Pacific Beach’s Crystal Pier wrongly shuttered after winter storm damage, city says
Public access to the end of the pier has been cut off for more than a month due to safety concerns by owners of the Crystal Pier cottages, which sit on a large stretch of the structure.
The owners of the Crystal Pier cottages closed off a portion of the Pacific Beach pier in March because of safety concerns stemming from winter storm damage, but the city of San Diego now says it was a premature move that needed formal permission.
In a letter sent Friday to the California Coastal Commission, a city planner said the end of the pier will soon be reopening following completion of a consultant’s report concluding that it is safe for public access despite urgent repairs that are needed. The letter noted that the city was first made aware of the safety concerns on March 7 and that the hotel failed to get the city’s authorization before barring public access to the pier.
“The city conducted an independent investigation this week and its consultant determined the pier is safe for public access, though there are urgent repairs needed within the next approximately six months,” San Diego Senior Planner Mayra Medel stated in a letter to the coastal agency, which had not been informed of the closure. “The city intends to meet with its tenant late next week once the consultant’s report is final to inform the tenant the pier must be reopened to the public.”
The final one-third of the pier has been closed for about 1 1/2 months, said a co-owner of the Crystal Pier cottages, which sit atop a large stretch of the pier. The portion of the structure occupied by the cottages, which are rented out year-round, remains open. The closure was first reported by NBC 7 earlier this week.
The city wants public input on the future of the 56-year-old icon: Repair it, rehabilitate it or replace it?
Crystal Pier Hotel and Cottages is co-owned by the Allen and Bostian families and has been family-owned since the 1950s. Co-owner Willis Allen said Friday that his hotel staff immediately noticed some damage to the pier’s braces following stormy weather in March and that he has been in discussions with city officials who were aware of his decision to temporarily close the section of the pier farthest from the shoreline out of an abundance of caution.
“It was my call to close off the skinny end (of the pier),” Allen said in an email to the Union-Tribune. “Neither city Parks nor Real Estate Assets objected or had a better idea. We want the public to be protected — and to do whatever we could to speed the repairs. Also, we are into the season where a lot more people crowd out there —before there were not crowds, just a few folks and some people fishing.”
Allen pushed back against Medel’s statement that the hotel failed to get permission from the city. He said that after discussions with two city departments on how to address his safety concerns, “they did not have a better idea (than closing part of the pier), so we closed the end.”
He explained that in the course of inspecting the pier, it became clear that the biggest public safety concerns were for the narrower stretch of the pier, not the portion where the cottages are located.
“In this case, there are a large number of braces that broke or cracked from the king tides and storms surge,” he said. “Whereas the pier structurally is sound, we felt it best to close off the westernmost section (the skinny part) for extra public safety. The hotel section that is leased from (the) city (the center section) is much wider and has more braces and pilings so the cracked and broken braces under this section are not a safety concern, especially since we have what appears to be calm weather ahead for a few months.”
Earlier on Friday, the city sent a statement to the Union-Tribune about the pier closure, saying that “While it is believed that the section of the pier that includes the lodging units is safe for overnight occupancy, the hotel believes that most of the damage happened in the final third of the pier, which is owned by the city.”
On Crystal Pier, a white picket fence can be seen blocking public access to the last 300 feet of the nearly century-old structure, with a small laminated sign reading “closed for maintenance.”
Just a few miles south, Ocean Beach Pier has been closed since January after one of the largest ocean swells to hit San Diego County in years resulted in 10- to 12-foot waves along the coast. Talks are underway to decide the fate of that structure after a 2018 study found it had “reached the end of its service life.”
The consultant hired by the city is Moffatt & Nichol, the same firm currently working to assess conditions on Ocean Beach Pier.
Crystal Pier Hotel and Cottages is a city tenant and leases a portion of the pier for the operation of the cottages where guests can pull their cars up to the front of their individual rentals. The hotel controls access to the pier via its property, so city officials say it was the hotel that closed access to the public section of the pier as a safety precaution.
“After receiving that (final consultant) report, we will have a better understanding of the potential damage, repairs, cost and timeline to reopen the currently closed portion of the Crystal Pier,” city officials said in the statement.
Located at the end of Garnet Avenue and along the Pacific Beach-Mission Beach boardwalk, Crystal Pier first opened in 1927. The bright blue-and-white cottages were constructed later and opened in the 1930s.
Denver resident Jim White was among those staying in one of the cottages while the pier was closed. “It’s frustrating,” he said.
He’d been looking forward to his stay since making a reservation last year — the hotel’s website recommends people make reservations 11 months in advance for the summer months — yet he didn’t know about the pier’s closure until he pulled up to his cottage.
Not only was he looking forward to walking down the pier himself, but also seeing others enjoy the pier.
“It’s not the same … but we’re adjusting,” he said, motioning toward his cottage, which has a private balcony overlooking the ocean. “I feel badly for the people who come and walk. They’re going to be so disappointed.”
However, not all were disappointed.
Nazli and Asad Siddiqui stood at the edge of the pier watching the waves. Even though they couldn’t go to the pier’s end, they said they’d enjoyed walking to the pier during their visit from San Antonio.
Both agreed it was a no-brainer to repair the pier. “It’s like asking people, ‘Do you want an ice cream shop on the beach?’ Nobody is going to say no,” Asad Siddiqui said.
The bait shop that sits about halfway down the pier was closed Friday. But owners of other nearby businesses say they haven’t noticed a change in patronage since the closure.