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
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.
South Ocean Beach 1993-2012: Erosion will continue and likely worsen. San Francisco must adapt.
Thanks to all who stopped by our open space design workshop at the United Irish Cultural Center last night (9/24)! For those who didn’t make it or who want to refresh your memory, you can view the presentation boards below. The boards present 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.
Please take a look at the workshop boards (in the pdf posted below) and download the feedback form to submit your comments to us by October 15, 2014:
- via email at email@example.com, or
- via mail: Ben Grant, SPUR, 654 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105.
Once again thank you all for your interest and participation!
Please join us this Wednesday, September 17 from 6 – 8pm at the Park Chalet (1000 Great Highway) for updates on the Ocean Beach Master Plan, Sand Management and Seawall Repairs. In this town hall meeting, Supervisors Katy Tang and Eric Mar will discuss updates about the Ocean Beach Master Plan, and we will also hear from representatives of SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) on sand management plans for this Fall, from SPUR on Ocean Beach planning, and from the National Park Service (NPS) on upcoming repairs to the O’Shaughnessy Seawall and other issues.
Ocean Beach Town Hall
Wednesday, September 17, 6 - 8 pm
Park Chalet Restaurant
1000 Great Highway near John F. Kennedy Drive
Also, please mark your calendars for SPUR's public workshop on Wednesday, September 24th 6 - 8pm at the United Irish Cultural Center (2700 45th Ave) for a chance to provide feedback on our open space design for the Great Highway between Sloat and Skyline Blvds.
Open House attendees listen to presentations at SPUR's Ocean Beach Open House. Photo credit Shannon Fiala.
On Saturday May 10th, SPUR hosted a public update and open house about ongoing efforts to implement the Ocean Beach Master Plan. These include the Ocean Beach Coastal Management Framework, Ocean Beach Transportation Study, and Ocean Beach Open Space Design. Thanks very much to everyone who provided feedback on the Ocean Beach implementation projects. We were able to capture your valuable comments, ideas and remarks through the comment forms, boards and post-it notes at our Open House and also via email . For a complete compendium of public feedback, see photos from the open house here and check out the attachments below.
We received a lot of encouraging comments on the emerging ideas and solutions, and of course some concerns as well. The most popular comments were as follows:
Coastal Management Framework
• Support for the project direction, as summarized in this animated sequence
• Concern about costs of coastal protection measures
• Questions about the efficacy of the proposed structural measures
• Support for closing the Great Highway South of Sloat and providing a coastal trail
• Strong concern about providing additional parking on the Upper Great Highway,
particularly the likelihood of attracting more people and activity
• Mixed support and concern about narrowing the GH between Lincoln and Sloat
• Enthusiastic support for roundabouts, especially at Sloat and Skyline
• Support for reconfiguration of Sloat Boulevard to improve recreation, safety, and
• Desire for analysis showing traffic performance of recommended changes
• Desire for coastal access parking, especially during interim stages
Open Space Design
• Enthusiastic support for coastal trail south of Sloat Boulevard, and the improved
connection between open spaces
• Preference for ‘Scenario 2,’ the option emphasizing access and environmental
restoration over maximum parking south of Sloat
• Preference for natural materials in landscape design, including dark skies
• Support for bike parking
• Interest in temporary artwork, but not permanent installations
All your comments are valuable and much appreciated by the project teams. This feedback will help us refine our work in progress on the three Ocean Beach Implementation studies. Once again, thank you for your interest and active participation, and check back here for future project updates.
“This idea to plan for erosion events before they happen is a huge step forward - good job!”
“Remove the asphalt that is falling in the ocean.”
“Preserve Dark Skies!”
“Great! Would love to have connection to Fort Funston."
“NO MORE PARKING ON GREAT HIGHWAY…It is not necessary to further the goals of the OB Master Plan.”
“I like the consolidation of recreational activities to the safer side of the street near the Zoo.”
“Go for it - GO!!”
