San Diego searches for a solution — and funding — for deteriorating Ocean Beach Pier

The Ocean Beach Pier is pictured in June 2020.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Deemed at “the end of its service life” by a recently released engineering study, the Ocean Beach Pier was the sole topic of a town hall meeting convened by the Ocean Beach Town Council to discuss the landmark’s future.

The study, completed in September 2019 but released in April this year, revealed the extent of the deterioration of the concrete and steel piles (columns) as well as the deck and supporting components of the 55-year-old pier.

Speaking to a virtual audience of about 150 people May 26, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and City Council President Jennifer Campbell, whose District 2 includes Ocean Beach, noted the hurdles to funding a project to rehabilitate or rebuild the pier, which would require up to an estimated $60 million for construction costs alone, according to the study done by Long Beach engineering consultant Moffatt & Nichol.

Seeking state and federal financial assistance, the mayor said the hefty price tag is problematic for a city facing a possible budget deficit of $154 million.

Gloria said the city most recently spent $250,000 to repair the pier for a partial reopening May 28, up to the bait shop and cafe. The pier had been closed since January after high surf caused railing boards to break.

A San Diego city worker makes repairs on the Ocean Beach Pier on May 17.
A San Diego city worker makes repairs on the Ocean Beach Pier on May 17. The pier had been closed since railings were damaged by big waves in January.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I think that the challenge ... is that the full addressing of the needs of the OB Pier are extremely expensive,” Gloria said. “It will take significant lift to be able to find the funds to do this. ... We are in a time of austerity.”

The study listed three options for the failing pier along with cost estimates for construction: repair ($8 million), rehabilitation ($30 million to $50 million) and replacement ($40 million to $60 million).

Structural engineer Ralph Teyssier analyzed the options, concluding that repairs would be a continual expense for the city as the pier decays, while rehab presents its own problems by placing new materials such as concrete atop crumbling old ones at a cost near full replacement.

Adding that rising sea levels and potentially more powerful storms spawned by climate change would accelerate the pier’s demise, Teyssier recommended building a new one.

The Ocean Beach Pier has been a landmark for the coastal community since it first opened in July 1966.

“I guess I would liken it to a car,” he said. “If you got an old car, at some point in its life, you’re wondering is it worth keeping the car, going to the shop once a month? It’s more than the lease payment at this point. At some point, you replace the car.”

Teyssier is the son of Leonard Teyssier, the contractor who built the 1,971-foot OB Pier, which opened in 1966, for $900,000. It is the longest concrete pier on the West Coast.

Waves roll under the Ocean Beach Pier in January 2020.
(File / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Eleven days before the meeting, the Ocean Beach Town Council launched an online survey to gauge the community’s disposition. The study’s three alternatives were listed along with an “other” option, and participants were allowed to choose as many selections as they pleased.

The survey results were announced at the meeting, with 53.2 percent of the 417 respondents choosing repair, 52.5 percent picking rebuild, 44.8 percent taking rehab and 3.4 percent choosing “other.”

Some audience members took exception to the survey’s composition.

Bryan Pease, an environmental attorney, argued that the survey and town hall meeting were skewed because neither offered a choice of removing the pier.

“To not even have that be an option for consideration ... I think it stifled participation,” Pease said. “People could see [that] it’s only three options. Do you want to spend X, Y or Z amount of money? What if people don’t want to rebuild the pier?”

Mitch Silverstein agreed, saying that the given options narrowed the scope of the debate and that the cheapest and most sustainable option was removing the pier.

“I get it,” he said. “We’re very emotionally attached to the pier. I just would want everyone to think past this knee-jerk reaction that we need to save it and think about what OB could look like in the future. I don’t think it necessarily has to have a gigantic concrete pier to be a great place.”

Moderator Mark Winkie, OBTC president, acknowledged the oversight in the survey but noted that the pier wouldn’t be allowed to crumble into the ocean because of the pollution and hazards that would entail.

“You have a valid point,” Winkie said. “Maybe most of the people in Ocean Beach and in San Diego would prefer the pier to be torn down. But that’s going to cost a lot of money in itself to tear it down.”

A surfer rides a wave near the Ocean Beach Pier.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Kohta Zaiser, the mayor’s District 2 representative, said the city can include a cost estimate for the pier’s demolition for future discussions.

According to OBTC board member Aaron Null, nine of the 14 respondents to the survey’s “other” option called for removal of the pier. Of the 17 audience members who commented and/or posed questions at the meeting, five opposed or had serious misgivings about spending public money to save the pier.

Even some who supported revamping the pier or building a new one expressed concerns about the costly endeavor pulling limited funds from other capital improvement projects such as the Ocean Beach Library, lifeguard station and stormwater infrastructure.

Teddy Martinez, Campbell’s Ocean Beach representative, said a final OB Pier project could take months or even years and that such a timeline would have no effect on immediate projects.

“When we advocate for priorities in Ocean Beach or throughout District 2, they’re stand-alone priorities,” Martinez said. “So I don’t see this as in any way competing. That being said, as the mayor mentioned, we are in a budget crunch and so funding is limited. So how we plan that, what we consider as options and how that aligns with the funding available is going to be a big piece of this discussion.”

Despite the vocal minority, most audience members voiced support for the pier in any manifestation and supplied ideas toward that end, such as raising private donations for the pier, installing devices on a new pier to harness wave energy or wind to generate electricity and offset the rebuilding price, and creating educational facilities in cooperation with area institutions such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and SeaWorld.

Winkie said some of the ideas have already been broached in discussions about the pier, but he praised the community’s determination to bring good proposals to the table.

“It is a shame that the serviceable life of the existing pier is gone, but we’ve gotten a blank canvas,” he said. “That’s an exciting thing for all of us to think about and move forward with really good ideas.”

Campbell announced the creation of a working group including OBTC, the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association and Ocean Beach Planning Board to gather community input and provide updates about the pier.

“This is not going to be a quick weekend project,” Martinez said. “This will take time, with a lot of input. ... So we’ll be taking all this into account and [it] will definitely be part of our working group.”

OBTC treasurer Corey Bruins reiterated that the town hall meeting was merely the first step in a long journey and that community involvement, including opposition to the pier, would have a hand in shaping the ultimate direction taken.

“Whether or not we rebuild, I’m honestly not on either side of that conversation,” Bruins said. “I’m just inviting the collective audience here to a wider stance as we enter what is going to be probably a years-long conversation about what to do with the pier.”

— The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.


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