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- December 21, 2011
SPUR is pleased to issue a call for applicants for a twelve-week fellowship in the summer of 2012.
The Piero N. Patri Fellowship in Urban Design is a hands-on position for a current graduate student or 2010/2011 graduate in urban design, architecture, landscape architecture or a related field. The fellowship provides the opportunity to gain firsthand experience working in the urban design and planning field on a project that will have a positive impact on the city of San Francisco and the Bay Area.
San Francisco expects a significant increase in waterfront visitors during America’s Cup 34 in 2013. This year’s fellow will develop a program to engage visitors and neighbors with a visioning project about the San Francisco southeast waterfront. Drawing upon the findings of past Patri Fellowship projects, the fellow will study the history and development of the southeast waterfront and analyze opportunities to increase public access and awareness to further San Francisco’s Blue Greenway projects. Use of case studies will provide inspiration for the development of an interpretive strategy for providing tangible and intangible connections to this important area of San Francisco. The final deliverable will be an informational, web-based, multi-media tool with accompanying print component. The fellow will refer to past and potential plans and designs as benchmarks of progress and will create a project that will entice visitors and neighbors to better understand the potential future of the southeast waterfront.
Applications due via e-mail by 5 p.m., Friday February 3, 2012.
Get more information and view past projects >>
- December 19, 2011By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
Ever the pioneer in the political process, California is once again experimenting with its democracy, this time with new approach to helping the public understand reform proposals. Conducted earlier this year, the What’s Next California Project is California’s first state-wide deliberative poll, in which a random sample of the population is polled on important public-policy issues, then gathers to discuss those issues and is polled again. Deliberative polls have been conducted around the world, in Britain, Australia, Denmark and the U.S. The inaugural California poll covered four basic areas: the initiative process, the state legislature, state and local relations and tax and fiscal issues. Thirty proposals were deliberated by a scientific sample of 412 participants.
How it works:
- Random polling. A random, representative sample is polled on the targeted issues.
- Convening. Members of the sample are invited to a single location for a weekend of deliberation on specific legislative proposals.
- Balanced briefing materials. Carefully balanced briefing materials are provided to the participants in advance, to provide background and information about the pros and cons of each legislative proposal.
- Group discussions. Participants engage in two stages of discussion:
• Group sessions with trained moderators to review and consider the background, strengths and weaknesses of each proposal, and identify questions for further discussion.
• Joint session with experts and political leaders from both sides of the issues, who address questions developed in group discussions.
- Re-poll participants. Following the deliberations, the sample is again asked the original questions to determine whether opinions have changed with information and discussion.
The idea is that any changes in opinion represent the conclusions the public would reach if people had an opportunity to become more informed and engaged. As you might imagine, the California deliberative poll yielded some fascinating discussions about how citizens feel about the important structural issues facing our state. Discussions helped the groups to think through their arguments for and against proposals; in the end, support for all four of the initiative proposals increased following the discussions.
Is this the future of polling? Perhaps a way to craft legislative proposals to remake our state government? Unfortunately, deliberative polls are expensive, especially when conducted on a statewide basis. Not only is rigorous sampling and screening necessary, but participants must be sequestered in a single location for a series of conversations — not an inexpensive proposition when bringing 500 people from across the state. On a more local level, however, there may be promise for the deliberative process. Testing local or regional initiatives could simultaneously contain the cost and streamline the process. Still, the cost is significant for any issue compared to more traditional methods.
As the dust from this inaugural session settles, what comes next?
Join us for a discussion of the California deliberative poll results >>
Our January 3 forum features key organizers James Fishkin of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, Zabrae Valentine of California Forward and Lenny Mendonca of McKinsey & Company.
Learn more about the delibeartive polling process>>
Watch videos of the sessions, and read the results of the California poll at the Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy.Tags: good government
- December 15, 2011By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
This is a time of significant flux in the Bay Area’s regional planning landscape.
First, there is a serious proposal in the California State Legislature to change the way the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is governed. MTC is the main funder of transportation in the Bay Area. The proposal, Assembly Bill 57, would add seats on this commission for the cities of San Jose and Oakland. It would be the first change to the allocation of seats on the MTC since it was formed in 1970.
