Environmental group sues San Francisco over Ocean Beach rock piles
An environmental organization has filed a lawsuit against San Francisco, seeking to force the city to remove rock piles and other structures the group says were placed improperly on Ocean Beach, plus what could be tens of millions of dollars in civil fines.
“[The California Coastal Protection Network] looks forward to the day when San Francisco removes the debris they have illegally dumped in the ocean and near shore area and begins the implementation of thoughtful, resource protection based long term planning,” CCPN Executive Director Susan Jordan said in a written statement.
The California Coastal Protection Network filed the suit in San Francisco Superior Court through the Otten and Joyce law firm and outer Sunset District lawyer Mark Massara.
“This is going to be one of the largest, if not the largest coastal enforcement actions ever,” said Massara, a prominent environmental lawyer and resident of the Ocean Beach area.
“Our lawsuit reflects our extreme frustration” that the city has ignored the matter and made it worse since 1999, he said.
“The city is not entitled to just go out there and do whatever work they feel like.”
Massara said San Francisco should be addressing the impacts of coastal erosion and rising sea levels through a long-term process including managed retreat from parts of the coast, under the approval of the California Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over a broad range of coastal construction and other activities.
The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is in the process of reviewing the suit and will not comment on it until a formal response is prepared, said Matt Dorsey, the city attorney’s communications director.
A trial could take years, Massara said, but he expects an initial response from the City Attorney’s Office within a few weeks.
Massara acknowledged that the actual amount of civil fines — if any — the city may pay is the stuff of negotiation and courtroom lawyering. But with fines for willful violation of the California Coastal Act coming in at $15,000 per day, per violation, he said it’s possible that San Francisco could face as much as $30 million in penalties by his reckoning.
Fines paid for violation of the Coastal Act go to the California State Coastal Conservancy, a state agency dedicated to protecting California’s coastal resources.
In July, the San Francisco Department of Public Works asked the Coastal Commission for permission to install hundreds of feet of new rock revetments and walls on the southern end of Ocean Beach, between Sloat Boulevard and Fort Funston. DPW told the commission the construction was necessary to protect the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant — a treatment facility just east of the Great Highway that processes the waste water for the western part of the city — from coastal erosion such as the damage that prompted the city to close an adjacent part of the Great Highway in January 2010.
DPW also wanted the commission to retroactively legalize stretches of rock walls the city installed years ago without a permit.
But the commission unanimously denied the request for a permit. Commissioners expressed doubts that a true short-term emergency existed in that area of Ocean Beach, and indicated frustration that DPW had come to them with only short-term work instead of with a long-term plan to address continuing erosion issues.
One result of the Coastal Commission’s outright rejection of the permit request, said Massara, is that the city had no outside incentive to clean up existing rocks and other hard structures in the southern portion of Ocean Beach, including the material that had been installed without permits.
Massara said it was apparent DPW also didn’t take seriously a 1999 Board of Supervisors resolution stating that the board “prohibits the expenditure of funds on the use of hard structures, such as rock revetment or seawalls, to stabilize conditions at Ocean Beach” and urging the removal of rocks in place at the time.
“The reality is the city was ordered by the Board of Supervisors in 1999 to pick up the rocks,” Massara said. “I’ve lost all faith in their ability to follow through.”
Read the complete text of the California Coastal Protection Lawsuit filed against San Francisco.
- Erosion expected to strip economic value of Ocean Beach | The Ocean Beach Bulletin
- State coastal agency could fund Ocean Beach Master Plan | The Ocean Beach Bulletin