Planning Department OKs Steps to Address Sea-level Rise at South Ocean Beach

Initiating the amendments to the Western Shoreline Area Plan, begins the required 30 day notice period, after which the Planning Commission may hold a hearing and take action on the proposed amendments are designed to address coastal erosion, flooding, and sea level rise hazards in San Francisco’s Coastal Zone. The current policies and zoning in the Western Shoreline Area Plan will remain unchanged.

Sea level rise and the increased frequency and severity of coastal storms anticipated due to global climate change will likely exacerbate these effects in the decades to come. The proposed amendments will add policies which address coastal hazards including erosion, coastal flooding, and sea level rise.”

The Planning Commission unanimously approved “initiating” the plan and set a tentative hearing for adoption on the matter for April 13th or thereafter. If it is approved at that meeting, it must then be approved by the Board of Supervisors and then by the California Coastal Commission.

Ocean Beach has been highly modified over the past 150 years, pushing the shoreline as much as 200 feet seaward of its natural equilibrium. These changes began with dune stabilization efforts in the 1860’s, followed by the construction of the Great Highway, Esplanade and O’Shaughnessy seawall in 1929, the Taraval seawall in 1941, the Noriega seawall in the 1980’s, and riprap revetments south of Sloat Boulevard over the past 15 years. From the late 1970’s through 1993, the SFPUC constructed major sewer infrastructure at Ocean Beach, including the Oceanside Treatment Plant south of the Zoo, and the Lake Merced Tunnel and Westside Transport Box beneath the Great Highway. Sand has been placed on the beach since the 1970’s, and the northern and middle reaches of the beach are stable, but erosion of south Ocean Beach has damaged the Great Highway, resulted in the loss of beach parking, and threatens to damage critical wastewater system infrastructure.

Sea level rise and the increased frequency and severity of coastal storms anticipated due to global climate change will likely exacerbate these effects in the decades to come. The proposed amendments will add policies which address coastal hazards including erosion, coastal flooding, and sea level rise. These amendments will support near-term adaptation measures identified in the Ocean Beach Master Plan and in development by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco Public Works, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco Recreation and Parks, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

To date, the city has been defending the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard with boulder revetments, but many officials agree that the road is less of a concern than the Lake Merced Tunnel.

Ocean Beach Master Plan Key Move 2, proposed removal of the Great Highway and parking lots between Sloat Boulevard and Skyline Drive with low profile protection for the Lake Merced Tunnel and other wastewater infrastructure. Graphic Credit: SPUR, 2012.

For over a decade, the City has explored options for a planning framework to address erosion and coastal access through the Ocean Beach Task Force and the Ocean Beach Vision Council. The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), an urban planning nonprofit organization, made substantial progress by completing the Ocean Beach Master Plan in 2012.

The Master Plan represents the cooperation and involvement of the City/County and a host of federal, state, and local agencies, as well as community stakeholders in an 18-month planning process addressing seven focus areas: ecology, utility infrastructure, coastal dynamics, image and character, program and activities, access and connectivity, and management and stewardship.

Key Move 2 proposal to remove the Great Highway at Sloat and the beach parking lot, and the addition of a multi-stage coastal protection system of cobble berms and sand nourishment.

The proposed Local Coastal Program amendment integrates portions of the Ocean Beach Master Plan, particularly managed retreat south of Sloat Boulevard. Below is a rendering of proposed shoreline retreat and wastewater protection structures, with the California Coastal Commission.

The Local Coastal Program addresses coastal access, public recreation, transportation, land use, and habitat protection within the Coastal Zone but does not address coastal hazards or sea level rise.

Pursuant to the California Coastal Act of 1976, all development within the state’s Coastal Zone must conform to the public access and coastal resource protection policies of the Coastal Act. These requirements are implemented by the California Coastal Commission in partnership with the state’s coastal cities and counties through local coastal programs.

San Francisco prepared its local coastal program (LCP), comprised of the Western Shoreline Area Plan and implementing policies of the Planning Code, in the early 1980s, and the City’s LCP was certified by the California Coastal Commission as meeting the requirements of the Coastal Act on March 14, 1986. The City exercises coastal development permitting authority under the certified LCP, and the policies of the LCP form the legal standard of review for both public (state and local) and private projects under this authority.

