San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria is optimistic that the storm-damaged Ocean Beach Pier can welcome visitors in the next few months. But he can’t promise that.
“My hope is that we can reopen the pier before the summer,” Gloria said Saturday. “But I can’t give you the full-fledged commitment to do that until we get out there and do the assessment.”
The city has put off a comprehensive inspection of the 1,971-foot pier until after the rainy season to determine what repairs would be needed.
Gloria, Councilwoman Jen Campbell, designers from Moffatt & Nichol and Ocean Beach residents gathered Saturday for the first in a series of community workshops about the long-range plans for the iconic landmark.
Campbell wasn’t so optimistic about an upcoming reopening.
“The OB Pier is in bad shape,” she said. “It’s so unsafe underneath. The pillars under water are almost destroyed.”
The sea water has done a lot of damage to the cement structure, and the rebar underneath is rusting, she said.
The 56-year-old pier suffered obvious rail damage during the January king tides, but wear and tear underneath is what concerns experts. Repeated storms over the years have damaged the pier, and many fear it’s at the end of its life span.
“Is it minor repair of railing or more structural in nature?” Gloria asked. “It really could be either or both.”
The city is willing and able to make hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of allocations for repairs, but continuing to do so annually just isn’t sustainable, he said.
“I can’t foresee a world where we don’t have an Ocean Beach Pier,” Gloria said before the presentation in Liberty Station.
Saturday was the city’s Ocean Beach Pier Renewal project’s first step in soliciting ideas from city residents. A study in 2018 by Moffatt & Nichol recommended replacement.
“I don’t want to prejudge the public process,” the mayor said. “The city wants to understand what are the aspects people love the most about the pier — whether it’s fishing, views, the café – the priorities for preserving or repairing.
“I’m hoping we can start the process of getting consensus so that we can go to federal and state funders and other folks to help us get the actual money that will be necessary to execute the project that we want to have for Ocean Beach.”
Gloria said the replacement cost of the project could range from $40 million to $100 million.
“This is not a backyard do-it-yourself project,” he said. “This is a major capital asset that is done in one of the most highly regulated parts of our city — the coastal zone — with multiple jurisdictions overseeing it. … state and federal reviews. So it ends up becoming a very expensive project.”
After the preferred alternative is chosen, a detailed project schedule and cost estimate will be prepared. Currently, $8.4 million in state funding is designated for the project.
Times of San Diego spoke to a number of residents who attended the first of two afternoon presentations.
Many were resigned to the notion the pier needs to be replaced.
“I think they should probably do a whole new pier because of the sustainability issues and climate change,” said Jackie Werth of Sunset Cliffs. “There’s a lot of potential there that isn’t fully realized.”
Presenters explained that the height of king tides has increased over the years and that the “dip” at midpier catches the brunt of those waves.
So Antonio Miguel of Ocean Beach shared a suggestion after the presentation to slightly change the location of a new pier.
“As one of the engineers was saying, … the pier is too low and that’s what’s causing a lot of the damage that us as taxpayers are paying every year,” he said. “So my suggestion would be to move the pier south, the way it was originally designed.
“That way, it would be out of the way of the danger zone of the surfers … (and) of the damage that it’s, you know, being beaten up every winter.”
Others attended the presentation and workshops to gather more information.
“I’m excited to see what the options are,” said Denny Knox, executive director of the OB MainStreet Association, who is on a pier-replacement task force.
Asked what changes she would like to see, Knox imagined a pier that was a bit wider, with a gathering place, a larger restaurant area and historic or education elements.
Resident Carol Mills suggested more artwork, possibly flower boxes and different seating.
But OB resident Jenn Riley had some concerns about the project.
“I’m afraid if it gets completely replaced,” Riley said, “they’re going to do it up like not in a style of OB. Like OB is a bunch of mom-and-pop shops, you know, people on their bikes and riding skateboards and I feel like if it gets redone … they’re going to make it state-of-the-art. It’s not going to look like it belongs there.”
She also was concerned that renovations would remove the adjacent parking lot.
“If they took away that parking lot, where are people going to park?” Riley said. “Like we already have a parking problem.”
On the other side of the room, OB resident Matt Baker had some misgivings about replacing the pier.
“I think they could save it — I really do,” he said. “I don’t think that that’s where the consensus is going,” suggesting workers could add epoxy resin to secure the pylons.
Baker said he appreciated the presentation and having a chance to have his voice heard, but was concerned that the city had already set its sights on replacement, despite Gloria’s comments.
Construction on a new pier could begin by 2026, the city has said.
“I think it’s a giant boondoggle — that they’re going to rake in massive amounts of money in the grand scheme of things,” Baker said.
He was certain, though, about his affection for the pier: “I just feel like in a way it is OB … It’s like the logo of OB.”
After the presentation, the public was asked to visit areas in the room where displays asked their opinions.
At the “What is Missing from the Pier Experience?” poster, many participants used red dots to vote on public art, an outdoor classroom, public dining, support/enhance surfing, in addition to clean energy generation and high quality restrooms.
When another display asked what the pier meant to them, messages on Post-It Notes included community, serenity, friendship, inspiration and “a great place to walk.”
Many of the residents expressed the importance of the pier, especially mentally, as a place of solitude and connection with nature.
“I can’t foresee a world where we don’t have an Ocean Beach Pier,” Gloria said before the presentation.
He added: “Reopening the pier as soon as possible is an important priority. But ultimately we can’t keep doing [repairs] every single year. We really need to solve this particular problem. The problem is this pier is very old, it is very weathered and it needs a new life.”
The next opportunity for the community to meet with designers will be in June and then in September.