“This is a quiet village-like neighborhood, full of surfers, walkers, and joggers, many of whom know each other at least by face if not name. Parking areas and attendant services between Lincoln Way and Sloat (especially south of Noriega) will make this stretch a destination like Ocean Beach around Fulton.”
“The idea of the proposed roundabouts presents a masterful approach to solving the these chaotic intersections. Pure genius.”
SPUR is leading a transportation study at Ocean Beach to further develop the access and circulation recommendations of the Ocean Beach Master Plan. The transportation design team had proposed a new solution for Skyline Boulevard: a series of carefully designed "modern roundabouts." This proposal will improve safety and streetscape aesthetics while maintaining a constant flow of vehicle traffic at moderate speeds.
What is a modern roundabout?
Modern roundabouts allow for removing traffic signals from intersections. Vehicles slow down and yield, but do not necessarily stop, on entry. This keeps a steady and efficient traffic flow, saving time and fuel.
The modern roundabout. Photo courtesy .
The modern roundabout is a specific type of intersection and should not be confused with the rotary (a large circular highway interchange common in the Northeast) or the neighborhood traffic circle (a small circle used for traffic calming in residential areas).
The advantages of the modern roundabout
Research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration shows that roundabouts perform better in terms of safety than conventional intersections, resulting in:
- 76 percent reduction in injury
- 90 percent reduction in fatal crashes
- 35 percent reduction in general collisions
Roundabouts substantially improve pedestrian safety, with 40 percent fewer pedestrian collisions than traditional intersections. These impressive reductions may be attributed to lower motor speeds, shorter pedestrian crossings and the considerable decrease in conflict points between vehicles as well as with pedestrians.
Roundabouts eliminate left turns across pedestrian crosswalks, right-angle crashes and head-on collisions. The striking safety benefits combined with increased time savings — up to 89 percent — and reduced greenhouse gas emissions have turned many roundabout skeptics into enthusiasts. Initial design and construction costs are also offset by low maintenance expenses when compared to intersections with signals. On top of that, the centers of roundabouts can support trees, vegetation and public art and perform stormwater management.
How popular is the modern roundabout?
Roundabouts were not very common in the American landscape, but they began increasing in number a few years ago. According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately 150 to 250 roundabouts are built in the United States annually. From Delaware and Maryland to Utah and California roundabouts are used more and more as a traffic management tool.
San Francisco has only one modern roundabout, built very recently on Otis Street in Mission Bay. Roundabout skeptics argue that U.S. drivers’ unfamiliarity with roundabouts is going to increase confusion and create difficulties in adjusting their travel behavior to navigate them properly. Studies prove the opposite and, once constructed, roundabouts gain overwhelming public support.
Roundabouts are everywhere in the US from Delaware (top) to our own backyard in Mission Bay (bottom). Photo from Google maps.
Why would roundabouts be the best solution for Skyline?
Intersections on Skyline today are dangerous and at times impossible to cross on foot or bike. The roundabout design proposal is a more rational approach that clarifies these massive and complex intersections, in particular the one at Sloat Boulevard. A group of roundabouts work well in sequence, and they can offer a better transition from the fast, semi-rural Skyline Boulevard into shared city streets. A major benefit from these improvements is the connection of Lake Merced, Fort Funston and Ocean Beach in a safe and friendly way for cyclists and pedestrians.With good roundabout design, the appropriate public education and stakeholder support, the newly designed Skyline Boulevard can be an exemplary case of roundabout implementation and, who knows, could even be recognized by the British Roundabout Appreciation Society.
Recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggest that an El Niño phenomenon may develop in the Pacific Ocean this year. El Niño weather patterns — or properly El Niño Southern Oscillations — typically generate wetter and more frequent winter storms in California, with potential implications for erosion at Ocean Beach. What will these storms mean for the future of the beach, and for the recommendations in SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan?
The El Niño pattern generally occurs every two to five years when surface temperatures rise in the central Pacific, driven by a reversal in the usually easterly trade winds. This results in greater precipitation in California — sometimes much greater, as in the winter of 1996-97, which saw more than 47 inches of rain in San Francisco and considerable erosion at Ocean Beach.