The Coastal Commission retains coastal development permitting jurisdiction over projects located on tidelands, submerged lands, and public trust lands, and for any state, local, or private projects on federal lands. In addition, the federal Coastal Zone Management Act grants federal consistency review authority to the Coastal Commission for all projects affecting the Coastal Zone that are either undertaken by the federal government or that require a federal license, permit, or approval. The Chapter 3 policies of the Coastal Act – not the City’s LCP – serve as the standard of review for the Coastal Commission’s coastal development permitting and federal consistency review authorities.

All projects approved or undertaken by the City, regardless of location, are reviewed for consistency with the General Plan. Thus, the policies of the Western Shoreline Plan apply to both actions that are subject to the City’s coastal permit authority and to the City’s General Plan.

The San Francisco Coastal Zone extends approximately 6 miles along the western shoreline from the Fort Funston cliff area in the south to the Point Lobos recreational area in the north. The south end of the Coastal Zone includes the Lake Merced area, the Zoo, the Olympic Club, and the seashore and bluff area of Fort Funston. The Coastal Zone spans the Ocean Beach shoreline and includes Golden Gate Park west of Fortieth Avenue, the Great Highway corridor and the adjacent residential blocks in the Sunset and Richmond districts. The north end of the seashore includes the Cliff House and Sutro Baths area, Sutro Heights Park, and Point Lobos recreational area.

Most of the San Francisco western shoreline is publicly owned. Golden Gate Park, the Zoo, and Lake Merced contain 60 percent of the 1,771 acres which comprise the Coastal Zone area. Another 25 percent of the Coastal Zone is within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Only 14 percent of the land is privately owned, and 9 percent of this land is within the Olympic Club area. The remainder 5 percent is private residential and commercial property which fronts or lies in close proximity to the seashore.

Ocean Beach, the Cliff House, Sutro Baths, and Fort Funston are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The City’s LCP does not govern federal activities or state, local or private projects on these federal lands. Therefore, policies included in the Western Shoreline Plan (under Objectives 6, 8, and 9) that address federal parklands apply only to actions that are subject to review under the City’s General Plan.

This report used information from the Planning Department and SPUR.

Public information may be obtained from Maggie Wenger (415) 575-9126 | or Chris Kern (415) 575-9037 |

March 2017

Ocean Beach Master Plan

New Focus on West Coast Shoreline Erosion

Chris Kern, Senior Environmental Planner at SF Planning hosted an open house to discuss amending the City's Local Coastal Program

The plan of managing Ocean Beach and dealing with coastal erosion, as well as how city policy will adapt to sea level rise along the West Coast line, is intricate. “We incorporated some recommendations from the Ocean Beach Master Plan (OBMP) on how the city will manage the shoreline erosion issues between Sloat Boulevard and Skyline Road, as well as coast wide,” Chris Kern, the Senior Environmental Planner at SF Planning, said.

“Many have been involved for years, even decades,” he added. “The Ocean Beach Task Force was involved in the 90s. Now we’ve developed the OBMP process, which is anticipating and developing these recommendations. Some of these need to be adopted as city policy.”

They want to do managed retreat and remove [a lane from Great Highway], the road that’s getting more and more traffic every day,” he said. “They want to remove the parking lots for people that go to the beach and remove an existing rock barrier. Then they want to move the barrier and do a sand replenishment in front of that.”


Kern is planning to present to the commission by the end of summer and to the Board of Supervisors in fall. In an effort to amend the City’s Local Coastal Program (LCP), San Francisco Planning hosted an open house forum to discuss the proposed City policy. Along with SPUR, the California Coastal Commission, SF Public Works and other partners, the April 19th meeting held at the San Francisco Zoo was a step towards implementing the Ocean Beach Master Plan.

Ben Grant of SPUR says we can’t keep doing it the way we have been. “It’s not serving anyone.”

The amendment will add LCP policies addressing shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, and sea level rise along the City’s western shoreline. Additionally, it will provide for long-term resiliency by balancing environmental resources, maintaining coastal access, addressing community needs, and protecting the investment in public infrastructure.

