Surrender to the Sand

The southern end of Ocean Beach may get a facelift.

For more than a century, San Francisco has fought against the rising dunes on its western edge. Workers have built a heavy concrete wall, installed anti-erosion plants, and strategically stacked piles of rocks to keep the shoreline in place. Today, heavy machinery regularly patrols Ocean Beach to flatten out the dunes. But much like Sisyphus’ battle to push a boulder uphill, the sand keeps inching eastward, regularly prompting closures of the Great Highway as it sneaks across the asphalt.

Some activists believe the battle should simply be surrendered. Earlier this year, urban-design think tank SPUR released a 92-page proposal reimagining Ocean Beach’s design. The plan covers several stretches of the beach — but the southern end, below Sloat Avenue, has the most potential for change.

Those familiar with Ocean Beach know that the farther south one walks, the narrower the beach gets, with some stretches inaccessible during high tide. The parking lot is always full, and without a sea wall, piles of sand regularly drift across the road. Attempts to stack boulders and prevent hillside erosion have backfired, as they further degrade the beach’s condition. And the Great Highway — built in the 1930s as a quick north-south corridor to skip neighborhood traffic inland — is collapsing into the ocean, with “temporary” concrete barriers that have become permanent fixtures to prevent cars from driving off the edge.

The problems of the road’s southern edge, SPUR claims, are just too big to tackle for its current purpose. Instead, it proposed that the Great Highway be rerouted behind the zoo and onto Sloat and Skyline boulevards, taking the pressure off the southern end of Ocean Beach. The existing stretch of road along the water could be turned into a wide, multi-use recreational path, with seating and picnic areas.

The ideas are bold, and won’t come cheap. But the plans are thorough, and intend to provide “ideas, inspiration, and solutions” to the city agencies battling this area: San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks, Public Utilities Commission, SF Public Works, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The departments are reviewing the suggestions, and may have a final design ready to implement by 2021. In the meantime, the daily battle with the sand continues.

Check out more stories in our feature on the Outer Sunset here:

It’s Always Sunny in the Sunset
Fog schmog, one of San Francisco’s loveliest neighborhoods is just blocks from the ocean.

Who Opens an Independent Bookstore in 2017?
Black Bird Books has what it takes to make it work. But who knew the Outer Sunset had this many boutiques?

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Eating in the Outer Sunset
Between Sunset Boulevard and the ocean, there are plenty of brunch spots, fish tacos, and third-wave coffee shops.

Unpaving Paradise
More than 113,000 gallons of the neighborhood’s stormwater are diverted through city sewers annually, thanks to the Sunset District’s Front Yard Ambassadors.

A Rejection of ‘Pure Shlock’
A colorful candy dish of castle-like houses hides along several blocks in the Outer Sunset.

Will Teach For Housing
Plans inch closer to converting a 1.25-acre lot in the Outer Sunset to homes for SFUSD professionals.

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