A Really Dumb Experiment is Happening Out at Ocean Beach

An unusual — almost certainly doomed — experiment is happening out at Ocean Beach.

As the Richmond District Blog reports, all of the trash cans along the beach's first ⅓ mile have been removed. The National Park Service, which manages the beach, thinks the experiment will force visitors to clean up after themselves.

Dan Collman, a representative from the NPS, is quoted as saying that removing trash cans will allow rangers to focus on other “high impact areas.” Plus, he said, the historic seawall looks prettier without trash cans junking up the view.

Is the experiment working?

[jump] According to the Richmond District Blog, which visited stairwells 1-14, debris is much in evidence, and farther down the promenade, where trash cans still stand sentinel, overflow is in full effect.

Litter at Ocean Beach has long been a problem. In 2008, Mayor Gavin Newsom convened the Ocean Beach Vision Council, a 10-member panel that picked up where Mayor Willie Brown’s disbanded Ocean Beach Task Force left off. The council was charged with preparing a revitalization plan for eco-friendly access and recreation. The goal, ultimately, was to make the beach more sustainable — and more beloved.

“[Ocean Beach] is the biggest urban beach in the nation,” said Jared Blumenfeld of the SF Department of the Environment at the time. “Right now, it seems that Richmond and Sunset residents are the only ones that know about it. We need a unified plan we all can rally around.”

This isn't the first time San Francisco has been subjected to “experiments” vis-à-vis trash can removal. In 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom crusaded to reduce the number of trash receptacles on city streets, noting that S.F. had twice the number of trash cans as New York, four times the number as L.A., and five times the number as Portland. According to a 2002 study, each trash can the city maintained cost $700, so when Newsom purged the streets of 350 cans in 2007, he cited a savings of $213,500.

More recently, the contretemps over trash segued into crossfire about the city’s cultural legacy. This summer, after Dolores Park reopened after an $8 million renovation, Parks & Rec launched a “Love Dolores” campaign to encourage visitors to keep the park pristine. The debate over park etiquette later ensnared Supervisor Scott Wiener, who was accused of instituting a “culture shift” after park rangers cited Robot Dance Party for amplified sound on June 20. (Read more about that here.)

As the Examiner noted in 2008, a busy weekend for Ocean Beach sees 10,000 visitors per day, while a good weekday crowd draws 2,000 beachcombers. Removing trash cans from the beach won't develop into the culture war that engulfed (and still engulfs) Dolores Park. It'll just be an annoyance, and a probably ill-fated experiment that goes out like the tide. 

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