At the same time, the MTC and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) are leading the Bay Area’s implementation of Senate Bill 375, which mandated that every region in California come up with a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing land uses to reduce driving.
Finally, as the Bay Area continues to face slow job growth, there is increasing talk about whether the MTC, ABAG and other regional agencies can play a stronger supportive role in economic development.
In early December, SPUR was asked to testify at both a state senate hearing and at the Bay Area’s Joint Policy Committee, which represents the four regional government agencies: the MTC, ABAG, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). We answered questions about how economic development happens, the role of regional agencies in fostering it and the challenges specific to the Bay Area. Here’s a recap:
How does economic development take place?
We started by describing some basic theory about local economic development policy. It’s important to keep in mind that local and regional policy tools to affect the economy are in some ways very limited. Many “fundamentals” of the economy — such as how expensive your currency is, the cost of credit, the structure of patent law and the number of immigrants who are allowed to move into a region — are beyond the control of local or regional government. And of course, the vast majority of economic decisions take place in interactions between firms and consumers, and these can only be indirectly influenced by policy of any kind. But keeping the limits of economic development policy in perspective, there are still some important steps that we should take:
Our first task is to produce an analytic description of what drives our economy (what we export, how competitive our industries are).
Second, we need to understand what local and regional factors shape this competitiveness. This includes our systems of education finance, infrastructure and local policy, as well as our general quality of life.
Third, we bring leaders in business, government, and higher education together to shape a forward-looking economic strategy. This process cannot be entirely led by the public sector, but it must have strong government support and backing.
SPUR argued that it is not appropriate for the Joint Policy Committee to be the lead entity in producing a regional economic strategy. The best economic development efforts bring firms, government agencies, educational institutions and other stakeholders together to shape a strategy. We suggested that the Bay Area should move toward the creation of something like a regional economic development commission with both public and private leadership, whose role is to produce, manage and continually update a regional economic strategy.
What are the Bay Area’s key regional planning and economic challenges?
The region faces three daunting challenges that affect both economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability:
1. Slow job growth
2. Increasing job sprawl and declining density of employment
3. High reliance on car commuting
SPUR thinks that the future requires a change in how we go about regional planning and economic development.
Our competitors — urban areas around the world such as Shanghai, Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore —differ from the Bay Area in two important ways. First, these other metropolitan areas are better coordinated regionally. They have forward-thinking economic development strategies and local and regional government structures that foster collaboration, prioritization and investment. Second, they have high employment density. That is, many of their workers are in dense settings where they can share ideas and collaborate. Sure, those places still envy the Silicon Valley idea-generation machine, which continually spins out successful companies. But our key advantages (education, research, infrastructure) are increasingly threatened. In the past, the economic benefits of agglomeration (dense groupings of complementary companies, suppliers and industries) did not require urbanism or urban places. In the future it will.
Given this, we think future Bay Area competitiveness will require locating more jobs in denser urban centers — places like downtown Palo Alto, Berkeley, San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco — as well as increasing the density in suburban job locations such as office parks and corporate campuses. In fact, SPUR will be releasing a major study on these ideas in January 2012.
What is the role of regional agencies in fostering economic development?
We argued that there are two key roles for the regional agencies.
- Pursuing tools to make dense and densifying job centers more attractive financially (e.g. changes to tax policy or air quality rules for indirect emissions)
- Changing the region’s transit expansion and transit-oriented development policy to reward or require jobs near transit (current rules only require planning for housing near transit)
- Pricing on highways in order to raise needed funds for new infrastructure (current plans for road pricing do not raise any additional revenue for transit)
- Block grants focused on transit-served dense places (this is a live proposal at ABAG and MTC)
Second, they should look more closely at the economic impact of their plans, policies and programs. In short, MTC and other regional agencies ought to consider how their investments and policies will affect local and regional economic growth. For our purposes, this is broader than simply assessing how a decision might affect the regulatory environment for firms.
