exterior design the city can take to the Coastal Commission for approval — the interior is not an issue yet.

Since the city only needs to provide this basic concept to begin the permitting process, an architect perhaps is not needed. An architect will become involved once the design-builder is awarded the project and will complete the design then.


After the AIA comments, the floor was given to the city. Shannon Stoks was the city’s spokesperson. She was backed up by several other members of the city’s project team. Before she began, she gave the floor to Cory Bruins, president of the OB Town Council.

Cory came bounding, up much like Campbell, and took the mike to cheerlead the crowd. It felt like being at a self-help seminar. He gave a rousing speech in favor of the project and praised everyone. He was all excited to know that a “community room” was to be included in the design and he got a cheer for that. Even though the interior was not discussed again.

Then, Bruins handed the mike back to Campbell.

Campbell got up and proceeded to take all the credit for the progress on the library project including getting all the money. She said she started working on the library the minute she got into office. She claimed she got $100k and later $500k devoted to the library. This has yet to be fact-checked.

Campbell then took credit for the $4.5 million from the state saying that her close friendship with Toni Atkins made that possible. Also, not yet fact-checked. Then, she said she was working on getting another $4.5 million from the feds through Scott Peters, taking credit before the “ask money” is actually realized.

The budget for the project is $11.9 million. The current in hand total is $7.5 million, the state contribution and a very generous, anonymous $3 million donation. The “ask money” would make up the remainder of the $11.9 million. What was blatantly missing was any contribution from the city of San Diego.

Campbell’s blatant campaign performance was difficult to watch– it was a politician at their worst, hi-jacking a meeting about a library design to promote her own political career. The lack of shame was, frankly, shameful.

The City’s presentation included a time line. It started with a controversial meeting in November 2021, recounted here in The Rag. https://obrag.org/2021/11/public-input-not-allowed-for-new-ob-library-design-is-ocean-beach-getting-the-shaft-again/

The next step in the time line was May 2022 when three architectural concepts were presented at the OB Town Council. This was followed by surveys commenting on those designs collected from May 31 to July 8. This amounted to about five and a half weeks.

The timeline stated, “Friends of the Library and local volunteers participated in community engagement activities (OB Farmer’s Market, Chili Cook-off) to get feedback from interested parties.”

The last step in the timeline was this meeting seeking to get approval from the planning board “to move forward with the Community’s preferred concept.”

Once the OBPB gives it approval, the plan is to develop a coastal development permit submittal. Once the permit is obtained, the city would then begin to hire a design-builder.

A community member asked when actual construction might begin and the city said the fall of 2024. The time in between will be devoted to preliminary design and obtaining the coastal permit and other environmental permits too.

Survey Result Comments

The presentation contained comments on various aspects of the proposed project, the first being landscape options. The survey showed an unsurprising majority favoring drought-tolerant plants. Several survey comments were reproduced on the slides which Stoks, unfortunately, read word for word. She proceeded to do so on all of the following slides.

There were comments on how the community thought the courtyard should be used. There were comments on exterior furnishings like chairs and benches. There were clarification comments, some of which were interesting.

A commentor asked that the addition match the old library and Stoks said that would actually be a violation of Historic Standards. “The Addition should [be] distinct but cohesive and should not be the star of the show.” Another comment about removing the grass lawn was answered by saying that could not be done because it would also violate the Historic Standards. That’ right, folks, historic grass.

One of the last slides contained ideas that were also read word for word.  These included ideas for a lot of native plant stuff, floor materials that would reduce noise from library carts, and an “Ocean or Ocean Beach themed décor.”

Board Action

After public discussion the matter went to the board for discussion and a vote. It appeared that the general consensus was to approve the design and keep the project moving along. There were comments on the design but there were no serious objections.

The motion to approve basically said the board approved Concept #2 for the basis for a design-build contract and to use for coastal commission approval.

Once the coastal permit is in gear, the item will come back to the OBPB for coastal permit approval. This gives the board a second look at the project.

The vote to approve was unanimous with one abstention from a board member who is employed by one of the consultants on the project.

The city has posted all the project information at this link https://www.sandiego.gov/OceanBeachLibraryExpansion.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

kh September 9, 2022 at 2:43 pm

This differs from the typical design-build process in that the city must go well beyond the typical conceptual/schematic design phase to obtain a coastal development permit.

They will have to essentially design the entire architectural shell and floor plan, pass it through historic review, palentological review, zoning, setback, envelope review, etc. in order to submit for a Coastal Development Permit. If these staffers haven’t done their homework to date, the concept could end up changing drastically based on that review process.

Only after that is completed, and they obtain the CDP, will they engage the design-build contractor. Which pretty much means how many sticks do I need to hold this roof up, how do I waterproof it, what products do I use, etc. That design-build effort will have to largely conform to whatever is approved in the Coastal Permit.

The criticism from the AIA was specifically over excluding professional architects from the conceptual design phase. A valid point, but since the current concept seems acceptable, we may never know what we’re missing. Maybe it wouldn’t look like a converted garage, for starters.

