Here’s Why the Ocean Beach Pier Must Be Replaced

by on April 5, 2023 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach

OB Pier Crusher by Joe Ewing, Valentine’s Day, 2010

[Editordude: we’re reposting Rag writer Geoff Page’s seminal report on the state of the Ocean Beach Pier, “Unless there’s a miracle, the Ocean Beach Pier is history,” published 2 years ago almost to the day. One of the reasons we’re reposting it is to remind our readers of the true nature of the pier’s significant deterioration and to throw a wave of reality at those San Diego politicians who continue to equivocate over how horrible and unsafe the pier is, and who dangle promises of reopening the pier for this summer.]

Originally posted April 13, 2021.

By Geoff Page

After three years of trying to obtain a copy, the city finally coughed up the engineering report on the Ocean Beach Pier.  As expected, the pier is in real trouble. The OCEAN BEACH FISHING PIER Draft Evaluation Report, dated September 3, 2019, was not shared with the public by former Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

The current District 2 councilmember Jen Campbell has not shared it either.

This report explains why the city is closing the pier every time the surf is even head high. The closings have been much more frequent than in the past when the pier was only closed when it was actually damaged. The city is worried about the pier.

The Executive Summary of the report stated:

“During the inspection, areas of significant deterioration of the primary structural elements was observed. Seven piles were found to have spalling, while 25% of the piles were cracked. There is also significant corrosion in the majority of the pile caps and the soffit of the deck panels.

The capacity of the damaged areas is explored. To ensure the continued use of the structure, these deficiencies must be addressed. Of primary concern is the damaged piles and locations where the deck panels are losing the prestressing strands in the soffit.”

Translated, this means that seven of the column-like structures, or piles, under the pier are in serious need of attention and the concrete at the tops of these pile structures is in trouble on most of the pier. The deck is failing in places too.

Location of worse section.

Briefly, the pier structure consists of the piles anchored in rock underwater running side by side and topped by a large cross member at the tops called a pile cap.  This combination of piles and caps are called “bents.”  Beams run from bent to bent to support the deck.  The deck consists mostly of prefabricated, pretensioned concrete slabs.

Deck underside.

Pretensioned concrete slabs have strands of strong wire running through them end to end. During manufacture, these strands are stretched to a certain tension and anchored on each end.  The strands add strength to the slab and allow for use of less concrete making them lightweight and flexible.  But, when strands break, as some have, the concrete is weakened.

The 364-page pier report was written by Moffatt & Nichol, a well-respected, experienced marine engineering firm. As explained in the previous OB Rag piece on the pier, this firm was paid almost $700,000 to provide an in-depth assessment of the pier above and below water, which they have done in great detail.

The report states that the city now has three options going forward, repair, rehabilitation, or replacement. The report describes the pros and cons of each option in detail. The engineers provided Rough Order of Magnitude, or ROM, estimates for each option. As the name implies, this is a rough estimate of an undetailed plan, but ROMs are usually good ballpark calls.


Plan graphic

Even the price tag for doing the very least effort, the repair option, is big.

“The rough order of magnitude (ROM) cost for repairing the existing damage to the pier and placing galvanic anodes to mitigate additional corrosion is estimated be $8,000,000.”

Understandably, the second and third options are expensive.

“The ROM for the rehabilitation option is $30,000,000 to $50,000,000.”

“The ROM for the replacement option is $40,000,000 to $60,000,000.”

Pile cap 3

It seems that all of these price tags were too much for the city and the report states:

“In order to reduce the risk of failure of the structure while the long-term solution is being designed, funded, and implemented, The City has requested an interim repair plan. There were two options that were investigated: a five million-dollar repair and a ten-million-dollar repair.”

That request sounds familiar.  “Um, well, what’s the most we need to do before my term expires?”

Pile cap 2

If the five-million-dollar option were chosen, Moffatt & Nichols wrote, “The highest priority repairs are the issues currently impacting the structural capacity of the pier.”

Pile cap

The five-million-dollar option would involve extensive repairs to five piles. The piles are the column-like structures anchored in rock underwater and supporting the pier.

Sixty bents would be repaired and 66 concrete beams would be added to reinforce the deck.  The ten-million-dollar option is more of the same.

Of the repair option, the report stated:

“If the repair option is chosen, the structure will continue to degrade, and the repair cost will escalate with time. There will be additional costs for the continued inspections every three years, repair design, and subsequent repairs. For example, the seven piles that need to be jacketed currently were cracks a decade ago. This implies that there will be dozens of piles requiring jackets in the next ten years. This represents significant capital investment and additional closures of the facility for repair activities. Additionally, the pier will continue to need to be closed in large storm events and is at greater risk in a seismic event. Over the 50-year life this would be the least cost-effective option.”

On the rehabilitation option, Moffatt & Nichol stated:

“The rehabilitation option would increase the service life of the structure but would not address the sea level rise vulnerability. If environmental constraints make the replacement option unfeasible, rehabilitation is the most cost-effective solution.”

The report provided an analysis of the effort needed for the three options including environmental and permitting considerations and how each option would deal with sea level rise.  Rehabilitation means basically a major fix of an existing structure in place, hence the remark that rehabilitation would not address sea level rise. But, the environmental restraints in place today, as opposed to 50 years ago, might make a new pier impossible.

The report stated this about the third option, a new pier:

“While this path forward includes the largest initial capital expenditure, it will likely be the most cost effective over the next 50 years.”