How does this all relate to regional governance and the distribution of seats on the MTC?
The question of regional governance is related to how the Bay Area can best improve its economic competitiveness. SPUR has been looking at this question specifically around the current allocation of seats on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Assembly Bill 57 would increase the total number of MTC commissioners from 19 to 21 and the number of county seats from 14 to 16 (three each for Santa Clara and Alameda, two each for San Francisco, San Mateo and Contra Costa, and one each for Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Solano).
Objectively, there are legitimate reasons to change MTC’s allocation of seats. A lot has changed since MTC was formed in 1970.
Santa Clara County today has 25 percent of the region’s jobs and people but only 14 percent of the seats (two of 14 seats allocated by county). Alameda has more than 20 percent of jobs and people but only two seats. San Francisco has two seats, 12 percent of the people and 17 percent of the jobs. When looking at representation for our three biggest cities, there is even greater underrepresentation today: San Franciso, San Jose and Oakland only have two seats among them (i.e. San Francisco’s) yet combined they have 35 percent of the population and 30 percent of the jobs. In short, the current allocation of seats does not fairly distribute power among the counties or cities.
The proposal outlined in the State Assembly Bill 57 calls for adding an additional seat for San Jose and another for Oakland. That would change the allocation of seats and make a slightly more even distribution.
Yet, we also question whether or not changing the allocation of seats will lead to dramatically different results. Few votes at MTC are close, and even fewer are won or lost by one vote. Some have noted that both Alameda and Santa Clara counties have had a third seat over the years (as the seat representing ABAG).
Ultimately, what matters most for MTC and the region is the perception of fairness and the ongoing willingness of leaders in the various cities and counties to collaborate. Santa Clara sees the mismatch in seats and thinks this harms the legitimacy of MTC. San Francisco and other areas have their own critiques and grievances about aging transit systems and other investment needs they do not think get sufficient attention. But to bring it back to economic development, what we should mostly focus on in how San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco can collaborate on the big needs of the day:
- Getting high speed rail built
- Putting transit systems on stronger financial ground and better connecting them to each other
- Locating more employment in dense urban settings
We have no choice but to work on these and other challenges — no matter how the MTC seats are allocated. What we must avoid is letting the current disagreements over MTC seats affect our ability to collaborate. There is too much at stake.Tags: regional planning
- December 5, 2011by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Urban animal husbandry, though nothing new, is a cause for concern for many people – especially planners. Chickens, rabbits, bees and goats conjure up nightmares of odors, noises, animal cruelty and more. As mentioned in an earlier post, when Oakland’s planning department held a meeting to discuss changes to urban agriculture regulations, nearly 300 people showed, many of them there primarily to talk about animals. Oakland, like many other jurisdictions nationwide, is proceeding cautiously as it updates its animal regulations.
While concern is plentiful, data is scarce. This imbalance is what makes a recently released study of urban livestock practices in Oakland so useful. Co-authors Esperanza Pallana and Nathan McClintock surveyed city residents who raise animals for food in Oakland and other cities in June 2011. The authors are advocates of urban agriculture and the respondents were all self-selecting. While that could lead to a bias in the results, there’s no indication from other literature that the findings aren’t reliable. Of the 134 respondents nationally, 36 lived in Oakland.
Highlights from the study include:
- The most popular animals are chickens and bees
- In Oakland, more than 80 percent of respondents said that they had never received complaints from neighbors. The six respondents who had heard complaints said they based on concerns over noise (including the crows of illegal roosters), odor and fear of injury/disease.
- Average numbers of animals kept per type:
Bees: 1-2 (hives)
Those last numbers are important, because they help paint a picture of what urban animal husbandry looks like in most yards. In covering this topic, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story in June about more than 20 rabbits confined in small spaces in the East Bay. It was a sensational story highlighting a truly cruel situation. What this new report indicates, however, is that the types of operations that make for attention-grabbing stories are the exception, not the norm. Planners and policymakers would do well to keep that in mind as they update local codes.
