A Search and Rescue dog searches for a missing woman after a cliff collapsed at Fort Funston on Feb. 22, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Fire Commission urges Breed to bolster cliffside safety

Almost two years ago San Francisco Fire Commissioner Joe Alioto-Veronese was eating dinner with former Mayor Willie Brown when he received a text message that filled him with terror. Fire Officials said someone had fallen to their death at Land’s End.

Alioto-Veronese’s niece, Chiara Veronese-Lind, was just 17 years old back then. And because it is so common for teenagers who attend Saint Ignatius College Preparatory High School to blow off steam by exploring Land’s End, a part of him feared the text was about her.

“I got this pit in my stomach,” he said Wednesday.

Though Veronese-Lind checked in and was safe, she wasn’t relieved — her friend Victoria La Rocca was at Land’s End, climbing the cliffside with friends. Alioto-Veronese later learned it was indeed his niece’s classmate and friend who had died on the cliffs that night.

SEE RELATED: Teenage girl who died after falling off cliff at Lands End is ID’d

Now, following another death in February, when a landslide at Fort Funston buried a young woman, Alioto-Veronese and the San Francisco Fire Commission are urging Mayor London Breed to act.

At their regular meeting Wednesday, commissioners voted to approve a resolution calling on Breed to form a Safe Coast Task Force, tasked with determining how The City can save more lives along its shoreline.

Deaths along San Francisco’s cliffsides didn’t stop in 2017, Alioto-Veronese pointed out. And it’s San Francisco’s firefighters and other first responders who are responsible for those rescues.

Yet getting to solutions is thorny, Alioto-Veronese said, as there are at least nine local, state, and federal agencies with some form of jurisdiction over San Francisco’s coastline.

That’s the driving force behind convening a Safe Coast Task Force where members of the fire department, San Francisco Police Department San Francisco Parks and Recreation, the Port Commission, U.S. Coast Guard, California Highway Patrol and other entities can all join together to see what solutions can be made to ensure cliffside safety.

At the Fire Commission meeting Wednesday, some cautioned against moving forward with the resolution right away.

Though she agreed with the resolution in concept, Chief Joanne Hayes-White argued rescues along San Francisco’s watery edges are actually down. There were 22 cliffside rescues by the Fire Department in 2016, 41 in 2017, and 30 in 2018.

Total fire department rescues, including people on the bay and those struggling in the surf, total 176 in 2016, 187 in 2017, and 142 in 2018.

Lt. John Baxter, a department spokesperson, cautioned the commission that even though education efforts around safety are strong, some of those declines in incidents may be tied to colder weather.

Fire Commission President Stephen Nakajo told Veronese that it may help the resolution to have full “buy-in” by Breed before voting to approve it as a commission. He warned that The Mayor’s Office had not had time to fully review Alioto-Veronese’s proposal.

“I for one am cautious and careful,” Nakajo told the commission, even though “I support the spirit of this resolution.”

Hayes-White also said Breed’s office needed more time.

The Mayor’s Office did not return requests for comment.

But Alioto-Veronese replied he was in “GSD” mode, which he said stands for “Get Stuff Done.”

That point was driven home by Alioto-Veronese’s own niece, now a freshman in college, who spoke at the commission Wednesday.

“Tori Lorocca was one of my best friends. I will remember June 22, 2017 the rest of my life,” she said. “Not only because I lost one of my best friends, but because I lost confidence in my coastline.”

Her old friends still “drink” at Land’s End, she said. “None of us can bring Tori back,” she added, “but we can prevent someone else from going through this.”

The fire commission voted 4-1 to approve the resolution, with commissioner Nakajo in dissent.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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