Police spraypainted “Danger Keep Out” above this cave carved into the bluffs at the foot of Orchard Avenue.
  • Police spraypainted “Danger Keep Out” above this cave carved into the bluffs at the foot of Orchard Avenue.
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The days are numbered for a cave used as an illegal shelter that the city says in danger of collapse at the foot of Orchard Avenue in Ocean Beach.

By next week, police will dislodge any inhabitants of the cave and remove all belongings. A contractor will then demolish a 250-square-foot portion of concrete shell surrounding the cave, allowing the pieces to fall inward and and render it uninhabitable. The work is scheduled to begin October 19, said Conrad Wear, aide to District 2 San Diego city councilmember Lorie Zapf.

“[The inhabitants] will have time to gather their things — the law requires it,” Wear said. “Police will ensure a safe departure.”

The cave sits high on a bluff beneath the Sunset Towers condos at 4909 Orchard Ave. The bluff is reinforced with a five-inch shell of concrete, a rarity on the bluffs and a type of reinforcement no longer permitted. It’s believed the concrete was poured in the early 1980s — probably by the adjacent condo association — but there are no records to verify it, said Mike Fakhoury of the city’s Public Works Department.

Apparently, a chunk of the shell, also called shotcrete, collapsed, which allowed inhabitants to enter and excavate a larger shelter in the bluff, Fakhoury said.

Orchard Avenue residents have been increasingly vocal at recent meetings of the Ocean Beach Town Council, alleging the cave has been a staging area for drug activity, laundry theft, aggressive panhandling, and weapons possession.

A recent look inside the cave revealed ordinary items: mattresses, bedding, a hammock, a stuffed animal, clothing, cigarette butts, votive candles, and two empty mini-bottles, one containing olive oil extract, the other coffee liqueur.

Crews with safety harnesses and hand-held air tools will break up the concrete. Erosion controls will be installed to prevent sediment from falling into the sea. The work will be complete in a few days and cost an estimated $35,000 to the city, Fakhoury said.

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