I believe the city referenced the dog beach restrooms as evidence of a successful, award winning, city-designed project. That was before my time, but do the facts bear that out? There were private architects involved, and the project timeline dragged out due to the city underestimating the budget.

To the city’s credit, the public involvement on this was unprecedented. They generally develop their concepts behind closed doors and do not present anything to the community until it’s fully developed and ready to submit for the CDP… which of course means any input will likely be ignored.


Lyle September 10, 2022 at 8:36 am

Rgarding the comment “dog beach restrooms as evidence of a successful, award winning, city-designed project”; the dog beach restrooms interior design is basically the same as the uch older life-guard tower restrooms with a similar gross, messy and smelly result. Contrast that with the restrooms at the north end of La Jolla Shores, which are in a boring-looking building but are easy to keep clean and have no common areas so if someone makes a mess it is isolatated to that particular cubicle. Many AIA-member architects seem to concentrate on outwardly-beautiful monuments that aren’t so good when it comes to day-to-day usage and maintenance. Can anyone remember a building receiving an “Orchid” for being easy to clean and/or cheap to maintain ?


Geoff Page September 12, 2022 at 12:12 pm

That restroom project was called the Brighton Rest Station and it was an unmitigated disaster, they spent $1 million on that little building. Hardly a shining example of anything but incompetence.


Frank Gormlie September 12, 2022 at 12:45 pm

Ah, me hardies, but don’t forget it was an award-winning building that has quotes and headlines from actual pages of the OB Rag on its ceiling.


Geoff Page September 12, 2022 at 1:11 pm

Those quotes are the only thing worthwhile in that building besides the toilets.


No design, just build September 12, 2022 at 4:19 pm

Lyle, are there any buildings you consider “good when it comes to day-to-day usage and maintenance”? If so, guess what, chances are 99 times out of 100 an architect also designed that building.

Architects don’t only do “Orchid” buildings.

I would certainly agree that design considerations for long-term maintenance of a building are very important. That is why it is even more important through formal interviews that clients select a professional architectural organization experienced in the related building type and one that meets their overall expectations for designing for long term building performance, and not making selections only on the basis of being an ‘Orchid’ architect.

It is possible for a building to be beautiful and also functional.

In the case of the OB Library, we can at least still hope for functional.


nostalgic September 10, 2022 at 7:03 am

A design for the OB library was completed and presented about 20 years ago. The Friends of the Library reviewed it, and asked that the restrooms not be right inside the parking lot door, and invisible from the front desk. That design was abandoned with no further mention. Maybe this one will meet the same fate. Perhaps some OB historian will remember the budget for the first design and make a comparison for us. What year was the building next door bought by the city for the new OB Library? It was shortly after that.


Tessa September 10, 2022 at 10:38 am

I think the city learned that community involvment was a key for a project so seemingly small yet so important to OB. I hope other communities will benefit from the city learning some flexibility in this regard.
As for the design, and whether it would have been improved with AIA input, guess we’ll never know.
As for horn tooting, the group that certainly does deserve it is the stalward crew that makes up the OB Friends of the Library, pushing the proverbial rock up the hill to help get this project to this point. A shout out should also go to the anonymous donor that came forward with the first $3 million
Native plants will be great in this, our warming planet. Another idea I’ve heard is to get an arts council grant and have an abstract sculpture outside giving recognition to the fact that the land was originally occupied by the Kumeyaay.


Debbie September 10, 2022 at 11:43 am

Yes, Friends of the Library work tirelessly and with passion moving things along :-)


laplayaheritage September 12, 2022 at 10:15 am

Great article Geoff.

Just some clarification regarding Historic Designation and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties


Any addition can be a match to the original, but not an exact match.
The easy solution is to use paint with the same general color with a slightly different shade.

A great example of historic restoration is located in the Prado walkways and archway entrances in Balboa Park, which was San Diego first Historical Designation (Historical Resources Board HBR #1).

Notice the slight change in color for the new rehabilitated embellishments above the arches. From light tan (original) to dark tan (rehabilitated).


The front entrance of Balboa Park’s Museum of Art has another great example of the color change for restoration, to distinguish it from the original building.

In conclusion, any historical library addition should complement the original, and be painted in a slightly different color.

I did see that the Library was Historically Designated under Three Criteria:
A (Cultural Landscape);
C (Architecture);
F (Contributor to a District)

I cannot find the original 12/20/2002 HRB Report to confirm what the City meant by “Cultural Landscape.” Was the City talking about the actual grass or the culture of Ocean Beach? Criteria A does not necessarily mean the actual landscaping, especially if it not special. Without the original 12/20/2002 HRB Report I cannot confirm is the grass is historical, or not.

The City’s HRB Designation Criteria Guidelines discuss Criteria A

Criteria: “A. exemplifies or reflects special elements of the City’s, a community’s, or a neighborhood’s, historical, archaeological, cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, engineering, landscaping or architectural development;”

Again, great reporting.


