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.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan and Implementation Studies are made possible by the State Coastal Conservancy, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the National Park Service.
Benjamin Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ocean Beach Master Plan (OBMP) — the effort led by SPUR to plan for a changing San Francisco coastline — Got a major boost in November, when the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved a proactive package of coastal protection measures put forward by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The OBMP lays out a long-term approach to severe coastal erosion that would protect threatened sewer infrastructure while also improving beach access, ecological function and the aesthetic character of the area. But so far, the plan has been a non-binding vision with limited standing in policy decisions.
The approval is significant because the last time the city sought a so-called Coastal Development Permit for actions related to erosion control, it was unanimously rejected by the Commission, leaving the city at odds with the Coastal Act.
In previous big storm seasons, the city was caught off guard and placed large piles of boulders, called revetments, to armor the beach and protect threatened sewer pipes. The revetments — which degrade access to the beach and can even accelerate erosion, causing the beach to become narrower — dismayed environmentalists and drew the ire of the California Coastal Commission. This year, with a plan in place, the PUC approached the Coastal Commission for approval of possible emergency measures in advance, looking to weather this winter with less intrusive measures.
When last year's El Nino fizzled, Ocean Beach and other eroding coastlines were (generally) spared the kind of punishing coastal storms that drove dramatic erosion in 1997 and 2010. Over the course of 2015, a strong El Nino pattern developed, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is putting the chances of it persisting through this winter at greater than 95 percent. Press has generally focused on the high likelihood of a badly needed wet winter in California, as well as the potential for flooding and mudslides as the parched and fire-ravaged state is subjected to downpours. Less has been written about the potential for coastal erosion that can accompany winter storms.
At Ocean Beach, the prospect of a stormy winter puts coastal managers on notice as they work to enact the new, more adaptive approach recommended by the Ocean Beach Master Plan. The city, working with SPUR and a consultant team, proposed a series of softer coastal protection measures, including sand placement and sandbags, should winter storms result in rapid erosion. Both measures have been used before but have never been cleared in advance as a toolkit for adaptive action. SPUR, the city, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Coastal Commission staff all agree that these softer measures are far preferable to the boulder revetments placed after previous storms. The permit enables managers to prepare proactively and act quickly, instead of waiting until damage is occurring and then using an emergency permit, the kind of reactive approach that was typical a decade ago.
Because the existing revetments are not properly permitted, it was tough for the Coastal Commission to issue any permit to the city — even for actions they support – without resolving the compliance issues. The permit proposed for this winter tackles this issue by committing the city to a timetable for returning with a permit for a longer-term solution that was introduced in the Ocean Beach Master Plan but is still several years from being fully engineered. That approach would enable the removal of rock revetments, something everyone wants to see. Thus the current permit, which allows up to six years of adaptive measures, is tied to implementation of the long-tem OBMP – a major step forward. This permit puts the city and the Coastal Commission on a new, collaborative footing, ready to tackle the challenge of a changing coast in time for this year’s storm events and on track to implement the Master Plan.
[All- this listing may be of interest to those of you following coastal management. The Coastal Regional Sediment Management Plan includes the Ocean Beach area in addition to other nearby parts of the open coast. - SPUR/OBMP team]
The Coastal Sediment Management Workgroup (CSMW) is pleased to announce that the draft San Francisco Littoral Cell Coastal Regional Sediment Management Plan (SFLC CRSMP or Plan) is now available for public review and comment. The Plan will be available for a 30-day review period that will close on February 3, 2016.
View the draft Plan on the SFEP website (direct link to the draft Plan; direct link to the draft Plan Appendices).
How to Provide Comments
Comments can be submitted in four ways:
- Complete the online comment form,
- Email comments directly to email@example.com,
- Submit a written comment form at an upcoming public meeting, or
- Send comments via postal mail to Kearns & West, Attn: Julia Golomb, 475 Sansome St., Suite 570, San Francisco, CA 94111
When providing comments on the draft Plan, please consider the following:
- Comments should be concise and focus specifically on the content of the draft Plan.
