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OB Pier ‘has reached the end of its service life,’ according to 2019 report; city says it still plans repairs

Visitors walk on the Ocean Beach Pier in June.
The 55-year-old pier in Ocean Beach has significant deterioration that could cost the city of San Diego $30 million to $50 million to rehabilitate, according to a 2019 report the city recently released.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The 55-year-old pier has significant deterioration that could cost the city of San Diego millions to rehabilitate, according to the newly released report.

A newly released report says the iconic Ocean Beach Pier has sustained significant deterioration over the past 55 years and, despite multiple attempts to repair it, it could be the end of the road for the structure.

However, San Diego city officials said April 15 that they have since made some repairs and are reassessing more recent damage to the pier. The report will be updated once that assessment is complete, said city spokesman Alec Phillipp.

For now, the city is planning to continue repairs, he said. The pier was damaged by high surf in January and is closed.

The Ocean Beach Pier remained closed after high surf broke off railing boards on a stretch of the south side of the pier, the city of San Diego said Jan. 13.

The report was completed by advisory firm Moffatt & Nichol in 2019 but only recently was released to the news media. It makes the case that the pier “has reached the end of its service life.”

“Corrosion in the reinforcing steel has initiated and the structure will continue to degrade unless corrective action is taken,” according to the report.

Phillipp said in an email that “the city continues to move forward with the design of a future capital improvements program project that will repair and replace much of the structural components that have or soon will exceed their useful life while addressing rising sea levels caused by climate change.”

In coming weeks, city crews will make repairs to railings on the deck, Phillipp said. Columns and other structures under the pier, from the shore to the bait shop, also need repair but are structurally sound enough for public access, he said.

The 364-page report said the city had three options for the pier: repair, rehabilitate or replace.

Repairing the damage to the pier’s columns is the cheapest option, about $8 million, but it would not address the deterioration, according to the report.

Waves crash over the Ocean Beach Pier on Jan. 11, damaging the pier.
(Jim Grant)

Rehabilitation would increase the pier’s life but is estimated to cost $30 million to $50 million.

The city also could replace the entire pier, but that is estimated to cost $60 million, according to the report.

Ocean Beach residents and business leaders said they were surprised to learn about the report’s findings now.

“It’s surprising that the city tried to keep this under wraps,” said Mark Winkie, president of the Ocean Beach Town Council, a nonprofit that advocates for the community.

He said it’s disappointing that the city has not taken a more aggressive approach to fixing the pier, since it’s a large tourist destination.

The pier gets about 500,000 visitors a year. It also draws business for local storefronts.

Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, said business leaders and owners are at a loss for words.

“This is devastating to our businesses and so many thousands of people who use the pier and walk through the business district,” Knox said.

Knox said she wishes the city had been more forthcoming about the report when it was done. She only learned of it April 14, she said.

For those who live in Ocean Beach or frequently visit the pier, it’s not surprising that there are issues, Winkie said.

City of San Diego reopened all piers and boardwalks.
The Ocean Beach Pier was reopened to the public in June after being closed because of the spread of the coronavirus.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Before the pier was closed earlier this year when the high surf caused railing boards to break, the city completed emergency repairs in 2019 after a damaging winter storm. The city repaired railings and sewer and electrical lines for a total of $430,000.

Winkie said it will be interesting to see what approach the city takes moving forward, because even if immediate repairs are made, they will just be a Band-Aid for the structure’s larger issues.

“We just don’t want to see a closed, condemned pier in Ocean Beach for years to come,” Winkie said.

City Council member Jennifer Campbell, whose District 2 includes Ocean Beach, said her office has asked for updates on the extent of the latest damage to the pier since it was first closed in January. She said she favors a long-term solution.

“The assessment report that was recently released will provide needed guidance for next steps,” Campbell said in a statement. “The pier is a true San Diego landmark and has seen significant damage through the years. I will be advocating for a long-term solution and will continue to work with city staff and the mayor’s office to determine the best path forward for this beloved San Diego icon.”


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