Shoring up San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

SFPUC official: ‘We have critical wastewater infrastructure at risk’

The estimated cost to address coastal erosion at Ocean Beach and protect a sewage treatment facility has increased by nearly $60 million.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is overseeing what it calls “one of The City’s first climate change adaptation” projects, plans to begin construction in early 2023 and finish in 2027.

The cost of the project is now estimated at $151 million, nearly $60 million more than a previous estimate. The project, which is also intended to add parking for surfers, will also take 18 months longer to complete than previously estimated.

“Project costs have gone up to capture surface improvements (e.g., coastal access trail, intersection improvements, zoo access) and because the methods for construction have been refined,” SFPUC’s spokesperson Will Reisman said in an email to the San Francisco Examiner.

Barricades block off a former parking lot at Ocean Beach along Great Highway. The City is looking for alternative parking for beachgoers.

In a recent memo, Harlan Kelly, head of the SFPUC, informed participating city departments of the latest cost estimates for the Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaptation Project, which is located at Ocean Beach, south of Sloat Boulevard.

The purpose of the memo was to alert the city departments of their need to come up with their share of the funding and staff time. The departments include Public Works, Recreation and Park and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The SFPUC plans to cover $129 million of the project cost while the Recreation and Park Department is expected to pay $13 million for things like the planned coastal access trail, coastal parking, public restrooms and maintaining access to the zoo parking lot. The SFMTA and Public Works are being asked to contribute $8.8 million.

“The City’s current efforts focus on South Ocean Beach and include two key moves: 1) removal of the Great Highway between Sloat and Skyline Boulevard; and 2) the introduction of a multipurpose coastal protection/restoration/access system,” Kelly wrote. “The Project will be comprised of the concepts developed through the [Ocean Beach Master Plan] and include elements such as managed retreat, structural protection, access and recreation improvements, and beach nourishment through the placement of sand.”

The memo continued, “In addition, the project will address California Coastal Act permitting requirements to remove existing shoreline armoring placed during declared emergencies by Public Works to protect the Great Highway.”

Workers move dirt into the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant.

The project will protect the Oceanside Treatment Plant, which The City built in 1993 as a response to the federal Clean Water Act that protects coastal water quality. The treatment plant is located by the San Francisco Zoo and Ocean Beach, and treats sewage from the city’s Westside before transporting it about 4 miles out to sea.

The system includes the Lake Merced Tunnel, a 14-foot-diameter pipe under the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard, which is “immediately vulnerable to erosion and must be protected or moved to prevent serious sewage spill that would contaminate coastal waters,” according to the master plan.

“We have critical wastewater infrastructure at risk,” SFPUC’s project manager Anna Roche told the city’s Capital Planning Committee at a recent meeting.

Roche said that Lake Merced Tunnel “is a major component” of the Oceanside Treatment Plant and that the “other items there are not as close to the ocean, but unless we protect the Lake Merced Tunnel those other components will become at risk.”

“The existing vulnerability of that asset is very high. We have experienced 25-year storms where we have lost 40 feet of bluff,” she continued. “And we are currently about 50 feet from that trigger zone.”

Roche said that the “big move here is managed retreat.”

“This is the first place this will be happening in the state of California. It is a big deal. We will be removing the Great Highway between Sloat and Skyline. That move triggers a lot of changes,” she said.

Sand bags line a cliff at Ocean Beach south of Sloat Boulevard. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Also part of the plan is a discussion to create adequate parking for surfers.

“This is a very active area for surfers. Historically, this area had over 200 parking spaces. Most of those parking spaces are gone due to the erosion,” Roche said. “So the city will be working with the Coastal Commission coming up with a new strategy to address vehicular access to this area.”

More parking could come through negotiations with the San Francisco Zoo.

“Surfers currently park in the [National Park Service] parking lot or along other surface streets like Sloat Avenue,” Reisman told the Examiner. “We are currently working with the SF Zoo to see if any coastal access parking can be added within their leased property, and we are planning for a new coastal parking lot that will go in the current Great Highway footprint near Skyline.”

Tread marks from earth-moving equipment line Ocean Beach near the Westside Pump Station at Sloat Boulevard. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

In the short-term, The City has been relocating lots of sand.

This year, for example, the SFPUC just finished transporting 60,000 cubic yards of sand from the north end of the beach to the south end.

The City is in contract with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to dredge more than 300,000 cubic yards of sand from the San Francisco Bay Main Ship Channel and deposit it “directly onto the beach south of Sloat Boulevard.” The Army Corps is designing the project, which is expected to be implemented in 2021.

“This work will beneficially use the dredged sand to minimize storm damage and protect the beach, infrastructure, habitat and recreational access to the beach,” according to the SFPUC.

“This project would place 350,000 cubic yards of sand in one placement,” Roche said. “And it would cost us about $2.8 million versus spending approximately $1.3 million on 70,000 cubic yards of sand.”

San Francisco’s long-term project is also the result of a 2014 settlement.

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Sand bags line the beach south of Sloat Boulevard, where The City is struggling to prevent further damage from waves.

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