- Where applicable, comments should identify the specific part(s) of the draft Plan at issue.
Upcoming Public Meetings
The CSMW will hold two public meetings in January to present on the draft Plan’s purpose and contents, answer questions and solicit comments. The meeting times and locations are as follows:
- San Francisco
- Date: Thursday, January 14, 2016
- Time: 6:00 to 8:00 pm
- Location: United Irish Cultural Center of SF, 2700 45th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94116
About the SFLC CRSMP
The SFLC stretches from the Golden Gate to Point San Pedro and comprises watersheds, beaches, and the nearshore zone in the cities of San Francisco, Daly City, and Pacifica. The SFLC CRSMP is intended to provide information and guidance to government entities, municipalities, stakeholders, and communities as they develop strategies for addressing coastal erosion and storm damage during the upcoming decades. Additional information about the draft Plan is available on the project website.
The San Francisco Planning Department has kicked off a process to amend the Western Shoreline Plan, the city’s aging Local Coastal Program (LCP). The LCP is the element of the city’s General Plan that sets land use and resource protection policies for the Coastal Zone (an area defined under the 1976 Coastal Act). Like other General Plan elements, the LCP must be approved by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, but it must also be approved by the Coastal Commission. Once the LCP is approved, the city can issue permits for projects that conform to its policies.
The current amendment, long sought by Coastal Commission staff, will develop policies addressing sea level rise and coastal management, with an emphasis on the area south of Sloat Boulevard where erosion is the most severe. It represents an important opportunity for recommendations in the Ocean Beach Master Plan – a non-binding guidance document – to become adopted city policy.
The process will include public meetings. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, click here.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan — the effort led by SPUR to plan for a changing San Francisco coastline — could face a major test this winter if predictions of heavy El-Nino-driven storms come to pass. The plan lays out an approach to severe coastal erosion that would protect threatened sewer infrastructure while also improving access to the beach and strengthening the ecological function and aesthetic character of the area. In previous big storm seasons, the city was caught off guard and placed large piles of boulders, called revetments, to armor the beach. The revetments — which degrade access to the beach and can even accelerate erosion, causing the beach to become narrower — dismayed environmentalists and drew the ire of the California Coastal Commission. With a plan in place, the city is looking to weather the coming winter with less intrusive measures and is now seeking the commission’s approval on possible emergency measures in advance.
When last year's El Nino fizzled, Ocean Beach and other eroding coastlines were (generally) spared the kind of punishing coastal storms that drove dramatic erosion in 1997 and 2010. This year, a strong El Nino has developed, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is putting the chances of it persisting through this winter at greater than 95 percent. Press has generally focused on the high likelihood of a badly needed wet winter in California, as well as the potential for flooding and mudslides as the parched and fire-ravaged state is subjected to downpours. Less has been written about the potential for coastal erosion that can accompany winter storms.
At Ocean Beach, the prospect of a stormy winter puts coastal managers on notice as they work to enact the new, more adaptive approach recommended by the Ocean Beach Master Plan. The City of San Francisco has submitted a coastal development permit application to the California Coastal Commission for a series of softer coastal protection measures, including sand placement and sandbags, should winter storms result in rapid erosion. Both measures have been used before but have never been cleared in advance as a toolkit for adaptive action.
SPUR, the city, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Coastal Commission staff all agree that these softer measures are far preferable to the boulder revetments placed after previous storms. The goal is to prepare proactively instead of waiting until damage is occurring and then using an emergency permit, the kind of reactive approach that was typical a decade ago.
Unfortunately the existing revetments are not properly permitted, and without resolving that compliance issue, it’s tough for the Coastal Commission to issue any permit to the city — even for actions they support. The permit proposed for this winter tackles this issue by committing the city to a timetable for returning with a permit for a longer-term solution that was introduced in the Ocean Beach Master Plan but is still several years from being fully engineered. City and Coastal Commission staff members are busy preparing the permit for review at the commission's November meeting. If all goes well, this permit would put the city and the Coastal Commission on a new, collaborative footing, ready to tackle the challenge of a changing coast in time for this year’s storm events.