Geoff Page September 12, 2022 at 12:10 pm

Katheryn, thanks for all that good additional information. I think maybe the city’s library team needs to read this.


laplayaheritage September 19, 2022 at 8:06 pm

HRB Minutes state Criteria A is for “Community Development,” not “Cultural Landscaping” as shown on the HRB List of Historic Designations. Therefore, the Grass is not historical, and the landscape can be changed.

HRB Staff Report

Historic Designation Report

“CRITERION A – Exemplifies or reflects special elements ofthe City’s, a community’s or a neighborhood’s historical, archaeological, cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, engineering, landscaping or architectural development.

The Ocean Beach Library is an important part of Ocean Beach’s cultural and social development, as well as a reflection ofthe importance of satellite library facilities in areas outside of downtown. The consultant’s addendum report concludes that the Ocean Beach Library is not significant because no significant persons or events were associated with it. This conclusion addresses HRB Criterion B, rather than Criterion A. Development in Ocean Beach began to be more varied starting about 1926. Commercial zoning was established on Newport Avenue, and the area transitioned from a bedroom community into a full-fledged seaside resort community. The Ocean Beach Library was an important civic use and building to support the resort community for both locals and visitors. Although the character of much development surrounding the Library has changed, the Library is in its original setting and continues to support the mix ofresidential, commercial and institutional uses nearby. The library was purpose-built in1928, and has continued to perform the important social and cultural functions to this day. Based on the analysis above, staff is recommending designation under HRB CRITERION A (Community Development).”

Minutes for 12/20/2002 with Item 13 the Ocean Beach Library.
Designation of the Ocean Beach Library as a Historical Resource
Staff Recommendation: Designate based on HRB CRITERIA
A (Community Development),
C (Architecture), and
F (Historic District).

Testimony Received:
In Support by:
Priscilla McCoy, Madelyn Dibble, Carol Bowers, Margery Grant, and Pat James representing the Ocean Beach Historical Society; Garrie Trussell, Ocean Beach Main Street Association; Estella M. Holmquist, representing Ocean Beach Branch Friends of the Library; Barbara Lacometti, resident.




laplayaheritage September 12, 2022 at 10:28 am

As of 07/31/2022, the City of San Diego has $2.655 BILLION in Fund Balances, with hundred of million available to pay the rest of the funding for the Ocean Beach Library project.

And with Leadership, more than enough hoarded Cash for a new OB Lifeguard Station now.

On 06/30/2021, on Pages 172-173, the City’s FY-2021 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) document a Fund Balance of $2.081 BILLION.

In 13 months, by hoarding Cash from the Federal and State Governments for COVID-19, the City increased it Fund Balance by +$574 MILLION, mostly in CASH.

Over a Half Billion in hoarded new revenue, with no plans for spending the newly acquired CASH. While Council Member Jen Campbell pretends the City is poor, and does not know where the rest of the money for the OB Library project will be found.


Geoff Page September 12, 2022 at 12:14 pm

Again, excellent information, Kathryn. It astonishes me that the city is kicking in virtually nothing to build this project. Libraries are part of a city government’s basic responsibilities and they can find any money.


sealintheselkirks September 13, 2022 at 10:29 am

Don’t worry, Geoff, I’m SURE the city has a plan to use all that hoarded Covid-19 money and, probably like so many others, it will go to cops and jails since that’s all politicians seem to be willing to fund with money that SHOULD have gone to help people. It sure does seem that an enormous amount of all that cash did absolutely nothing to help citizens…



No design, just build September 12, 2022 at 3:56 pm

In response to The City’s justification to the process being ‘it doesn’t matter what it looks like now, it’s going to be design-build.’

kh comment explains why this isn’t a valid argument for this project.

Additionally, the fox guarding the hen house condition that occurs with Design Build historically never generates a more beautiful building than started with. Once the contract is signed that’s as good as you’re gonna get, or worse!


Geoff Page September 13, 2022 at 10:27 am

I have to disagree, design/build can result in a better design as long as it doesn’t go over the city’s budget.


No design, just build September 13, 2022 at 2:47 pm

In typical design build contracts the Prime is the general contractor and the architects and engineers are working for the general contractor. GCs are incentivized to build projects as economically as possible. I.e. Fox guarding the hen house.


Geoff Page September 13, 2022 at 4:23 pm

Well, that doesn’t match my experience, the contractor and the designer are a firm and work together under one contract with the owner. It’s a partnership. In some, the contractor may be bigger and be running the show and in others, the design professionals run the show.

The only time GC is incentivized to build as economically as possible is on a lump sum project. Less incentive on a unit priced project. A design-build contract is much different, it is a budget.


kh September 13, 2022 at 5:14 pm

If the biggest priority is to get it done quickly and on budget, design-build is certainly my preference.

But I’d say design-bid-build is more likely to result in a superior final product, as more parties are invested, and more opportunity for competition, but those competing interests also risk a longer timeline and change orders.

Regardless, conceptual/schematic design is the most critical part of the process.


nostalgic September 12, 2022 at 4:43 pm

If the city has all this money, why can’t the keep the library we have open for more hours?


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