Ben Grant of SPUR says the LCP Amendment is the first step where the OBMP ideas will be formally vetted and adopted, which triggers environmental review.

“We have a way forward and we’ve never had that before,” Grant says. “We’re finally getting to where we can approve things on the ground. You’re never going to satisfy everybody and this charts a middle path that most people can deal with.”

Coastal engineer Justin Vandever says the OBMP is a “vision document” that aims to balance the competing interests along the shoreline.

J R De Wood Jr. lives in his van near the vacant Ocean Beach parking lots that have been closed due to coastal erosion

“Ecological resources, public access, wastewater infrastructure, we want to preserve it,” Vandever says. “The OBMP comes to a consensus of what the community wants to look like in the future.”

Vandever says the City and National Park Service are looking at engineering feasibility studies and costs to see what is possible below Sloat Boulevard where there is critical infrastructure. “We’re looking at how much longer we have with consideration to sea level rise, erosion, and El Nino.

“We’ve loaded sand trucks from north beach to be placed on the bluff at Sloat Boulevard as a pilot project,” Vandever says of the interim measures to buy more time while they assess this larger vision. “They placed the sand on the eroded slope making access easier for people who want to enjoy the beach.”

Anna Roche is a climate change special projects manager working on the OBMP south of Sloat Boulevard. She says the key moves for chronic coastal erosion are short- and long-term strategies.

“Short-term, for now until 2021, is softer, environmentally friendly uses of sand and sandbags,” Roche said. “The long-term solution is a low profile wall outside of the Lake Merced tunnel with our wastewater management closer to the seaward.”

“We have been following the public process that went into OBMP and did a thorough development. Lots of voices are being heard” she says.

Roche adds that in an area with three San Francisco districts touching the Ocean Beach area, coordination takes a long time. “Government agencies have gotten on board, but getting senior management on board takes time.”

Vandever sees the momentum and is hopeful for growing support.

“Engineers and planners have the idea that these plans are possible from technical standpoint, but are they possible from a financial and political stand point? We’re getting everybody on board to make these things happen and there’s lot of motivation,” he says.

“The Cliff House is a location where we have a surplus of sand. One of the goals of the Regional Sediment Management Plan is to rebalance where we have surpluses and deficits to move the sand around,” Vandever adds.

Chris Potter of the California National Resources Agency says the Coastal Sediment Management Plan hopes to give the communities of San Francisco, Pacifica, and Daly City a plan for sea level rise, coastal erosion adaption and resilience that can be tapped into when necessary.

“The plan has been developed and we hope they will use it as they deal with the issues,” Potter says.

The Ocean Beach community has its own opinion on the OBMP. They feel that downsizing roadways and keeping parking lots vacant does not address their local needs.

Dennis Holl, a 30-year local, is concerned about an influx of traffic if the roads are scaled down.

“They want to do managed retreat and remove [a lane from Great Highway], the road that’s getting more and more traffic every day,” he said. “They want to remove the parking lots for people that go to the beach and remove an existing rock barrier. Then they want to move the barrier and do a sand replenishment in front of that.”

“I say restore it instead,” Holl added.

Kern says manage retreat provides for better public access and a better beach environment. It will provide a broader beach over a longer period of time.

Ocean Beach resident J R De Wood Jr. wants the people to have parking access immediately.

“I live in my van by those parking lots that are just sitting dormant,” Wood says. “The residents are coming out anyway, open them up. There has to be a way to implement something now.”

Grant from SPUR admits the vision will have to be revisited in the coming decades as we learn about how sea level rises along the coast line.

“We can’t keep doing it the way we have been. It’s not serving anyone,” he says. “We have been working a solution for six years that can keep the infrastructure in place.”

Other organizations in support of the LPC Amendment are the Department of Public Works, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, SF MTA, Surf Rider Foundation, and Ocean Beach stake-holder groups.

“There’s good support,” Kern says. “These groups coming together is a big achievement.”

Tony Taylor is a local reporter.