SPUR, working with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and a top-notch team of coastal and structural engineers, has completed a significant engineering study that validates the Ocean Beach Master Plan approach to coastal management. The plan's approach combines managed retreat, beach nourishment, and low-profile protection structures. At issue is severe coastal erosion that threatens the Lake Merced Tunnel, a key piece of the SFPUC's wastewater infrastructure. Portions of the tunnel are protected by emergency revetments (boulder embankments) but these are at odds with the Coastal Act and must eventually be removed. Key findings of the report include:
Coastal protection structures can and should address many objectives
This report stipulates that coastal protection measures at Ocean Beach should be designed to support coastal access, ecological and habitat functions, and aesthetics, in addition to protecting threatened infrastructure.
Coastal storms threaten a few locations now, more over time
A close analysis of coastal hazards break the area south of Sloat Boulevard into distinct "reaches" (sections of coastline) and looks at the exposure of each to coastal erosion, both today and over time as sea level rise sets in. It considers the distance between the bluff face and the Lake Merced Tunnel and also the presence of exposed rubble, boulder revetments, and native geology for a much more precise picture of the existing hazards.
A low-profile structure can installed from above, close to the Lake Merced Tunnel
Engineers created structural model of the Lake Merced Tunnel to figure out how much of a buffer it requires above and to the side to be safe. The goal was for protective structures to go as close to the tunnel as safely possible, to minimize disruption of coastal processes and access. The results support a structure that is installed from above, and would be invisible until exposed by erosion. Even then, it would be covered by sand much of the time, similar to the nearby Taraval seawall.
The Taraval seawall, just north of Sloat Boulevard, is a useful precedent for low-profile protection structures at Ocean Beach. Often invisible under the sand, it provides coastal protection with minimal impacts to coastal processes and beach access. Photo by Elena Vendebroek.
A phased approach could address key locations first, and proceed adaptively
Coastal protections are expensive and require complex capital planning, environmental review, and regulatory permitting. At the same time, major investments in a changing landscape are best made in phases, an "adaptive management" approach that allows coastal managers to learn from each step and intervene only as required. These factors (long lead times and nimble adaptation) are in tension and inform how the proposed measures would be phased. All at once? A small pilot? Somewhere in between? Two important criteria that will inform the phasing are 1) areas where the erosion hazard is acute and 2) areas where emergency revetments need to be removed to comply with the Coastal Act.
Existing boulder revetments can be removed
Once protective measures are in place, the emergency revetments at Ocean beach can be removed once and for all, improving habitat, beach access, and compliance with coastal regulations. The City has made clear its intention to do just that, and is working closely with the Coastal Commission to move this program forward.
ESA PWA - coastal process and hazard analysis
Moffatt and Nichol - coastal engineering
McMillen Jacobs and Associates - structural engineering
AGS, Inc - geotechnical engineering
Benjamin Grant, SPUR's Urban Design Policy Director, recently spoke with Sea Change Radio's host Alex Wise about the Ocean Beach Master Plan, and how it could serve as a template for other coastal cities. The discussion included retrofitting the sprawled areas of cities to develop a density-centered, walkable community structure that will reduce the general carbon footprint of urban areas, as well as the intention of the Ocean Beach Master Plan to reinvent Ocean Beach and reduce the impact of rising tides in the Bay Area.
Listen to the full interview here.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area lost two longtime leaders this month, both of whom were instrumental in the development of the Ocean Beach Master Plan.
Frank Dean, GGNRA Superintendent since 2009, will be heading up the Yosemite Conservancy, that park’s nonprofit partner. He has more than 30 years experience with the National Park Service, including stints at Sequoyah/King’s Canyon, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Point Reyes, and he served as Superintendent of Saratoga National Historical Park in NY and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.
