The request was made during a meeting of the Pacific Beach Planning Group’s (PBPG) Development Subcommittee meeting. This was the third time the project’s planners have met with the subcommittee, and the third time the applicants have been sent back to the drawing board to seek out alternatives.
In 2003, the same planning subgroup approved a site location for the station at the foot of Diamond Street. Since then, however, the demand for lifeguard services has shifted north, said lifeguard representative Lt. Nick Lerma.
“Really, what changed our view on that location was the level of activity that we’ve seen to the north,” he said, referring to the onslaught of surfers at Tourmaline in the wintertime and swimmers and beachgoers at Law Street during the summer. “We quickly realized that our position to the south at Diamond Street was nearly a mile away, and for a lifeguard whose primary duty is to observe the water, it’s difficult to request of our employees that they’re a mile from where things happen.”
The Law Street site was chosen so lifeguards have a centrally located, commanding view of the area from Crystal Pier to the point near Tourmaline, said Lerma.
“The primary reason is just water observation,” he said. “It’s right in the middle of our swimming area. That’s where most people want their lifeguards to be.”
An added benefit of the lifeguards’ preferred site location is the existing vehicle access that slopes down from Ocean Boulevard to the sand, which would allow easy ingress and egress for police, fire or emergency backup transit, as well as better access for the disabled community.
Following the full planning board’s rejection of the site request at a July meeting — which resulted in a tie 7-7 vote — architect Alison Whitelaw said she and the lifeguards looked into all of the primary concerns that were brought up by the board members, including the size of the facility, location of the site and a request to locate the facility in the ravine just south of the Law Street access ramp.
“We’ve been able to reduce it somewhat by about 300 square feet, and we are looking for some other reductions too,” Whitelaw said. “It was confirmed, however, that the lifeguards do need all of their amenities in the same location, and they determined that it needed to be in this proximity to the ramp at the end of Law Street.”
Some board members originally cited concern that there wasn’t enough visualization of the project to approve the site, prompting Whitelaw to return with two conceptual schemes to illustrate the scale and scope of the project at its proposed location.
“We have looked at a lot of design issues, and we have a range of possibilities for how this building may get put together and put on its site,” said Whitelaw. “We want to give you an idea of the scale of the building is in context — not looking at architecture, not looking at final design.”
In both proposed scenarios, the building would stand at about 25 feet tall, assuming a 10-foot floor-to-floor ratio, with the finished floor level base starting at nine feet high to withstand inundation from the tide. In both schemes, the equipment storage facility, first-aid response area and observation tower would be packaged within the same approximate 3,000-square-foot station in different arrangements.
Despite a third plea by project advocates, the subcommittee voted to deny the site request and asked the applicants to seek alternatives — specifically requesting that lifeguards and architects explore the option of breaking down the bulk and view impact of the facility by separating its components.
“I don’t like being presented with no options,” said subcommittee member Chris Olson. “I don’t think it’s fair that you have come up with one thing and it’s one size, and this is what it’s going to be. I think the public has provided some potential things to consider.”
Subcommittee member and longtime resident Paul Ross presented an alternative plan at the meeting, which gained support from some board members and residents.
His plan, which was inspired by a recently approved lifeguard station project at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, called for the erection of a 12-foot-tall, single-level equipment storage facility atop a 12-foot base in the blighted ravine just south of the access ramp, an access driveway into the facility, a 3,000-square-foot public park behind the equipment storage facility and a separate observation tower on the beach.
“The end of Law Street is unsightly,” Ross said. “It’s a mess, an absolute wasteland. It’s not park, it’s not beach, it’s not anything,” he said. “We could turn that ravine into something useful and beautiful.”
Subcommittee chair Curtis Patterson summed up the subcommittee’s request at the conclusion of the meeting.
“I can’t speak for the whole board, but I think that by reducing the footprint at this location significantly by moving the rescue-vehicle facility somewhat off the beach so it had less impact for beachgoers and less impact for line of sight issues, that the community and the planning group would appreciate it,” he said.
The full PBPG board will hear the project again as an informational item at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 at Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library, located at 4275 Cass St. For additional material about the proposal, visit www.pbplanning.org.