- December 1, 2011By Aaron Bialick
In San Francisco, traffic planners are reversing the outdated, 20th-century strategy of engineering downtown streets into multi-lane, one-way motorways.
Last month, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) converted a one-way commercial stretch of eastern Hayes Street to a calmer two-way traffic configuration. It’s just one project in a larger move toward making streets less focused on whisking cars through town and returning them to places for walking, bicycling, efficient transit and civic life. In August, the SFMTA also converted McAllister Street for two-way traffic, and it is developing similar plans for the east end of Haight Street and several streets in the Tenderloin and SoMa districts.
The paradigm of multi-lane, one-way streets dominated urban transportation planning in the United States after World War II, resulting in the widespread conversion of downtown streets into one-way thoroughfares. The sounds, smells and sense of danger from fast-moving car traffic have driven pedestrians, and businesses, of off these routes, transit lines have been forced onto longer routes and bicycling has become too perilous for most people.
But that’s all changing in San Francisco. In the SFMTA’s latest project, two-blocks of Hayes Street (from Gough to Van Ness) were reconfigured for two-way traffic, as called for in the Market-Octavia Plan to suit “the street’s commercial nature and role as the heart of Hayes Valley.” The street’s previous one-way configuration had been implemented in the mid-1950s to give priority to motor vehicles passing through from Ninth Street to the one-way Fell and Oak streets. The new traffic pattern should increase local activity and make this stretch of Hayes a calmer, more inviting environment.
Two-way Hayes is also a step towards a more efficient route for eastbound 21-Hayes Muni buses heading into downtown, which previously made three extra turns and several additional stops in order to navigate around the street’s westbound-only section. (The bus turns left at Laguna Street, right on Grove Street, and right again at Polk Street before making a sharp left onto Market Street). If two-way traffic is eventually extended all the way to Market Street and overhead trolley wires are moved, buses could have a more direct route.
Other two-way configurations have proven to be wholly positive for transit and other alternative modes. On McAllister, Muni’s 5-Fulton line is already zooming through its new two-way configuration, which restored eastbound access for buses, bicycles and taxis along its east end, saving an average of 3 minutes per trip and $200,000 per year in operating costs on the line.
In 2014, the two-way Haight Street project will bring the city’s first painted bus-only lanes, and plans are also being developed for a two-way Folsom Street in the SoMa district. By the end of this year, the SFMTA says it will two-way portions of Eddy and Ellis streets, as called for along with Leavenworth and Jones in the Tenderloin/Little Saigon Transportation Study.
- November 28, 2011by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission took two steps in support of urban agriculture at a recent meeting. The first step was making it easier for community gardeners and urban farmers to install new water hookups at their sites. Currently, the price of a new water meter installation is approximately $8,500. That high cost barrier has led many garden projects to source their water from a neighboring property rather than build their own connection with the water system, resulting in a losing situation for both gardeners and the PUC. For the gardeners, hooking into an existing water meter means they pay for water as if they were a water customer in a building. That rate includes the standard wastewater charge, even though water that irrigates a garden (and trickles into the soil) doesn’t add to the load on the wastewater and sewer system. For the PUC, any project piggy-backing on a neighbor’s water account makes it difficult to track the water usage of urban agriculture.
To solve the problem, the PUC approved a program to waive most or all of the cost of installing a dedicated landscape irrigation meter. Projects using these meters will not get charged for wastewater, reducing their overall water bill, while the PUC will gain a way to measure water usage.The commission set aside $100,000 for the program and will allow applicants to apply for a fee waiver of up to $10,000 for a new meter. The program could ultimately provide 10 free water hookups to qualified applicants that meet specific criteria. Applications will be considered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
While gaining access to a water meter can be difficult in San Francisco, accessing land is even more difficult. Citing the Mayor’s Executive Directive on Healthy and Sustainable Food from 2009, which encouraged city agencies to identify vacant land suitable for urban agriculture, the commission took a step toward addressing this challenge, as well. Specifically, it approved a feasibility study at two pilot sites: College Hill Reservoir and the Southeast Treatment Plant. The staff will present the results of its study before the end of January 2012.