Since this spring, scientists have been warning that an El Niño — potentially a major one — looked likely. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has issued an “El Niño Watch.” From the standpoint of California’s record drought, many at first saw this as a ray of hope. But more recent estimates suggest a more modest El Niño, which may not be sufficient to increase rainfall in Northern California by much — but may still cause coastal erosion. Current estimates put the chances of an El Niño developing this winter at about 80 percent.
It’s been more than four years since a devastating series of winter storms caused severe erosion at the south end of Ocean Beach, in the winter of 2009-10. In some locations, bluffs receded 40 feet in a single season, threatening the Great Highway, coastal parking lots and underground sewer infrastructure. San Francisco responded by placing boulder revetments (embankments of stone riprap) on the beach, creating controversy among environmentalists, surfers and the California Coastal Commission. It wasn't the first time. The same pattern — an El Niño storm season, severe erosion and emergency coastal armoring — occurred in 1997.
In 2011, the Coastal Commission rejected a city permit application for both existing and additional armoring, demanding instead a long-term plan to address coastal hazards. SPUR was already at work on the Ocean Beach Master Plan, which took on a new urgency. Meanwhile, the city turned to softer, more adaptive measures, including the placement of sandbags and “backpassing” of large quantities of excess sand from the north end of Ocean Beach to the eroded sections at the south end.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan recommends closure of the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard for “managed retreat” (i.e., gradually removing manmade structures in the path of sea level rise) in the coming decades. The San Francisco Department of Public Works is planning to narrow the road to two lanes within a few years, and aggressive measures to prevent erosion are no longer the order of the day. SPUR and its consultants are working with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and the Coastal Commission on a package of softer measures, including additional sand placement, sand bags and the consolidation of existing rubble into a smaller, erosion-resistant footprint. These steps are intended to get the beach through several storm seasons without the need for additional structures like revetments or sea walls, while longer-term measures are developed to implement the master plan vision.
Will the softer measures be adequate if an El Niño season produces a series of powerful storms? It’s difficult to say with certainty, but there are several reasons to be optimistic.
First, the responsible agencies are focused on protecting critical wastewater infrastructure, rather than the roadway or parking lots, meaning there is a greater tolerance for letting nature take its course.
Second, the existing revetments, though controversial, are in place and effectively protecting what had been the most vulnerable areas. In addition, the sandbags that were placed in 2011 have held up very well, providing coastal protection that is easily reversible, inoffensive and easily expanded.
Lastly, the city is in a much more proactive stance, proposing measures in advance of anticipated storms and preparing to act quickly if threats develop. In particular, the SFPUC is preparing to implement additional preventive sand placement and to fill and stockpile sandbags in advance of winter storms, for rapid deployment.
There are, of course, no guarantees. If this year’s El Niño produces severe and repeated storm surges, the environmental risk of a ruptured sewer could reach an unacceptable level, requiring emergency armoring. But for the first time, all actors are working together to make armoring the action of last resort and to prepare a more adaptive approach.
Thanks to all of you who stopped by our Open House at the County Fair Building last Saturday (05/10) and chose to spend the sunny morning with the Ocean Beach project teams!
For those who didn’t make it or want to refresh your memory, you can view the presentation boards below. The boards present information on the three different Ocean Beach implementation studies currently in progress, as well as a summary of the Ocean Beach Master Plan process and its Key Moves.
You can also view the animated video prepared by AECOM for the Open House, which displays the sequence of actions and coastal management measures at the South reach of Ocean Beach:
We received a lot of valuable comments and ideas from all of you who attended the Open House and we will post all of them online in the coming weeks. In case you weren’t able to attend our Open House and want to provide your feedback you can use the comment form from the Open House. You may either print it and mail it to us here at SPUR (654 Mission Street), or you can simply write your comments in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org until May 23rd.
Once again thank you all for your interest and participation!
One of the ways to capture public feedback during the Open House was through post-it notes on the presentation boards. Image by Patricia Fonseca (AECOM).
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