Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Campaign Review: From the 1996 El Niño to the Current LCP Amendment

Surfrider continues to work to restore the shoreline at south Ocean Beach.

Greetings Surfriders,

It has now been 20 years since the 1996-1997 El Niño winter, an event which brought the first rock revetment onto the beach at Sloat.  Ever since that event, the Surfrider Foundation San Francisco Chapter has been working to remove the rocks and to restore the beach.

We have participated in two government/public planning processes specially formed to solve the erosion problem: the Ocean Beach Task Force (1999-2005), and the Ocean Beach Master Plan (2011-2012).  We have attended countless meetings, submitted numerous official written comment letters, ran multiple petition campaigns, reached out to the media and the local community, and more. At all times, we have brought not just our complaints, but also a viable solution to our public officials. Our plan calls for the protection of infrastructure through relocation (known as managed retreat).  We seek to restore the back beach area to allow sand dunes -  not rock and debris - to serve as the primary tool to check erosion.

Today, we can finally say a solution is in sight.  Since the release of the 2012 Ocean Beach Master Plan, the city of San Francisco has officially begun to embrace a long term plan that may restore Sloat. The project is now being prepared for permitting, with a 2017 year end deadline for submission. To ensure the work is ultimately approved with a strong restoration component, we continue our advocacy campaign.  Currently, we are helping shape new zoning laws to allow a managed retreat based solution for the infrastructure at risk.

One word about the Ocean Beach Master Plan. Although we may differ over the fate of the Lake Merced Tunnel (see especially the prior 3 posts), the vast majority of the SPUR plan is excellent. The road and the two parking lots are to to be realigned from the erosion hazard area. A new biking and hiking trail connecting to Fort Funston is scheduled to be installed. Rock and rubble is to be eventually be removed from the shoreline, with sand dunes taking its place.  According to Ben Grant at San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), some of these improvements could be implemented as soon as this year.

Please stay tuned and continue to spread the word!  Yes, Sloat is still a mess. However, after 20 years of decay, real plans to fix the area are on the table and moving through the bureaucracy.  Enjoy the fall surf season!  Please continue to be cautious when accessing the area.  As always, we will inform the community as soon as we get official word of any new developments.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Argument for Relocating The Lake Merced Tunnel: Part III

Relocating the Lake Merced Tunnel could be well worth the trouble. The high tide line shown here will continue its march inland as the years go by. 
Photo: B. McLaughlin

Greetings Surfriders and Friends,

In our last two posts, we laid out the two core arguments in support of a study to relocate the Lake Merced Tunnel (LMT).  This month, we would like to address the Ocean Beach Master Plan's support of keeping the LMT on the beach. 

In section III-24 of the Ocean Beach Master Plan "Why Not Relocate the Lake Merced Tunnel Today," a series of arguments are made against a managed retreat plan for the Lake Merced Tunnel. They are summarized below, followed by our response:

Opportunity to Protect in Place

SPUR claims that the Lake Merced Tunnel can be protected in place (with the beach condition dramatically improved) for the next several decades.  This is characterized as a "win-win" approach for both infrastructure and environment/recreation.  Surfrider believes a strategic relocation of the tunnel would secure this asset for much longer.  If built with the future in mind, a LMT relocation could protect it for the rest of its lifespan.  Certainly, opening up more shoreline for restoration is better for recreation and the ecosystem.  It also could be a much more cost effective way to preserve the beach as more beach area would reduce the need for sand replenishment.

Environmental And Regulatory Challenges

Spur argues that relocating the Tunnel would bring significant regulatory complexities.  The suggestion seems to be that such changes would be burdensome. Given everything that is at stake, we believe such an effort would be worthwhile.


SPUR cites the high cost of re-configuring the structure.  Please see our June post.  The cost of relocating the Tunnel does not appear to be drastically higher than building a protective seawall. 

Limited Benefit

The OBMP states: "Relocating the Lake Merced Tunnel would allow the coastline to recede naturally through erosion, but only a short distance, as other structures, including the existing force mains and pump station, the Fleishhaker Pool building and the Oceanside Treatment Plant, lie immediately behind the tunnel, limiting the benefits of relocation or necessitating the relocation of additional elements relatively soon."  While it is true that the beach area left in front of the Oceanside Treatment Plant and Pumpstation/Force mains is short, the amount of shoreline that may need hard "back-up" protection is quite small compared to the entire shoreline area that would be needed to protect the Lake Merced Tunnel.  With sea level rise estimates and erosion projections continuing to rise, the LMT relocation issue could be a brilliant opportunity for SFPUC to begin mapping the future of other pieces of threatened infrastructure, not just the Lake Merced Tunnel. 