The PUC has a unique amount of leeway when it comes to what kinds of projects it can consider at these sites. Unlike nearly all the land under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Parks Department, the PUC’s sites are either not currently publicly accessible or not currently used as recreation areas. Establishing a garden or farm on this land could activate unused space, rather than replace an existing use. Commercial operations run by a non-profit or for-profit could fit well on PUC land, whereas they would be more controversial inside an existing park. At the same time, the PUC could ultimately decide that a traditional community garden fits best on both sites. Many types of urban agriculture could fit well on PUC land.
Many questions remain to be answered. One thing, however, is clear. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is demonstrating a strong commitment to urban agriculture that can serve as a model for other city agencies.
- November 21, 2011
At this year's Silver SPUR Awards Luncheon, SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf reflected on the contrasts between what he called "the totally dysfunctional state of our country right now and the remarkably functional state of our city and region." We are at a moment in history, he says, where solutions to the big problems are not coming out of Washington — they’re coming out of action at the local and regional level.
Watch the speech:
Find Gabriel's message inspiring? Give a year end gift to SPUR >>
- November 18, 2011by Leah Toeniskoetter, SPUR San Jose Director
The General Plan, while simple in name, is one of a city’s most important documents. It determines how, where, when and if a city will grow. It shapes what our neighborhoods look like, where our places of work are located, and where our parks, schools and homes intersect — or don’t. It directs development to be pedestrian, bike or transit-oriented — or not. And it can make or break a city’s long-term success, since the policies and direction it lays out remain in place until a new General Plan is created, which can be years or decades away depending on the jurisdiction.
For San Jose, the 10th largest city in the United States, it’s been almost two decades. The city was overdue for an update and needed a strategy to direct growth to accommodate a forecasted 470,000 new jobs and 120,000 new housing units through 2040. After a four-year planning process, the San Jose City Council adopted the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan on November 1. The document notes five community priorities: promoting economic development, ensuring fiscal sustainability, providing environmental leadership, building in targeted areas called “urban villages,” and promoting transit use. These five were emphasized in addition to the other key concepts of community-based planning, prioritizing downtown as a destination, maintaining the urban growth boundary and designing for a healthy community.
The big idea in the plan is to create urban villages, specific areas that will provide active, walkable, bicycle-friendly, transit-oriented, mixed-use urban settings for new housing and job growth. The urban villages identified fall into four categories: regional transit, local transit, commercial and residential areas. All are are located along existing regional and local transit lines or in locations identified by their potential for redevelopment or enhancement. In a sense, the new San Jose General Plan follows the current convention of American planning, protecting most of the city from change, while designating a smaller number of sites for intensive development. But you get a sense of the enormous scale of San Jose’s ambition from the number — 70! — of designated urban villages.
The plan also promotes the physical health of the community by way of designating land uses to promote walking, access to healthy food and backyard agriculture. And unlike previous plans, Envision San Jose 2040 will come before the city council every four years to review the phasing priorities of the plan, track progress and provide consistency through changing future councils. These straight-forward concepts and priorities mark a defining departure from the car-centric, sprawling, bedroom community that San Jose started with as a result of poor land use planning prior to the 1970s.
The success of San Jose’s 2040 General Plan will depend on its implementation, its ability to provide clarity and assurance to the development community through the urban village policy framework, an appropriate update of the zoning code to correspond with the new land designations and, ultimately, the fortitude of the planning staff and city council to adhere to the plan as staff and city counsels evolve and change.
- November 17, 2011by Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
With Election 2011 finally past, San Francisco voters have sent several very clear messages to our local officials. Outside of the much-discussed mayor’s race, there were some important items on the ballot this year, and voters appear to have ignored the noise and focused on the business at hand. Not only did we have the shortest ballot for a mayoral election in more than 50 years, but we managed to address some of our most pressing challenges. What was on voters’ minds?