Frank emphasized park partnerships, strengthening GGNRA’s ties with the Presidio Trust, the Golden Gate Bridge District, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the City of San Francisco, among many others. He tackled the kinds of challenges faced by a multi-faceted urban park heavily used by a diverse and passionate public – historic preservation, transportation, and balancing access with environmental stewardship.
This approach made him a tremendous partner for SPUR’s work at Ocean Beach. He understood the delicate balance required to work with a variety of agencies and stakeholders in a constrained environment, while keeping sight of park stewardship. He also became a member of SPUR’s board, lending his perspective to a broader range of policy issues. Our loss will be Yosemite’s gain.
Nancy Hornor has been at GGNRA since 1980, and served as Planning Division Chief since 2000. She was instrumental in the planning processes for Crissy Field and Fort Baker, and was SPUR’s main point of contact for the Ocean Beach Master Plan. She has begun a well-deserved retirement and will be spending time with her young granddaughter.
Frank and Nancy both embody the best of public service. Both have a steady professionalism deeply leavened with warmth, humor, and quiet equanimity. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with new leadership, but they will have big shoes to fill.
Next up: getting to know Chris Lehnertz, the new GGNRA Superintendent.
Sand placement by the SF Public Utilities Commission acting as buffer to coastal erosion.
December’s drenching rain and big swells were the biggest thing to hit Ocean Beach for years. Fortunately, sand placement was already in process, providing a ‘sacrificial’ (i.e. temporary) buffer in the locations most vulnerable to erosion. About 25,000 cubic yards were placed this year, following on the success of similar efforts in 2012. One source of erosion that was in evidence: stormwater runoff, which isn’t properly drained at the bluff’s eroding edge, cutting through placed sand and bluff material. This will be an important design factor in the managed retreat process.
The sand placement, performed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in partnership with the National Park Service, is part of an approach to coastal erosion that emphasizes softer, reversible measures while long-term plans in the Ocean Beach Master Plan go through detailed engineering and regulatory review. A stormy start to the winter has been followed by a dry period, and the prospect of an El Niño pattern that could bring significantly more erosive storms remains uncertain.
Ocean Beach Coastal View
Local Coastal Programs (LCPs) are the land use plans that regulate the coastal zone as defined in the Coastal Act of 1976. San Francisco designed its own Local Coastal Program in 1984 to ensure the continued enjoyment of ocean views and open spaces for residents and visitors alike. LCPs are approved by the CA Coastal Commission and then adopted as part of a city's General Plan. The advent of climate-induced sea level rise gives the LCP a new urgency.
The San Francisco Planning Department recently secured $173,850 from the California Coastal Commission and the Ocean Protection Council to amend the Western Shoreline Area Plan (San Francisco's Local Coastal Program) to incorporate climate change and sea-level rise. The Planning Department will lead the Local Coastal Program amendment effort and, working closely with stakeholders, capitalize on the collaborative foundation built through the multi-stakeholder Ocean Beach Master Plan process, which culminated in the 2012 Ocean Beach Master Plan.
The Planning Department expects the planning process to commence in early 2015. The first year of the project will be dedicated to public engagement, with numerous public workshops and one-on-one meetings with stakeholders. The second year will focus on shepherding the draft amendments through the approvals process, which includes the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and the California Coastal Commission. This is important and much needed work to account for the significant changes along our coastline related to sea level rise and chart a path forward to the long-term management and protection of San Francisco’s coastal resources.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Mayor Ed Lee visited Ocean Beach on December 18th, 2014 to witness the impacts of rising seas on the San Francisco coastline.
On December 3rd, the city and county of San Francisco was recognized by the White House as one of 16 Climate Action Champion communities in the US. San Francisco has established aggressive climate and sustainability targets, which include improvements in energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation, water, green infrastructure, and waste. The city aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2017, and 40 percent by 2025. Climate adaptation, like that envisioned in the Ocean Beach Master Plan, is also a key ingredient.