Pressing Needs

SPUR argues that SFPUC has many responsibilities around town that may take precedence over relocating the Lake Merced Tunnel.  We believe that an erosion threat to a wastewater plant's key infrastructure is quite serious.  As surfers, we understand the power of the ocean, It is unpredictable and destructive force should never be underestimated. The Sloat erosion challenge should command top level priority and resources. 

Thanks for staying engaged with us! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sea Level Rise Estimates Continue to Trend Upward

The south or 2nd Sloat parking lot is now closed due to erosion. Thankfully SPUR, SFMTA, and others are working on a temporary parking solution. Photo: B. McLaughlin 

Greetings Surfriders,

Last month, we went over the cost / benefit argument for re-locating the Lake Merced Tunnel (LMT).  Now we would like to cover the issue of sea level rise and climate change driven storm activity and how it informs our position on the LMT.

As you may know, estimates of future sea level rise and climate change effects are inexact, and are frequently changing. Climate deniers seize on the instability of forecasting studies to dismiss man-made climate change and sea level rise altogether. Meanwhile, those that accept the views of the scientific community understand that the models, while not uniform in their predictions, are consistent in one respect: they are trending higher. We need to prepare for even greater sea level rise and storm activity than previously thought.

This is significant.

Currently the Ocean Beach Master Plan document follows California state guidelines for sea level rise planning: 14" of sea level rise by 2150 and 55" by 2100.  The problem with these numbers is that they were set in 2010.  Since that year, several reports by leading climate scientists indicate that sea level is accelerating much faster than previous estimates. One high profile study recently published by former NASA scientist James Hansen, predicts that if we don't curb our carbon emissions we could be faced with 10 meters of sea level rise by 2100. That's 393.7 inches! The reasoning lies in the melting of the polar ice sheets.  They are melting a much greater rate than was previously known. Here is a link to a recent article published in the Washington Post that explains the issue. While estimates do vary, the common them is that coastal planners should be prepared for much higher sea levels than recent predictions. This means that Ocean Beach Master Plan's 2010 forecast data is all but certainly outdated and inadequate.

Surfrider believes the effects of climate change are a major reason why the City should seriously consider relocating the Lake Merced Tunnel. Preparing for the lower end of the forecast models is not smart given what is at stake. Greater climate change means stronger wave energy and erosion will visit our shorelines. If we move infrastructure away from the coast, we can remove it from the threat of storm damage while ensuring the preservation of our beaches.

The bottom line: It would be a tragedy to put all this money and time into a project at Sloat, only to watch it fail because the latest science was not factored into the design.

Friday, May 27, 2016

To Protect or Relocate the Lake Merced Tunnel...

The costs of rejecting managed retreat at Sloat just keep piling up.

Greetings Surfriders,

While we wait for the next public meeting for the Local Coastal Program revision for Ocean Beach, we would like to take this time to share with you more details regarding our position on the Lake Merced Tunnel (LMT).

Let's start with our main argument for a cost/benefit analysis.

The Ocean Beach Master Plan advocates that we spend nearly $100 million to protect the LMT where it is, right on the beach (http://www.spur.org/ocean-beach see VII-5 (pp. 154-155). Surfrider has suggested that we look into a plan to relocate the structure. Our reasoning is simple: Why leave such vital and sensitive infrastructure in an erosion hazard zone? By moving the LMT well inland, it can be safeguarded from erosion for a much longer time.  We would also gain a much better restoration project for the beach.

Cost:  Unfortunately, our city has cited cost before in rejecting managed retreat for Sloat. Back in 2005, the Ocean Beach Task Force, like the OBMP, recommended a managed retreat plan for the erosion. The Task Force proposal? Pull back the road and parking lots from the shoreline, and use sand dunes, not rock, to slow erosion. There is graphic of this proposal on the top right corner of the blog.

SFDPW rejected that proposal, stating that the high cost of managed retreat made the idea "infeasible."  It was never explained by the agency why and how it made this determination. Did SFDPW not have the funds or simply did not wish to spend / seek the funds for the project?

What we do know for sure is that in the ensuing years, at least $10 million was spent by the City on dumping more rock on the beach south of Sloat, repairing the Great Highway as it fell onto the beach and more enacting sand back-passing projects.  The two recent sand dunes (2012 and 2014) have just washed away.   Additionally,  significant taxpayer money was spent by the Army Corps of Engineers in their failed effort to replenish Sloat with dredge spoils.

What do know on the cost issue is that the City has a "planning level" cost estimate of an LMT relocation alternative.  A 2010 letter to the Coastal Commission cites LMT relocation at approximately $110 million.  The current Master Plan seawall is estimated to cost approximately $90 million. (Source See Page 11).  Based on these figures, there is probably not a huge difference in cost between these two options.  We do assert that, if done right, relocating the LMT will bring greater long term benefits both in regards to safeguarding the structure and preserving the beach.