1. We need to invest in infrastructure. Bonds for both schools and roads passed, signaling that voters are focused on the fundamentals. Proposition A was the third in a series of three bonds to retrofit the city’s schools, and it passed with more than 70 percent (but required only 55 percent). Proposition B, however, was a more unconventional funding approach for the city’s streets and roads. While issuing debt may not be the most desirable mechanism for these types of repairs, voters clearly recognized a pressing need for investment, and perhaps acknowledged that further delay could cost taxpayers significantly more.
2. Cost containment is a priority, and pension reform is a major piece of that puzzle. While many may not quite understand the technical complexities of the city’s pension system, voters clearly grasp the need for city workers to share in the pain during this down economy. There aren’t many places workers can find defined-benefit retirement plans these days, but that really wasn’t the point. Voters clearly supported the consensus-based process that led to Proposition C, which passed by more than 69 percent. Meanwhile, the competing pension proposal on the ballot (Proposition D) was defeated by an equal margin (66 percent against). We can only hope voters recognize that this is a $1.2 billion downpayment on what is a much larger problem funding pension benefits. A statewide conversation on this is also coming soon.
3. Keep your hands off our ballot. Changing the ballot initiative process is never easy, but voters either disagree about the reforms of Proposition E or weren’t sure what the implications were. There were many conflicting analyses of Prop. E — including many inaccuracies — but ultimately voters opposed the idea of initiative reform, even if only for measures originating at the Board of Supervisors. SPUR continues to support ballot reforms that make sure voter approval is reserved for matters that cannot be handled by elected officials. The ballot is a blunt (and expensive) instrument both for enacting ordinances and amending them. It’s important to remember: For every measure approved by voters, every little change must again be approved by the voters, no matter how large or small.
4. Now is not the time for taxes. Bonds are fine, just not taxes. Proposition G — Mayor Lee’s sales tax proposal — required support from two-thirds of voters for approval. Unfortunately, it didn’t even make it to 50 percent. While it could be said that the measure was not the right solution to the city’s revenue woes, it was also a signal that voters did not think that regressive tools such as sales taxes were the right tool in a down economy — even for public safety and social services.
In many ways, it could be said that this election was about a return to priorities, even in spite of the meager turnout (barely 40 percent, at the last tally). With the considerable funds spent on the mayor’s race, it’s amazing that some very important measures on the ballot were able to break through the noise.
How did each of the measures — and SPUR recommendations — fare?
Measure Yes No SPUR Position Measure A - School Bonds* 70.9% 29.1% Yes ✓ Measure B - Road Repaving and Street Safety Bonds** 67.8% 32.2% Yes ✓ Measure C - City Pension and Health Care Benefits 68.9% 31.1% Yes ✓ Measure D - City Pension Benefits 33.5% 66.5% No ✓ Measure E - Amending or Repealing Legislative Initiative Ordinances and Declarations of Policy 32.9% 67.1% Yes ✖ Measure F - Campaign Consultant Ordinance 43.9% 56.1% Yes ✖ Measure G - Sales Tax** 45.1% 54.9% No ✓ Measure H - School District Student Assignment 49.97% 50.03% No position
* Requires 55% support to pass
** Requires two-thirds support to passTags: good government
- November 16, 2011by Ben Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager
In late October, SPUR shared with the public a set of draft recommendations for the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a long-range vision for managing coastal erosion, infrastructure, access and ecology on San Francisco’s western coast. Though the beach faces many challenges, it is south of Sloat Boulevard that the issues come to head. This is where the ocean’s erosive scour is worst, and it’s also the home of the Lake Merced Tunnel and other expensive, recently built wastewater infrastructure. The beach here has been degraded by emergency armoring and exposed fill, limiting access and threatening both natural communities and a beloved local surf break. In short, it's a mess.
