Renewal of Newport Avenue soon to come

Ruts, gouges, dips, cracks to be eliminated from Ocean Beach's main drag

The view up Newport from downtown O.B.
  • The view up Newport from downtown O.B.

Newport Avenue is the most important commercial corridor in Ocean Beach. The avenue’s historic buildings, bars, eateries, and antique shops rate high on the funk scale, drawing people from all over San Diego and beyond.

But drive the street and you’ll discover ruts, gouges, dips, cracks, and other breaches. A recent announcement, then, that the avenue is about to be repaved for the first time in nearly four decades struck many as an early Christmas present. But not everyone is ready to thank Santa.

As early as this February, heavy equipment will be used to dig in and pulverize Newport Avenue between Abbott and Guizot streets — a six-block stretch — in preparation for a new layer of asphalt. The whole job will take three days, possibly jeopardizing the weekly Wednesday farmers’ market held on the street, said John Ly, aide to Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

An asphalt overlay is a treatment reserved for the city’s worst streets. Often, the procedure becomes necessary when a street has not received periodic maintenance that extends the life of a street, such as a slurry seal, Ly said recently at the final 2015 public meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council board of directors.

In a follow-up email, Ly said he didn’t know if the life of Newport Avenue was prematurely shortened due to deferred maintenance and referred further inquiries to the city’s Communications Department. The city did not respond to several emails for this story.

But Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association, said merchants have struggled with the road for decades. There’s even evidence that, when maintenance was attempted, it was misapplied — raising the height of the street’s crown in some parts and exacerbating flooding that occurs during heavy rains.

“[F]or the last 20 years we have been trying to get Newport Avenue on the radar to be resurfaced,” Knox said in an email.

In the previous decade, a community development block grant was approved to revitalize the street, including drainage improvements, street grinding and resurfacing, the installation of concrete gutters, and beautification measures. But a significant amount of the money wound up being spent to “study and assess the needs” of the project, Knox said. It was never fully funded and eventually abandoned before it was complete, city records show.

Part of the project would have corrected prior unsuccessful maintenance projects, Knox said.

“We hoped to accomplish two things: one, reduce the height of the street by 3 or 5 inches; two, reduce the flooding of the businesses and sidewalks that happens with heavy rainfall. Newport Avenue itself should be able to carry heavy rainwater down the hill rather than overflowing the curbs. If you look at old photos of Newport Avenue, the curbs were pretty substantial and protected the businesses from constant flooding,” Knox said.

Proper maintenance “would probably have saved us a lot of problems over the years,” she said.

The contract for repaving the street is in the planning phase. The contractor will have a list of streets with discretion to complete the list in the order it chooses. Construction will take place between February and May, Ly said.

After 20 years of false starts, Knox isn’t holding her breath. “I’ll believe it if and when I see it,” she said.

Other upcoming repaving projects include: West Point Loma Boulevard between Spray and Abbott streets and between Cable Street and Nimitz Boulevard; and Froude Street between Adair and Alhambra streets. A slurry seal on Voltaire Street from Ebers Street to Catalina Boulevard should be complete by the end of January, Ly said.

The last time Newport Avenue west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard was paved was June of 1977, city documents show.

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Many areas of the city have had this sort of short shrift with street paving. OB apparently lacked enough clout with city hall to get the mess taken care of years ago. But I know of other 'hoods that are much worse off, and that have no plans for repaving. As far as disruption when reconstruction is going on, that's just a price that has to be paid for getting it done right. Halfway measures are not going to cut it on Newport Avenue.

If Kev-boy will get off his stadium, "keep the Bolts" hobbyhorse and back to his campaign and inaugural promises, more of this sort of thing could be coming to a street near you. When any OB'er hears about "infrastructure maintenance backlog", he/she needs to take a look at Newport and other streets to see it up close and personal. That's what all the talk is about: streets, sidewalks, water mains that burst, and sewers.

As a former resident, I can attest that OB may be one of the worst beach towns in the United States to use a skateboard as general transportation. The roads over there have been terrible for years. Every street in that entire neighborhood needs to be repaved. This is the United States, if you live three blocks from the beach a skateboard ride to Rite Aid shouldn't resemble trying to roll down a bombed-out street in Iraq.

Deferred maintenance has been standard operating procedure since Pete Wilson. He 'saved' money and balanced the budget by not attending to our infrastructure and it has snowballed ever since. Once you get behind the eight ball it is almost impossible to catch up.

@AlexClarke: You're right, and that appears to be the case with Newport Avenue, though the city's Communication Department would not offer a response to that specific point.

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