May 2016

Erosion Spurs Planning at Ocean Beach

Severe erosion, the result of surging sea levels, has forced the closure and reduced access to parking areas as well as some of the right lane of the Great Highway in what is referred to as “managed retreat.”

The highway, once touted as the “widest stretch of pavement over 3000 feet long,” and the Esplanade, “of enduring concrete which will render for all time the beach safe from the destructive effects of the ocean’s activities,” will need major armoring to assure their future. Both will undoubtedly be revised by new proposals for the popular seaside destination.

This poses a very real threat to a very critical sewage-treatment complex that is essential to protect coastal water quality in San Francisco. The environmental consequences of a rupture and sewage spill would be severe.”

The “Great Highway” was built over several decades, beginning with fenced dune stabilization efforts; it has been widened, straightened and “improved” by dumping fill since the 1890s. The Great Highway, Ocean Beach Esplanade and O’Shaughnessy Seawall were dedicated in 1929 by Mayor James Rolph, Jr. The $1,000,000 project was financed through a $9,380,000 highway bond issue voted by the people as “the finest stretch of highway ever constructed.” The colossal Sunday, June 9, celebration featured a band of over 1000 musicians, while more than 50,000 people swarmed the connection at Lincoln Way as thousands of motorists tooted their horns to add to the din marking the occasion.

Almost a century later, much of Mayor Rolph’s “magnificent municipal improvement” will get a major diet. San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) has led the planning and advocacy, over a decade, through five major public workshops and many more community and stakeholder meetings, as well as exhibitions, forums and online surveys, to find solutions to the ongoing and unsustainable project. SPUR, through two community-led task forces (the Ocean Beach Task Force and the Ocean Beach Vision Council) has expended considerable energy to address the erosion encroaching the highway, which is likely to worsen. The Ocean Beach Master Plan (OBMP), though not an officially sanctioned document, is the most thorough study of the situation to date.Ocean Erosion

According to Ben Grant, SPUR Project Manager for the OBMP, one of the plan’s most pressing priorities is “closing a short, severely eroded section of the highway south of Sloat Boulevard, and replacing it with a walking and biking trail.” Car traffic would be re-routed onto Sloat and Skyline Boulevards, state-of-the–art highway designs meant for high-speed traffic (by 1938 standards). Both have unused capacity.

The most controversial part of the plan’s recommendation, that the Great Highway be narrowed to two lanes along the main stretch, met with considerable negative reaction. “We’re not going to be pushing for it at this time, because we have much more core, transformative projects to consider,” Grant said. Opposition to the narrowing plan has come mostly from Lower Great Highway residents who don’t want traffic diverted to residential streets.

In response to a question posted on SPUR’s website for the project —Why does the plan propose the eventual closure of part of the Great Highway? The response outlines the major problem: “This stretch of roadway is exposed to chronic and worsening coastal erosion and will be increasingly difficult to keep open. In 2010, winter storms resulted in the partial closure of this portion of the road for ten months. Bluffs receded forty feet in some locations, threatening not just the road, but wastewater infrastructure as well. Sea-level rise and increased winter storms are projected to worsen these conditions in the coming decades. Inland circulation routes would be safer from coastal hazards.”

The OBMP adds that frequent severe weather conditions result in bluff and beach erosion south of Sloat Boulevard. “This poses a very real threat to a critical sewage-treatment complex that is essential to protect coastal water quality in San Francisco. The environmental consequences of a rupture and sewage spill would be severe.”

Space that is added by the restriction of pavement would be used for coastal protection measures, public recreation, and environmental restoration, according to the plan.

Many members of the public have asked about the possibility of protecting the road with a hard structure such as a large seawall or boulder revetment to control erosion. However coastal armoring at Ocean Beach, a National Park that connects important open space and habitat areas, would require permits from the California Coastal Commission and the National Park Service, and are “unlikely” to be approved.

The California Coastal Commission unanimously rejected a City and County of San Francisco permit application for armoring measures at the beach. Local environmental advocates such as Golden Gate Audubon, Surfrider, Save the Waves and other ocean protection groups strongly oppose hard structure armoring in favor of “managed retreat,” “beach nourishment” (sand replacement) and limited hard structure armoring.