But from a planner's point of view, a confluence of challenges is an opportunity to solve for a number of different objectives at once. Of the six big ideas in the draft recommendations, here are two that propose the most significant — and exciting — changes to streets, public spaces and coastal management at the southern end of the beach:
KEY MOVE 1: Reroute the Great Highway behind the San Francisco Zoo via Sloat and Skyline boulevards
Stop defending what we don't need
To date, the city has been defending the Great Highway South of Sloat Boulevard with boulder revetments. Many officials agree that the road is a proxy for a much greater concern: the Lake Merced Tunnel, a 14-foot underground sewer and stormwater pipe that runs underneath the highway. The road is lightly traveled and frequently closed (most notably the southbound lanes were closed for nearly a year in 2010). Rerouting traffic from the Great Highway to Sloat and Skyline (which have capacity to spare) would allow a more flexible approach to coastal protection and create major restoration and recreation opportunities.
Tame an unsafe and overwide street
Sloat Blvd is six lanes wide, with diagonal parking in the median. Zoo visitors often park there and jaywalk across the street with small children. Re-routing the Great Highway inland would allow significant improvements to Sloat Boulevard, like moving parking to the south side along the zoo and adding a first-class bike route. The L-Taraval Muni line could be extended one block to terminate adjacent to the zoo. Counterintuitively, auto access to the region could improve, as traffic controls are upgraded and this important link is no longer subject to closure by erosion or flood.
Create a new gateway to the zoo and the coast
Drivers, cyclists and Muni riders would all arrive at the south side of Sloat, where they could visit the zoo and access the coast without crossing any streets. A new access point near the pump station would provide bike parking, restrooms and information, while a restored Fleishhaker pool house could host a visitor center with food and interpretive elements. Sloat's neighborhood businesses could thrive on a safe, attractive seaside street.
Give us back our coast
Removing the Great Highway South of Sloat would offer an amazing recreational resource for cyclists, pedestrians and beach users while allowing for a healthier ecosystem. Today's landscape of asphalt, rubble and boulders would be gradually transformed into a coastal trail linking Fort Funston to the rest of Ocean Beach and beyond, reminiscent of recent improvements at Land's End and Crissy Field. Infrastructure would remain, but the structures used to protect it would be designed with access, aesthetics and natural resources (like the bank swallow) in mind.
KEY MOVE 2: Introduce a multi-purpose coastal protection/restoration/access system
Remove the road, and take advantage of the opportunity
Unlike the Great Highway south of Sloat, the Lake Merced Tunnel is a significant piece of infrastructure and worth protecting in the coming decades. West of the zoo, the road is perched atop an erodable berm of construction fill, well above the pipe. Letting that vertical space go would allow a much more flexible approach to coastal protection. The solution outlined in the draft is conceptual and will require considerable study to ensure its feasibility, but the underlying ideas represent a new and more nuanced approach to the problem of erosion at Ocean Beach.
Armor the Lake Merced Tunnel with a low-profile structure
The Lake Merced Tunnel sits much lower than the roadway. If it can be protected with a low wall, cap or internal reinforcement, it can become a sort of "speed bump" under the beach. This is a significant engineering challenge, as it needs to be protected from wave energy, flotation forces (it is mostly empty most of the time) and seismic forces.
Layer flexible, dynamic structures over hard structures
The structure protecting the Lake Merced Tunnel would be covered by a berm of cobble, stones that range from the size of marbles to that of softballs. These structures, modeled on natural cobble beaches, can be shaped dynamically by wave action and excel at dissipating waves energy. A second cobble berm farther inland, would protect existing force mains and high ground near the Fleishhaker Pool building. Large quantities of sand would then be placed over the cobble, providing a first line of protection and a sandy beach most of the time.
Restore the surface, give us back our coast
If infrastructure protection alone is the goal, then a traditional seawall or revetment would do. But this plan's goal is to serve multiple objectives simultaneously, and the recommended approach allows Ocean Beach to protect infrastructure while also improving recreational access, ecological function and character, in keeping with its status as a national park. Regular placement of sand and revegetation would offer an accessible beach environment, with a spectacular trail connecting Sloat Boulevard to Fort Funston. Cobble is passable and attractive even when sand has been washed away, as it might be in major storms. And the San Francisco Zoo could find a new expression of its conservation values through an improved relationship the watershed and the coastal ecosystem.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan will be finalized in early 2012. To view the complete draft recommendations, see the slideshow below: