Natural forces are left unchecked, Ocean Beach as we know it today will be gone sometime this century. Two winters ago, 40 feet of bluff disappeared in a winter storm and a new S.F. State study says sea level rise will take the rest of the southern end of the beach by the year 2100.
"The northern part of Ocean Beach will have fewer impacts, but in the southern part you're talking about no beach, you're talking about erosion going back eventually to the Great Highway, so there's no Great Highway, or only two lanes of the Great Highway," said S.F. State associate professor of economics Philip King.
King says a projected sea level rise of about 4.5 feet by the year 2100 could mean $19.6 million in damages to homes and businesses in a 100-year coastal flood, $82 million in lost tourism and tax revenues, $16.5 million habitat and recreation losses and $540 million in lost or damaged land, buildings, and infrastructure.
"Sea level rise is happening, coastal erosion is happening, but then the question is how do we deal with it?" said King.
An S.F. State photo shows how different sea level rise scenarios might wipe out the Great Highway and some homes.
"We live right on the Great Highway, so if sea level rises too much, we're the first ones that are going to go under water," said business owner Sarah Mitchell.
Mitchell and her husband Alex have a surfboard repair business just up from the Great Highway at 43nd and Lawton. Both are avid surfers and Alex is a former professional. They would favor letting nature take its course.
"Our biggest concern is that it would become too popular and developed," said Sarah.
There is already an Ocean Beach master plan in the works to address increasing coastal erosion. Some possible solutions include moving infrastructure through a process called managed retreat, which would involve building a seawall and adding sand to the beach.