Erosion problems threaten future of Ocean Beach

September 5, 2011 10:05:19 PM PDT
San Francisco's Ocean Beach is under assault from mother nature. Erosion problems are expected to get worse. So for the first time, there is an effort to come up with a long-term vision for what the beach should be like in 50 to 100 years from now.

Ocean Beach is about three-and-a-half miles long, stretching from Lincoln Boulevard on the north to Sloat on the south. It's often gray and windy when the rest of the Bay Area is sunny, but even then it's a major draw for all kinds of recreation.

On sunny days, it is spectacular, but a difficult balancing act lies ahead. Increasing erosion is forcing diverse stakeholders to work together to plan the long-term future of Ocean Beach 50 to 100 years out.

"The problem is that change is coming to Ocean Beach whether we like it or not because as climate change and sea level rise set in, the erosion pressure that we've been seeing that's been causing problems already, is only going to get worse," said Ben Grant of SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

SPUR is taking the lead in creating the Ocean Beach master plan, bringing together all the different local, state and federal agencies and user groups with an interest in what happens here.

For example, there's the National Park Service, concerned about the neglected infrastructure and the eco-system.

"I'd like to see a little bit of a renaissance down here," said GGNRA superintendent Frank Dean.

The Public Utilities Commission is worried about its water treatment plant at the southern end of the beach, a billion dollar investment already under severe threat from the advancing ocean.

"We'd like to come up with a long-term solution," said SFPUC Deputy General Manager Michael Carlin. "Right now we're doing sort of band-aid fixes."

One of those emergency band-aid fixes is to reinforce the area where 40 feet of bluff disappeared during the winter of 2009-2010.

Surfer-environmentalists don't like the affect on coastal access and beauty.

"I mean it really looks like a huge eyesore, it looks like a war zone, and it's been a big caveman approach to dealing with coastal erosion," said Katie Westfall with Save the Waves Coalition.

The list of stakeholders is long and varied.

"We're really caught between a rock and a hard place," said Grant. "It's the kind of situation where it isn't necessarily a great answer. There's going to have to be some trade-offs, there's going to have to be some creative thinking about how we manage these things going forward."

Ocean Beach has had many incarnations over time. SPUR is holding more public workshops to keep shaping its future. When done, the vision won't have the force of law, but will hopefully help influence it.

A seawall dating from the 1920s is still there today. Will it be in 50 years?

"It would be nice to sort of soften that concrete field we have here and a little bit more of a natural welcoming refuge for people as they come out of the neighborhood and in the city and enjoy the beach," said Dean.

And there is actually talk of something called "managed retreat" for the CPUC's 15-acre treatment plant and associated infrastructure.

"Anybody that thinks we can just do something next day and move all this infrastructure inland has another thing to think about because this is a large infrastructure that would have to be relocated in neighborhoods and things of that nature," said Carlin. "It's not an easy thing to do."

The public is invited and encouraged to be a part of the master plan process. The next public workshop will be sometime in October, location to be determined.


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