Pacific Beach Town Council advocates protection of Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve views

These are some of the eight mosaics depicting the story of San Diego on the Chase Bank building in Pacific Beach.
These are some of the eight mosaics depicting the story of San Diego on the Chase Bank building on Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach.
(Milan Kovacevic)

Demolition of historic Chase Bank building and its mosaics on hold for now


The Pacific Beach Town Council has gotten involved in the city’s plan to replace fencing around the Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve out of a desire to save views.

Council Secretary Susan Crowers described the town council’s efforts to counter a City of San Diego proposal to erect a 6-foot chain link fence with strand barbed wire atop Crown Point Drive from Fortuna Avenue to Lamont Street. She said it would mar the view of the nature sanctuary.

The project was brought to the council’s attention by a resident who received notice about a Nov. 15 California Coastal Commission hearing to review the city’s permit application. The resident notified the council two weeks before the hearing.

“If you look at the city website, it says to work with community and stakeholders,” Crowers said. “The problem is it seemed like nobody knew about it. We are stakeholders. We are community members ... so that was disappointing and it sort of felt like, oh no, it’s too late.”

Although the current fence is identical to the proposed replacement, the existing fence is located down the slope. This means it does not obstruct the views from Crown Point Drive, including two observation decks and interpretive signage for the marsh.

According to Crowers, she and other council members hurriedly arranged a meeting with representatives of the city and Audubon Society as well as the reserves director at UC San Diego to discuss alternatives.

“But really, a chain link fence?” said Crowers. “Is that the best we can do for this beautiful marsh? We stuck to our guns and said it deserves better.”

City representatives offered assurances they would work with the Pacific Beach community.

The commission’s staff report recommended a maximum 4-foot fence to protect the area while preserving the view, Crowers said.

“I was really encouraged to see that this was included and that the Coastal Commission really put some thought (into the proposal) and was quite thorough in their report and returning to the city and looking for a better solution,” Crowers said. “The city did come back and say, yes indeed, we’ll consider a more aesthetically pleasing design. So we are super encouraged by that and hopefully planning to be a part of that dialogue with them coming up with a design that will really make this area look special.”

Crowers concluded by speaking to the city representatives at the meeting.

“I just want to point out a couple of things here,” she said. “The squeaky wheel thing does work. And also just to say to our city reps that this is just the kind of thing we want to hear about at (the council’s) general meetings. When there are things in the works our community cares when we know what’s going on. We want to know and we want to be a part of it.”

Among other meeting highlights, council Vice President Karl Rand, who is also the PB Planning Board chair, said the permit to raze the community’s historic Chase Bank and its mosaics by artist Millard Sheets expired in August. No new demolition permit application has been submitted.

The original permit was issued in March 2020, which ignited a highly visible campaign by the community to save the building’s prized artwork. The eight mosaics depict historical figures and scenes of San Diego.

“My sources at the city say that they can’t demolish it without a permit and they haven’t even applied for a permit at this point,” Rand said. “So it’s in limbo. We’ll continue to monitor that very carefully but right now, if you hear any rumors that it’s going to be demolished soon, those are not true.”

Located at 4650 Mission Bay Drive on the southwest corner of the intersection with Garnet Avenue, the architecturally-significant Chase Bank building was constructed in 1977, making it an historical structure that could qualify for preservation status, Rand added.

“Because it’s a little over 45 years old, it would have to go through an additional historical building review, which would be another level,” he said. “The city can’t sidestep that process.”

The meeting was the last for Marcella Bothwell as president. Is is concluding two years in the post.

“Thank you so much for giving me the past two years to serve the community at Pacific Beach,” Bothwell told those present. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stick around. I’ll be on the board and doing Concerts on the Green.”

Bothwell is a retired surgeon who has lived in Pacific Beach for 15 years. She told PB Monthly that one of the biggest challenges she faced was steering the council through the COVID pandemic, which began almost simultaneously with her term. However, her prior career provided some of the dexterity needed to get through it.

“It was actually a good time for me to step in because triaging and figuring stuff out in uncertainty is something I’ve always been good at,” she said.

During her two years as president, the council’s monthly meetings expanded to include regular reports from various community nonprofits such as Shoreline Community Services, the PB Street Guardians, beautifulPB and PB Planning Group. Her goal was to create a one-stop shop at the town council’s meetings for a comprehensive picture of current issues and activities in PB. Bothwell said she considers its implementation her greatest accomplishment.

“That wasn’t by accident,” she said. “I did that on purpose to try and centralize the information and it culminated in the community calendar. ... I’m trying to get everybody to start working together instead of having these silos. We have all these different groups and none of them are working together. Why not?”

Bothwell said she had to use a variety of techniques to get all interested parties on board with her vision.

“My philosophy has been that if you can talk about something and have everybody’s opinion voiced, then usually the right direction just jumps out,” Bothwell said. “But having the patience to wait for that to happen can be difficult. People’s attention spans are very short. Sometimes you have to have the patience to wait for the right answer and the perseverance to continue waiting even while people are yelling at you.”

Bothwell said she believes that ushering in a new generation of leadership with the ascension of college student Charlie Nieto to the presidency in January, along with two equally young board members, will leave her greatest legacy as precedent.

“I’m very excited about all the new blood we brought on in the past year,” Bothwell said. “And it’s about time. I think they’re going to have great ideas. Their enthusiasm is huge. They’re going to make mistakes. People are going to get upset about something or other or they’re not going to agree with it, but it’s time that the organization is in young capable hands. I can’t wait to see how it’s going to turn out.”