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Southern Great Highway closure moves forward as SF reacts to erosion

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The City began to make amendments to the Western Shoreline Area Plan after large segments of a parking lot broke off into Ocean Beach in 2010. In the 1920’s, The City extended the natural shoreline of South Ocean Beach by more than 200 feet. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Nearly seven years after a parking lot began to crumble into the sands of Ocean Beach, plans to address erosion and sea-level rise on San Francisco’s western shoreline are coming closer to fruition.

The Planning Commission last week voted in favor of changes to the Western Shoreline Area Plan, including the closure of the southern stretch of the Great Highway and relocation of the parking lot and restrooms near Sloat Boulevard.

“The City is not deciding to change the shoreline, the shoreline is changing because of coastal hazards, and so we need to respond,” said Maggie Wenger, citywide planner with the Planning Department.

Though the plans still need further approval on the local and state levels, the unanimous support marks a step toward the eventual closure of the Great Highway between Sloat and Skyline Boulevards and the construction of a pedestrian pathway to Fort Funston.

The Department of Public Works already plans to close two southbound lanes of the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard.

The amendments also add protection for critical wastewater infrastructure beneath the Great Highway. The amendments call for shoreline protection devices to be buried along the beach to protect the 14-foot-wide Lake Merced Tunnel from erosion.

The tunnel transports wastewater from the southwest to the Oceanside Treatment Plant and fills with rainwater and wastewater that would otherwise enter the ocean.

“This project should be done quickly but also intelligently so that we can control the erosion and have a better predictability towards it,” said Planning Commissioner Rodney Fong.

Bill McLaughlin of the Surfrider Foundation said erosion is a challenge at south Ocean Beach because The City extended the shoreline more than 200 feet from its natural position during the 1920s.

“The filling in of our city’s shorelines is now coming back to haunt us,” McLaughlin said, noting both the bay and western shoreline are threatened. “The difference is at ocean beach we have 30-foot waves barreling in out of the North Pacific, threatening our infrastructure.”

San Francisco has worked on the amendments to the Western Shoreline Area Plan since large chunks of the parking lot broke off onto Ocean Beach during the winter of 2010.

“It really got people thinking that erosion is a near-term issue and that sea-level rise and climate change are a long-term issue, all of which will have major impacts on Ocean Beach,” Wenger said.

At the time, pro-development group SPUR spearheaded the Ocean Beach Master Plan which established the idea of closing the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard.

Planning Commissioner Christine Johnson, the executive director of SPUR, recused herself from the vote last Thursday.

The amendments to the Western Shoreline Area Plan need further approval at the Board of Supervisors and the California Coastal Commission, which is expected to vote in 2018.

The California Coastal Commission has sent a letter to the Planning Commission supporting the amendments.

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