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86-ing a 76: Tanks yanked from La Jolla gas station site

Now here’s something La Jollans don’t see every day: 9-ton gas tanks dangling 25 feet above the ground.

From 10:30 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Jan. 24, two 12,000-gallon and one 10,000-gallon tanks were hoisted by crane out of a pit dug beneath the shuttered 76 Unocal gas station at 801 Pearl St. (The bigger tanks formerly held unleaded and premium, the smaller tank diesel.)

Owner Mark Conger — who purchased the now-55-year-old gas station in 1999 and closed it in September — told the Light that the Canadian buyer he lined up for the property fell through. In 2015, the property was permitted by the City’s Development Services Department for a 23,340-square-foot mixed-use building with 12 condos, four retail spaces and an underground garage.

“They dropped out, so it’s still my property,” Conger said, “but I wanted to move forward with this, so I could get these tanks out and get things rolling. So it’s on me right now.”

Workers break up the pavement at La Jolla's former Unocal gas station at 801 Pearl St.
Workers break up the pavement at La Jolla's former Unocal gas station at 801 Pearl St. COREY LEVITAN

The tank-removal process — which cost $40,000 and took three days — included breaking up the pavement above the emptied tanks, digging around them, scrubbing them three times and then packing each with 200 pounds of dry ice. (In case any traces of gas are left inside, this protocol prevents a spark from igniting them during transportation.) A crane from Bob’s Crane Service in Lakeside hoisted the tanks from beneath the ground to a waiting flatbed truck bound for National City.

Workers lower the first of three gas tanks onto a waiting flatbed truck.
Workers lower the first of three gas tanks onto a waiting flatbed truck. COREY LEVITAN

The job was performed under the close watch of two workers from the County of San Diego Hazardous Materials Division, who tested soil samples at a mobile lab they brought on site.

Conger, who still owns three other gas stations in San Diego, previously told the Light that he wants to sell the land for $5 million. (The project will cost between $17-$20 million to complete.)

“I think redevelopment is good for the community,” Conger said. “Not everybody agrees with me, but I think it’s going to be a much, much better use of this property for everybody — as opposed to an old gas station.”

This 2013 rendering of Conger's proposed project was modified before being redone by another architect and approved in 2015.
This 2013 rendering of Conger's proposed project was modified before being redone by another architect and approved in 2015. LIGHT FILE

La Jollans frequently complained about the 76 station’s gas prices, which sometimes were a dollar more per gallon than the nearby Chevron Station at 7475 La Jolla Blvd.“It was just a strategy, just a choice,” Conger said. “I sold less but at a higher price and better margin.”

If he can’t find a new taker, Conger said, he might decide to develop the property himself.

“Maybe, I don’t know,” he said. “I will if I have to, but I really don’t want to. I’m not a developer. That’s not what I do.”

Conger said he’s also taking bids on that iconic red 76 ball.

“If nobody wants it,” he joked, “I’m going to roll it down Pearl Street.”

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