It is time we had a full cost-benefit analysis between the two alternatives. It could turn out that relocating the LMT is not just good for the beach and the safety of the infrastructure; it could also be the superior economic option.

Thanks for staying engaged!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Road Re-alignment Confirmed!

 SF Chronicle 6.5.1973

Greetings Surfriders,

Thanks to all who attended this past month's Local Coastal Plan (LCP) workshop.  Stay tuned for a final workshop later this year.  This event will unveil the draft language of the LCP.

In other news...

This past month our local neighborhood newspaper, the Sunset Beacon, published a story regarding a plan of road consolidation and re-alignment for the Great Highway south of Sloat.  Oscar Gee, project manager at the San Francisco Department of Public Works, confirmed the move in the piece.  The Great Highway south of Sloat is to be consolidated into one northbound / one southbound lane.  The two new lanes are to re-aligned away from the water.

This is a significant milestone in our campaign to restore the south of Sloat area of Ocean Beach. At the heart of our solution for Ocean Beach erosion is the landward relocation of threatened infrastructure. Re-aligning the road inland south of Sloat is a critical first step to removing the erosion hazard, and gaining the space we need for proper beach restoration.

Truthfully, the south of Sloat section of the Great Highway should never have been built so close to the water.  This portion of the coastal road was under attack by the surf ever since it was extended to meet up with Skyline Boulevard in 1964.  Above is proof of this claim.  The image is screenshot of an article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, dated Tuesday June 5, 1973 page 2.  Click on the image and zoom in to read.

Dumping rock to control erosion at Ocean Beach is nothing new.  It's time to stop this practice.

Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

New Public Workshop Scheduled for Sloat

The 2012 sand-backpass for the north lot was wiped out by this year's winter storms,
yet another reminder that sand replenishment without retreat will not work for Sloat.
Photo: courtesy of Brian Dow, SF Chapter Chair

Greetings Surfriders,

Next Tuesday April 19th is an important opportunity to move the ball forward on the long-term project to restore Sloat. It is also an opportunity to set a new course for erosion management for the rest of the Ocean Beach shoreline.  A public workshop is scheduled to gather input on an amendment do update San Francisco's Local Coastal Program. The workshop site is the SF Zoo's Education Center.  Drop in any time between 5:30pm-8:30pm.

A Local Coastal Program is a land use / zoning document for municipalities that have a coastline on their borders. This document is drawn up by local planning departments, then submitted to the California Coastal Commission for approval. Once a Local Coastal Plan is in place, future projects compatible with the LCP are able to be approved (and built) much more quickly. 

Our Local Coastal Program document includes Ocean Beach and the immediate neighborhood. Attached is the Land Use Portion of the original document. Please look this over. It is quite interesting. Our LCP was originally approved in the spring of 1986 - 30 years ago, during the construction of the Great Highway and sewage infrastructure mega-project. The document shows how language in an LCP sets the stage for future management activities. 

The Bottom Line: 

In order to allow major changes to the south of Sloat shoreline - such as the proposed changes outlined in the Ocean Beach Master Plan - we need to amend our Local Coastal Program.  Please come to the workshop to provide input! We need strong voices in support of our goals: managed retreat for the road and parking lots; rubble clean-up and sand dune restoration.  Please help us advocate that the Lake Merced Tunnel be considered as part of the managed retreat plan.

Here is a link to the open house details:


Thanks for checking in!

SF LCP Amendment Public Workshop

When: Tuesday April 19
Where: SF Zoo, Education Center
Time: 5:30pm-8:30pm

Monday, February 22, 2016

Heavy Surf Wreaks Havoc at the Sloat Erosion Site

This is what is left of the 2012 sand replenishment project. It's time for the City to move more aggressively towards building the long term plan. 
(Photo: B. McLaughlin)
Greetings Surfriders and Friends,

Thanks to all who submitted comments to the Coastal Regional Sediment Management Plan for the San Francisco Littoral Cell.  By weighing in early with this effort, hopefully we can dissuade our local governments from relying on massive beach replenishment projects to solve their erosion challenges.  Long term planning based on managed retreat is truly the only sensible option for our heavily eroding coastline.

In other news, erosion has hit the south Sloat area hard this winter.  This was all expected.  However, it should be noted that the recent sand replenishment projects of 2012 and 2014 have both virtually washed away.  Currently, SFPUC is conducting another sand-backpass to the erosion site to patch bluff top erosion as well as to shore up the 2014 area where the parking lot edge has recently collapsed.  This work should restore safe access for the south parking lot.

While it is good that the City is using sand, not rock to patch the area, the current state of Sloat just underscores the need to expedite the long term planning process.  As a reminder, a project blueprint is due to come before the Coastal Commission sometime in 2017.

Thanks for staying engaged!