On the Brink of an Ocean Beach Master Plan

Ocean Beach is the ultimate transition zone, a place where the San Francisco’s urban world of skyscrapers, lawyers, high tech and high finance butts up against the vast aquatic wilderness of the Pacific Ocean. Maybe that’s fitting, because this part of San Francisco could very well be on the cusp of change the scale of which it hasn’t seen in many years.

The ambition of the Ocean Beach Master Plan is not only to determine what form that change might take – but also to develop concrete recommendations for how to make desirable changes, keep those things that are fine as they are, and adapt to the uncertainties that a rising sea and changing climate may have in store.


A stunning view of Ocean Beach, taken from Flickr under the creative commons. Picture posted by "st3ve"

The creation of the master plan will take about 18 months and is scheduled to conclude at the end of 2011. When it’s done, the result will be a document intended to guide decision-makers as they determine where natural forces should be left to work their way, where the amenities that make the area attractive to visitors and residents should be improved, and where the City and other agencies should be prepared to see existing infrastructure challenged by rising seas.

Backed by nearly half a million dollars in funding, the development of the Ocean Beach Master Plan is being coordinated by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a think tank specializing in city planning and good government.

Benjamin Grant, who is directing the project for SPUR, said the master plan is built on the earlier work of the Ocean Beach Task Force established under former Mayor Willie Brown and the Ocean Beach Vision Council created under Mayor Gavin Newsom. The master plan picks up where those study and planning organizations left off, “but with an eye toward getting things done.”

One of those things that needs to get done: Deciding what to do about the coastal erosion that that saw parking lots and even parts of the Great Highway claimed by the sea.

“This project is not strictly about the erosion issue,” said Grant. “But it has to address erosion to move on to other things.”

He said the master plan was an opportunity for the City to move beyond its mode of reacting to individual erosion emergencies and start thinking for the long term.

Grant sees the Ocean Beach area – sometimes viewed by neighbors as a recipient of the mixed blessings of benign neglect from the City – as full of potential. In fact, he said, it “could be one of the crown jewels of the San Francisco landscape.”

That’s a thought shared by Josh Berry, environmental director for Save the Waves, a group dedicated to preserving surfing spots and the coastal environment.

“We would love to see the feds step in,” Berry said. In particular, he said, the southern part of Ocean Beach “is potentially the next great legacy project of the GGNRA.”

Golden Gate National Recreation Area representative George Durgerian said the agency, which oversees the beach and some nearby areas, would like to see an active process produce a workable plan: “Our hope is the planning process will go along the same lines as the one we did for Crissy Field.”

Grant said he expects to hold meetings in November and December to talk with people who live in or do business in neighborhoods adjacent to the beach, and gather suggestions from the public.

According to the Information Center for the Environment at the University of California, Davis, the Ocean Beach Master Plan’s budget of $455,000 comes primarily from the California Coastal Conservancy, which contributed $300,000. The City and County of San Francisco put up $90,000 and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area chipped in $10,000. An additional $55,000 came from unspecified other sources.

SPUR hosts a talk about the Ocean Beach Master Plan at its South of Market headquarters at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21. In addition to a discussion of the master plan, Grant said the talk will include coastal engineer Bob Battalio with “a crash course in the physical processes that shape Ocean Beach” and how those processes affect beach erosion and infrastructure near the beach.

Picture credit – “st3ve”

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