In addition to a physical examination, concrete cores were taken from the pier and analyzed in several ways to determine if the concrete had exceeded its service life. A chloride analysis and a petrographic examination were conducted.

The chloride test was to see if the concrete had exceeded the “corrosion initiation threshold of black steel.”  This basically means that the concrete can no longer protect the steel reinforcement within because the chloride concentrations are too high.

“Black steel,” the rebar within the concrete, is simple rebar with no protection.  Today, a type of rebar coated with epoxy is used in corrosive environments instead of plain, black steel.  All of the rebar being used in the new ADA ramp at Dog Beach is epoxy coated, which can be identified by the usual green color.

Petrographic testing is the use of microscopes to examine samples of rock or concrete to determine their mineralogical and chemical characteristics. These are predictors of concrete condition.

The Moffatt & Nichol report contains a copy of the original plans used to build the pier in 1965 and 1966. The report also contained a copy of the plans from 1989 when the pier underwent considerable repair work.  While much as been said about the 50-year service life of the pier, it required a lot of repair work after only 23 years.

One observation that stood out in the report was an additional illustration of the engineering mistakes in the original design.  The report stated:

“The maximum wave crest elevation used in the original pier design indicates that the assumed wave crest is below the pier deck soffit for the entire length of the pier by at least three feet.”

It is almost impossible to believe this statement while looking at the waves crashing under the bottom of the pier every year.

Understandably, some of the worst damage is to the area east and west of the low point.  This area has experienced a considerable amount of salt water immersion over the years and this is where the most deck damage and the worst pier problem is.

As mentioned in the previous OB Rag article, the pier was not built with the idea that any of it would experience so much contact with ocean water and the statement in the Moffatt & Nichols report confirmed that.

There was another curious comment in the report:

“The guidance on closing the pier to the public during significant wave events is unchanged from the previous recommendation of the bottom of the pile caps.”

As suspected, the pier closings have not been based on any actual damage but rather the potential for damage based on the pier studies. This “guidance” has never been revealed to the public.  A Public Record Request has ben filed to obtain it.

Unfortunately, it appears that the pier is doomed.  The money to maintain it properly has never been spent and the city now has no money to do anything.  Having seen this kind of thing on the East coast many times, this reporter expects there will be a condemned sign on the pier one day, and it will sit there unused.

Unless someone shows some real political will or the private sector steps up, the OB Pier is history.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie April 13, 2023 at 9:57 am

I find it interesting that Geoff Page was never invited to part of the OB Pier Task Force.


sealintheSelkirks April 16, 2023 at 11:53 am

Why would he? He’s a rabble-rouser and doesn’t ‘GET’ with the program the wealthy in this city promotes! He embarrasses the political elements. He points out stupidity, incompetence, and the greedy. Of course he gets excluded from decision-making processes by those self-same people who are all in for the program of wealth extraction from the working class!

This is the way San Diego has always worked, or at least since I was a teen in the 60s…oh wait let me look around at the rest of the world. Hmmmm. Sure is a lot of this going on everywhere, isn’t there?
Listened to the Ralph Nader Radio Hour about the insanity of sold-out Democrats that keep increasing the Pentagon ‘budget’ (and I use that term loosely since there is no ‘budget’ to it that I’d call a budget). Biden and his Willow Bay oil drilling and then holding one of the largest oil ‘lease’ sales ever in the Gulf of Mexico. And then the program went on to the insanity of corporate behavior, homelessness and spiraling rents vs income & wages, climate, and the guests he had on were, as usual, concise and extremely well-informed.

Much like I see Geoff doing with whatever he’s looking into. Uncovering the rot and corruption that the powerful don’t want you to see. So hopefully he’ll keep bashing his head against the wall of political ill-will that the assh**es who are in control always put up. Even cracks in the darkness of that wall are worth the effort he puts in.

And as some of the readers here remember, Geoff and I have butted heads a couple of times over the years over this or that. That doesn’t discount the valuable info he digs out of the slime pit of San Diego politics. Though I haven’t lived in my hometown in nearly 35 years I for one appreciate the effort and expertise he brings to the conversation.

Remember Geoff, always do something fun every day, too. Paddle out into the ocean I miss so badly at times and catch a few…



John Ulloth April 14, 2023 at 2:38 pm

All piers are temporary.
Having said that, in order for the inevitable new OB Pier to be built ASAP after the old one is demolished (by man or nature), it should be designed right now at leisure, & put on file with current City approvals. It must incorporate evidence Mr. Page uncovered- both stated & photographed:
1. It must be built higher because
A. it was already too low for 1965’s waves
B. + higher still to account for global sea rise by the end of its useful life.
2. A. Concrete is pourous, even if it weren’t a pier, or a highway bridge being pounded by waves or traffic 24/7.
B. No steel rebar, even epoxy-coated/stainless lasts forever in a marine environment; best protection is to design more concrete covering it in the 1st place.
C. The rust blooms show Piling caps need redesign to shed ocean water better. Eliminating shelves Rounding sharp edges & sloping bottoms of beams & slabs may help the water drain off better.
D. I suspect the competing forces between pre-tensioned rebar & gravity-cast concrete in the deck slabs may be responsible for the bottom failure of those slabs.
E. Intrusion & buildup of steel-eating chloride in the concrete (a reaction from salt water) be fought off by concrete admixtures, sealing coatings to keep surfaces tight, or cathodic protection- would these be cost-effective means of extending the pier’s useful life?

(former resident/PB & north county)


Debbie May 3, 2023 at 3:50 pm

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