The proactive adaptation measures for Ocean Beach – including managed retreat, coastal protection, and environmental restoration -- have also garnered the attention of the Obama administration, most recently through a visit from Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell. She and Mayor Ed Lee were able to witness firsthand the state of erosion and the impacts of rising seas here in San Francisco, and made a call to action to mitigate climate change. In June, Mike Boots, acting chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality was briefed on the Ocean Beach Master Plan and visited the eroding shoreline. The visits highlight San Francisco's cutting-edge planning and policy on climate issues.
Future flickers for Ocean Beach bonfires SF Bay News 02/9/2015
California braces for "storm of the decade" CBS News, 12/9/2014
Why S.F. is moving 42,000 tons of sand down Ocean Beach SF Gate, 12/5/2014
San Francisco, Sonoma recognized by White House for Climate Action SF Gate, 12/3/2014
White House checks out S.F.'s plan to Save Ocean Beach SF Chronicle, 6/20/14
San Franciscans in the Dark about Flood Hazards Climate Central, 06/20/14
SPUR's Plans for Ocean Beach Get Refined and Rendered Curbed, 06/06/14
Taking Action on Sea Level Rise SPUR, 04/10/14
San Francisco plans expensive ‘managed retreat’ from rising seas Grist, 02/04/13
Ocean Beach Master Plan Envisions Big Changes SF Public Press, 02/04/13
San Francisco a Test Case for Coping with Rising Seas KQED, 02/01/13
New plan crafted to limit Ocean Beach erosion SF Chronicle, 11/02/12
Ocean Beach sand management project wraps up ABC Local News, 09/20/12
Sand Mangement Project to partly close Great Highway OB Bulletin, 08/19/12
Great Highway lane work delayed SF Chronicle, 08/09/12
Mayor Lee Celebrates SPUR Ocean Beach Master Plan SF Mayor’s Office, 07/26/12
Turning the Tide at Ocean Beach KQED News, 07/26/12
Shifting sand to be transported elsewhere in San Francisco SF Examiner, 07/23/12
Ocean Beach sand plan could help curb erosion south of Sloat OB Bulletin 07/20/12
Ocean Beach master plan maps $300M project SF Business Journal, 06/22/12
Stay or go? Communities are eyeing a retreat from sea NBC News, 06/02/12
San Francisco's Coast and the Rising Sea KQED, 04/10/12
San Francisco's Battle With Mother Nature Planetizen, 03/28/12
Coastal Erosion in SF Prompts Planning and Debate KQED, 03/26/12
Both Coasts Watch Closely as SF Faces Erosion The New York Times, 03/24/12
Makeover could mean changes on Great Highway SF Examiner, 11/12/11
OBMP Envisions Big Changes for Great Highway KQED, 11/07/11
Erosion expected to strip economic value of Ocean Beach OB Bulletin, 09/13/11
Erosion problems threaten the future of Ocean Beach ABC Local News, 09/05/11
State panel rejects city's repairs to Ocean Beach SF Chronicle, 07/15/11
Violent Pacific storms of 2010 worst on record SF Chronicle, 07/14/11
Public urged to help decide fixes for Ocean Beach erosion Sunset Beacon, 02/01/11
Forces of Nature are Working to Destroy Ocean Beach The Bay Citizen, 01/25/11
On the Brink of an Ocean Beach Master Plan OB Bulletin, 09/21/10
Is It Worth It to Save Oceanfront Development? The New York Times, 09/13/10
Experts Call for Long-Term Fix for Beach Erosion Sunset Beacon, 11/01/10
Ocean Beach due for an overhaul SF Examiner, 07/08/08
The Impacts of Sea-Level Rise on the California Coast Pacific Institute
Coastal Regional Sediment Management Project USACE, CA Resources Agency
Our Coast Our Future (OCOF) GFNMS, PRBO, USGS
Western Shoreline Plan (Local Coastal Program) SF Planning
Ocean Beach Task Force Summary (2005) Ocean Beach Task Force
South Ocean Beach - Shore Management Discussion Bob Battalio, PE