Chuck Fisher has held the lease to the Walking on Water Café on the Ocean Beach Pier since 1993.
Chuck Fisher has held the lease to the Walking on Water Café on the Ocean Beach Pier since 1993. Photo by Chris Stone

Phones were ringing nonstop all week at the Walking on Water Café on the Ocean Beach Pier.

“When are you opening?” callers all wanted to know from Chuck Fisher, who runs the shop.

Indeed, that was the question many San Diegans had been asking since the pier closed in January due to significant damage from waves.

But Friday, after a last pier inspection at 7 a.m., the gates were unlocked for a partial reopening. A chain-link fence sits just beyond the café and bait shop.

Residents and visitors wasted no time walking, biking and skating their way down the 1,971-foot-long concrete pier. Many were ready for a morning of fishing.

“Very good timing. We are thrilled,” said Fisher, who’s held the lease to run the Walking on Water Café and bait shop since 1993. He expecting about 2,000 customers daily over the Memorial Day weekend.

“The city did a fantastic job reopening this,” he said. “It has never looked better cosmetically. I know structurally there are still some issues.”

In fact, a 2019 city inspection concluded it had reached the end of its service life.

Debate over fixing, replacing or tearing down the pier has intensified since the report was released.

City workers spent weeks replacing the railing on the south side from a sewage pump down to the café.

The report deemed the area beyond the pier too dangerous for use.

Repairing the railings on the 55-year-old structure set the city back about $8 million. It is estimated that a total rehabilitation would cost $30 million to $50 million, and a completely new one could run up to $60 million, but could have a service life of 75 years or more.

The compromise was chosen. Pilings beyond the cafe have suffered serious degradation.

Fisher said the report gave the city some ammunition to keep the pier closed. But “I think that the fact that it is open shows the city’s desire to get it back open again.”

The 66-year-old businessman added: It “just feels like a relief, an inhale. Everyone is very excited. I am very much hoping that it stays open, but God is in charge of the waves.”

When reporting the pier would open as the holiday weekend got underway, San Diego City Council President Jennifer Campbell said, “Today’s announcement is a great step forward for the local community and for visitors who come to enjoy this San Diego landmark.”

“Although the pier will only be partially reopened, I look forward to working with Mayor Gloria and the community to create a path forward for a long-term solution,” said Campbell, whose district includes Ocean Beach.

Only emergency vehicles will be allowed on the pier, and it will be closed during very high tides.

The OB Town Council hosted a listening session on Wednesday to get the community’s input.

It reported that 427 people responded. In the survey, 53.2% backed repairing the pier enough to partially open it; 52.5% wanted the pier completely rebuilt; 44.8% favored rehabilitating the pier to open it fully; and 3.4% voted “other.” (Participants were allowed to choose more than one option.)

Pier-goers praised Mayor Todd Gloria Friday morning.

“Mr. Gloria did a fine job,” Tony Hernandez of San Diego told Times of San Diego. “I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart. I jumped for joy.”

Hernandez plans to fish from the pier weekly.

Tom Garland, 56, of Ocean Beach said: “It means the world to me. I live close, so anytime I feel like fishing, I just come down here. It’s great for OB.”

He said a lot of people were “bummed” because it was out of service so long time.

“They came up with a good plan. I love the pier. Everybody loves the pier. That’s for sure, whether it is a mackerel or a great white you catch,” the fisherman said, laughing.

Some anglers on the north side Friday were pulling in mackerel almost as soon as they dropped bait. Two men caught bat rays but returned them to the water.

Everyone has a “pier story,” Fisher said, whether it was a first date, an engagement or spreading ashes.

“The pier is part of who I am,” Fisher said. “I enjoy coming out here. It took away a part of me not being able to come out here. It’s just special.”