It was back in 2016 when Geoff Page noticed during his runs up and down Ocean Beach Pier what he thought were troubling structural problems.
Page has a construction background, so he says he couldn’t help but notice excessive wear and other damages to the supports for the 1,971-foot pier — the longest concrete pier on the West Coast.
It was also the same year that Ocean Beach celebrated the iconic pier and its 50-year survival of many of nature’s challenges. Over the decades, massive waves have taken a toll on the pier but how serious the problems may have become had never been made public by the city.
Page loves the pier like many locals do and was not just concerned about the damage but also why the city of San Diego has increasingly barred the public from the pier.
“They were closing the pier so often, it looked like they were closing not for damage but potential damage,” he said. Unlike in the past, he says, “it wasn’t just during the threat of big surf but whenever the surf was up.”
He did what many of us might do — he called the city and tried to find out what was going on with the pier and how this was being attended to. He found out an engineering firm had been hired to evaluate the pier’s condition but not much else.
He knew that in order to get information from the city, it would take an open records request under the California Public Records Act. And so he did.
On April 2, 2018, he filed request number 18-1223. What he eventually got didn’t lay out the problems the pier might have; instead it was an 84-page description of the contract for services by Moffatt & Nichol engineers, the company doing an appraisal of what needed to be done to fix the problems.
Page had asked the city for the “structural investigation and recommendations for long-term maintenance strategies” but instead got copies of invoices totaling $685,495. He did not receive, though, details on the pier’s condition or needs.
“I never got what I asked for,” he says.
More storms and more pier closures followed, but the public was never told the extent of the pier’s problems. Page says he was pushed to act again after he read a story in a community newspaper about the pier which he described as a “fluff piece.”
That story in the Peninsula Beacon fired him up; he requested and got from the city another public records request number: 21-149. It was, word for word, the same as the original request,18-1223, done three years earlier.
He took the story of his struggles to the OB Rag, a long-time progressive community news source, which published his efforts to find out what is going on. The district’s councilwoman, Dr. Jennifer Campbell, would later say she didn’t even know there was a problem with the pier until she read the OB Rag story.
Three months after that second CPRA request, Page got the details about what the engineers found in the September 2019 report to the city, and in turn he wrote it up in the OB Rag. Both Page and the community paper deserve credit for breaking a story of major importance to the community which otherwise might still be hidden from the public.
The report cited cracked pilings and serious erosion along the pier and recommended $8 million in repairs.
The question remaining is why this report, dated Sept. 3, 2019, was never released during former Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration.
According to Alec Phillipp, the public information officer for the city’s Engineering and Capital Projects department, Mayor Todd Gloria and Campbell were briefed earlier this month on the pier’s condition and planned repair work.
Asked about why the report was held, Phillipp says the city has so many projects going on that it “makes individual briefings infeasible.” He denied that there was any attempt to “sit on the report.”
Phillipp said that in coming weeks city crews will be making repairs to the pier railings damaged by recent king tides, but structural damage beyond the bait shop will need more extensive repair before public access is allowed.
“The city continues to move forward with the design of a future capital improvement project that will repair and replace much of the structural components of the pier that have or soon will exceed their useful life while addressing rising sea levels caused by climate change,” he said.
JW August is a San Diego-based broadcast and digital journalist.