San Francisco’s Supervisors Consider Western Shoreline Coastal Program as Erosion Increases

By Brocken Inaglory - Image courtesy of

By Michele Chandler

In the face of substantial shoreline erosion along San Francisco’s Ocean Beach that could potentially threaten a major wastewater treatment plant, the Land Use and Transportation Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider changes to the Western Shoreline Area Plan/Local Coastal Program to ward off further damage of the 3.5-mile-long stretch along the Pacific Ocean.

The city’s Land Use and Transportation Committee will review the measure at its meeting on Jan. 8. The San Francisco Planning Commission previously approved the proposal on Oct. 5.

If approved by the Land Use and Transportation Committee, the plan will be considered by the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors at its meeting on Jan. 9. If adopted, the legislation would then need to be signed by the mayor, which is now acting San Francisco mayor London Breed, who assumed the post after Mayor Ed Lee died suddenly in December. Breed is the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and ascended to acting mayor upon Lee’s death, according to the city charter.

Once approved by the mayor, the legislation would then head to the California Coastal Commission for certification as an amendment to San Francisco’s Local Coastal Program. The California Coastal Commission is the state agency that’s charged with shaping land use and protecting the coastal environment.

“Everything that we’ve heard so far is that things are going quickly and smoothly,” said Chris Kern, the Planning Commission’s senior environmental planner.

The San Francisco Coastal Zone extends approximately six miles along the western shoreline, from the Point Lobos recreational area in the north to the Fort Funston cliff area in the south.

The south end of the Coastal Zone includes the Lake Merced area, the San Francisco Zoo, the Olympic Club and the seashore and bluff area of Fort Funston. The Coastal Zone spans the Ocean Beach shoreline and includes Golden Gate Park west of 40th Avenue, the Great Highway corridor and the adjacent residential blocks in the Sunset and Richmond districts.

The north end of the seashore includes the Cliff House and Sutro Baths area, Sutro Heights Park and the Point Lobos recreational area.

The portion of Ocean Beach that’s located in between Sloat and Skyline boulevards has experienced substantial erosion over the past few decades, according to the report. Eventually, that erosion could affect the nearby Great Highway, as well as a $220 million wastewater treatment plant and a huge underground pipe that keeps sewage-tainted storm water away from the ocean.

The Ocean Beach Master Plan recommendations focus on immediately-needed changes that include rerouting the Great Highway behind the San Francisco Zoo via Sloat and Skyline Boulevards and creating a multipurpose coastal protection, restoration and access system.

Four other recommendations—reducing the width of the Great Highway, restoring sand dunes, creating a better connection between Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach and adding bike paths north of Balboa Street—are expected to be addressed in future amendments.

The proposal urges shoreline development “in a responsible manner,” saying that “sea level rise and erosion impacts will worsen over time and could put private and public development in the Western Shoreline Area at risk of flooding.” According to the National Research Council, sea levels are rising as the ocean warms, increasing the ocean’s volume, while ice sheets and glaciers are melting and contributing to a further ocean rise.

By 2100, according to an assessment by the California Coastal Commission, California’s sea level may rise between 17 inches to 66 inches in areas south of Cape Mendocino and by 4 inches to 56 inches for areas north of Cape Mendocino.

“Sea level rise and the increased frequency and severity of coastal storms anticipated due to global climate change will likely exacerbate these effects in the decades to come,” says a Planning Commission report from earlier this year.

Nonprofit SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association), a housing and transit advocacy group, maintains an advisory role in the Local Coastal Program amendment process. In addition, SPUR will also provide data and analysis from the master plan and participate in policy development, according to the city.

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