An OBMP traffic study revealed that the Great Highway carries about 18,000 cars a day, less than half its 40,000 capacity. Removing two lanes would still allow 20,000 cars per day and removing the coast-side traffic lanes could reduce the 60 times per year when sand blowing onto the highway forces closure and diverts traffic onto the residential street, Lower Great Highway. The buffer space would be used to rebuild the dunes the voters removed almost a hundred years ago. WastewaterTreatment

Pressure from the federal Clean Water Act prompted a significant upgrade to the westside’s sewer-stormwater system that began in the 70s. It was not uncommon to experience 60-70 sewer overflows into the ocean per year. The current system, completed in 1993, has reduced the overflows to less than eight each year. The Lake Merced Tunnel is a 14 ft diameter tube that runs under the Great Highway from the Westside Pump Station Station beginning at Sloat Boulevard to Fort Funston. It is immediately vulnerable to erosion and must be protected or moved to prevent serious sewage spills. The Westside Transport Box is a long rectangular tube running from Lincoln Boulevard under the Great Highway that collects sewage and stormwater runoff from a large swath of the westside, including the Richmond. It ends at the Westside Pump Station, where it is pumped through the Lake Merced Tunnel to the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant. There it is treated and the effluent is released to the ocean, 4.5 miles out to sea through the Southwest Ocean Outfall.

Parts of the current wastewater system are over 100 years old, but most is new and effective. Twice, the City of San Francisco was forced to respond to serious erosion episodes with temporary armoring, by dumping boulder revetments.

Any changes at Ocean Beach are under the jurisdictions of multiple overlapping public agencies, including the National Park Service, the SF Public Utilities Commission, the CA Coastal Commission, The SF Department of Public Works, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the SF Dept of Recreation and Parks, and others. SPUR’s role as “convener” was initiated by the Ocean Beach Vision Council.

Any proposals included in the OBMP are intended to be implemented gradually, over a decade or even longer if erosion slows from its current pace. Some actions will be taken by coastal engineers as a response to “triggers” to ensure the safety of the infrastructure and the environment. Other segments of the proposal will depend on the permitting process through the various agencies and everything is contingent on funding allocated through public hearings and with input from stakeholders.

Environmental review under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) also requires additional technical analysis, consideration of alternatives and public outreach. Currently San Francisco is beginning an update of its Local Coastal Program (LCP) as an element of the city’s General Plan.

More information on the proposals and the 212 page Ocean Beach Master Plan are available through

November 2014

Great Highway: Addressing Sea Level Rise

Ocean Beach, one of the gems of the San Francisco landscape, faces significant challenges. For the past two years, SPUR has led an extensive interagency and public process to develop the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access. There is still time to submit feedback.

Critical erosion along the Great Highway is expected to continue and DPW has plans to change the width South of Sloat from four lanes to two lanes. The two north-bound lanes, those most affected by ongoing erosion, would be removed to allow for coastal retreat.”

Department of Public Works’ project to abandon the two northbound Great Highway lanes in the near future (3-10 years) provides the opportunity to provide a multi-use coastal trail, bluff restoration and parking reconfiguration. This plan recommends the two lane reduction continue until the Skyline and Greaty Highway intersection. DPW is still studying whether the Great Highway returns to four lanes as it nears the intersection.

What are the opportunities and constraints of using the two abandoned lanes of the Great Highway south of Sloat? Providing more access to the coastal areas, improve aesthetics and habitat

Critical erosion along the Great Highway is expected to continue and DPW has plans to change the width South of Sloat from four lanes to two lanes. The two north-bound lanes, those most affected by ongoing erosion, would be removed to allow for coastal retreat. The remaining southbound lanes would be reconfigured to accomodate the remaining traffic. DPW is studying three options of the new road configuration. Option 1 envisions 2 lanes, 1 lane each way. Option 2 envisions 2 northbound lanes, with southbound traffic redirected through Sloat and Skyline. Option 3 envisions 2 southbound lanes, northbound traffic redirected through Skyline and Sloat.

The long term vision as erosion intensifies includes plans to remove asphalt and replace Great Highway lanes with a Coastal trail.

