Most of Storm Damage to Ocean Beach Pier Is in Its New Railings

by on January 10, 2023 · 11 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The UT ran a story on Sunday, January 8, about the OB Pier damage. In the story were three pictures. On close examination, it was apparent that two of the three pictures are of a section of old railing. These pictures show a stanchion that detached from the deck. This was the only part of the old railing to suffer damage.

The third picture piqued this writer’s interest because it showed the new railing, new this year.

This year, about 1,000 feet of rail on the south side was replaced. The stanchions are all new and were all moved back about 18” from the edge of the pier, which was where the old stanchions were. This was done because the edge of the pier is so badly deteriorated. The only way to set the new stanchions in good concrete was to move them in.

The picture looked odd from a construction point of view. Why did the rails all seem to detach identically and only from one end?

A view of the whole pier on the south side revealed something disturbing. The new railing is damaged from one end to the other, virtually all of it.

What is disturbing is that the old rail sections only suffered one area of damage, the one shown in the UT article with the downed stanchion.

What is also disturbing is that much of the new rail damage is to areas in the higher section of the pier.

This extensive damage to brand new railing, and the way the rail planks disconnected so uniformly from one end but not the other, hints to this writer at the very real possibility of inferior construction work or inferior repair design.

Yes, this was big surf and a big tide, but why did only the new rail get damaged, why so much of it, and why was the railing up as high as the restaurant damaged? Perhaps the city will have some answers at its next pier meeting.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb January 10, 2023 at 9:56 am

Geoff, I can’t recall if the repairs were done by city crews or by a contractor. Do you know?

One of my pet peeves for years has been the poor quality of work done by the City’s various contractors. The city pays top dollar, but accepts shoddy work. I know from experience that it can be very uncomfortable for a government employee to hold a contractor’s feet to the fire over the quality of work performed (the contractor will often go to the political body that is the employee’s ultimate boss), but it is is a waste of public dollars not to require acceptable work.

I look at sidewalks in my neighborhood that were poured over 100 years ago that are in perfect condition but new paving poured less than five years ago is already crumbling. Disgraceful!


Geoff Page January 10, 2023 at 11:26 am

I don’t know, Paul, but I plan to follow up and see who designed it and who built it.

I also know from experience how the city handles construction. First, they don’t really pay what I’d call top dollar, city projects do not result in great profits for contractors. As for shoddy work, I would agree to a point. I also know that the city cuts as many corners as it can when it is paying the bill.

Like the sidewalks you mentioned. When I managed work in the streets for the telcom underground construction, they held us to a much higher standard than their crews or contractors working for the city. When we cut into a sidewalk, we were required to replace the entire square of concrete. Look at my street where they redid the sewer and water some years ago. The sidewalks are now a patchwork quilt. They cut into the sidewalks to place clean0uts and cut just enough to place them and patch around them.

Another example is the bike lane going south on Nimitz before West Point Loma. Before they recently repaved, that lane was a roller coaster from a patched trench underground along that curb. That was horrible finish work but it was a city job.

I’m going to guess that city crews did the pier repair, let’s see if I’m right.


FrankF January 10, 2023 at 11:52 am

Looking at the photo, it seems those board were screwed in place, probably with galvanized lag screw. They should have been through-bolted with stainless steel bolts/nut. The cost difference to use stainless would be a couple of thousand dollars. And why weren’t they bolted on the weather side of the stanchions??

The reason they all failed at one end is physics. The waves were coming in at a angle from the southwest. The boards failed at the east end of each section. The attachment at the west end of the board was protected from the waves by by the 4″ x 6″ stanchion.

In other words, the energy of the waves coming in at an angle built up along the length of those boards as the wave was passing through, most likely bending the board and creating stress on those lag screws, resulting in the screws at the east end of each section, pulling out. Kind of like a whip.

OTOH, those boards may have been attached that way for a reason, to fail in high surf to protect the stanchions.

Nope I’m not an engineer, only an old guy who has had to deal with poorly designed stuff breaking.


Geoff Page January 10, 2023 at 12:16 pm

I agree about how they were attached, especially this, “And why weren’t they bolted on the weather side of the stanchions??” That would have made sense, you think. When I build a fence to keep dogs in, I screw them in on the dog’s side, common sense.

While I kind of agree about the wave action comment, I have to wonder. Once loose on one end, the boards would have been buffeted back and forth all day but the one end still held. Makes no sense to me why the other end didn’t.

As for being designed to break away, I don’t know, what would be the purpose? We’ll see.


Frank Gormlie January 11, 2023 at 9:17 am

There’s been numerous articles and videos from local media about the closure of the OB Pier — but NONE have reporting like this. Credit Geoff Page.


kh January 11, 2023 at 11:32 am

Maybe (doubtfully) the city got smart and used weaker anchor hardware that would be more sacrificial than previously?

The last time the railing had damage many of the anchors tore chunks of concrete out, exposing rebar beneath. We can’t afford to lose more of it.

Also my unscientific observations is this storm’s waves were peaking and hitting further out than before, even hitting the cafe. This seemed to break up the wave energy and put less impacts on the dip in the pier. Even the lesser unbroken waves were further below the pier deck at the dip. I suspect this is due to the seabed formation/height which varies year to year.


Paul Grimes January 12, 2023 at 9:54 pm

The repair still used wooden posts and sideboards. If the system was made of metal, the pipes would be thinner and waves would flow through. The metal area would be at the low point where waves hit – then there should be wooden boards that could be locked in place and easily removed when a storm was approaching – pier would have to be closed when they are temporarily removed. Using wood and leaving the boards under the assault of waves will continue to knock them down under these storms.


Geoff Page January 13, 2023 at 1:52 pm

I agree, Paul, this could have been much better done with different materials. The fact that the whole new rail section was damaged is very telling.


Chris January 16, 2023 at 11:51 am

Very nice write up, thank you Geoff!

My first thought about the affected section all being new: perhaps due to the dynamic of the break there, that’s where most of the storm stress hits (otherwise, why would that part of the railing be new?).

The lag screws do seem shoddy, although as another commenter said it may be “designed to fail” to avoid greater damage.


Geoff Page January 16, 2023 at 12:53 pm

That long section of rail is new, not because it was damaged previously, but because the engineering assessment of the pier showed the outer edge of the deck was crumbling and the steel inside was rusting. They moved that whole section in from the edge by 18″ because they were worried it was unsafe.


nostalgic January 16, 2023 at 4:28 pm

I watched them build the pier from where I lived, many years ago. My rent was $120. a month. The pier sloped down as it was built, until the winter came. Then it started to slope up. That was the engineering approach then.


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