SPUR’s open space design workshop at the United Irish Cultural Center on September 24th For more information on proposed open space designs at both the North Reach, across from Golden Gate Park between Lincoln Way and Balboa Street, and the South Reach, along the Great Highway from Sloat to Skyline Blvd.

Residents may submit your comments to SPUR by October 15, 2014:

Open Space Design at Ocean Beach • 6 pm | Monday, October 27

In the third program in this three-part series, learn how a decommissioning of two lanes of the Great Highway will provide opportunities to improve public access with a coastal trail and other amenities designed to adapt to an eroding coastline.

Admission: Free to SPUR members, $10 for non-members.

SPUR Urban Center, 654 Mission Street INFO: / 415.781.8726

October 2014

Infrastructure Along Ocean Beach Needs Repair

As summer approaches, even in foggy weather, Ocean Beach and the Great Highway is an attraction for traffic and visitors from everywhere. This is why San Francisco Dept. of Public Works and a collaboration of other agencies want to work quickly to repair the bluff section near the Great Highway and south of Sloat Blvd from erosion in last year’s winter storm.

DPW hosted a community meeting to over 30 people on May 6, at the Janet Pomeroy Recreation Center for the Handicapped on Slyline Blvd not far from Great Highway and Ocean Beach.

The purpose of the meeting that Thursday evening was to alert the public that the erosion that occurred in that stretch was extensive, affecting more than 900 feet. During the past winter storms, in some spots along the bluff of the Great Highway up to 70 feet had receded.

With the assistance of the National Park Service, California Coastal Commission and the CA Dept. of Fish & Game, over 1,000 tons of debris were removed from the beach and a 425 foot rock revetment or embankment was installed.

Repair work has been in progress since January, getting the most critical portions stabilized at a cost of 1.5 million. These urgent repairs from the winter storms of 2009 were completed this past April and are considered “Phase I.”

Yet Ed Reiskin, director of DPW, told the audience that this erosion repair is only a short-term fix. “We don’t want to just throw up barricades,” he said. “We will need more detailed, long term planning.”

Ocean Beach and the surrounding coastline are vital to the environmental health of the City and Bay Area. Steady population growth and ever-changing demographics continue to make an impact on the entire coastal area.

The City’s infrastructure is of great concern, especially since the waste water tunnel and sewage treatment plant are at Ocean Beach. If that sewage treatment plant was to be disrupted or broken by further erosion, the consequences would be chaotic citywide.

“The City is in a difficult situation because it has spent millions of dollars on the sewage treatment plant,” said George Durgerian, media rep for National Parks Service.

“They have to protect their infrastructure, he told the Sunset Beacon, but they also know that you can’t beat Mother Nature,” added Durgerian.

Durgerian pointed out that “some of the techniques used in the erosion control project have met with mixed results,” (such as soil nails and piling). “In our goal to preserve the environmental integrity of Ocean Beach and the surrounding coastline we prefer the most natural means and materials used for these projects,” Durgerian said.

While the two hour presentation and discussion on May 6 was sweeping, covering many aspects, people listened and asked questions.

Representatives from several City, State and Federal agencies were present. Among them were Astrid Haryati of the Mayor’s office, Gabriel Metcalf of the non-profit SF Planning & Urban Research (SPUR), the National Park Service and District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

DPW and other agencies like the State Costal Conservancy are all working together hoping that “Phase II” of the repair work will be able to protect the Great Highway from further erosion damage. Cost estimates for the Phase II and then Phase III have not been tabulated yet.

City officials at the May 6 meeting mentioned that while estimates for Phase II and Phase III have not been tallied, there is over 2 million dollars secured for this project through previously approved bond measure funds.

Speaking on behalf of the State Coastal Conservancy, Moira McEnespy, Deputy Program Manager for SF, said, “we are very much looking forward to working with the community, SPUR, the City, the National Parks Service/GGNRA, and others to holistically address issues and opportunities at Ocean Beach,”

“We are fortunate to be able to build off previous work by the Ocean Beach Vision Council,” said McEnespy. She is hopefully anticipating that funding will be approved from the conservancy and other sources.

June 2010