At the edges of the city

When we think about San Francisco most of us think about busy streets and tall buildings with the Golden Gate bridge looming in the background. But San Francisco has a great treasure around its edges—the narrow strip of sand and bluffs that form Ocean Beach facing the boundless expanse of the Pacific. The beach bordering the city from its southern tip up to the Presidio is part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area supervised by the National Park Service rather than the city. The winter storms of recent years have increased erosion along the beach, especially the cliffs south of Sloat Boulevard. A parking lot has been lost to the waves, and part of the Great Highway was closed for several weeks last year. What should be done about the erosion? Can we stop the encroachment of the ocean? While the bluffs south of Sloat are slipping into the sea, the beach further north is growing wider. Should it be made more accessible to more people? What about the fragile ecosystem and the presence of some endangered species like the snowy plover? Are their breeding grounds threatened by people and dogs?

A group of organizations are trying to find answers to some of these questions and on Saturday, January 15, 2011 they held a workshop designed to give information to the public about the condition of Ocean Beach and the possibilities for future development. This was just the kickoff for a series of meetings to look at

  • Improvements to Public Access and Amenities
  • Protection of Ecological, Aesthetic, and Historical Resources
  • Coastal Management in light of erosion, sea-level rise, climate change
  • Infrastructure Planning
  • Interagency Management

You can keep up with development by visiting the Ocean Beach plan at

As if the beach wasn’t enough for public spirited citizens to worry about, there is also the question of where dogs should be allowed in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. The Dog Management Plan is now available for public comment.  You can download the draft at the National Park Service website. Copies are also available at the San Francisco Public Library main library and several branches as well as at libraries in Marin, San Mateo and the East Bay. Dog owners often have strong feelings about the importance of letting their dogs run free on the beaches and in the parks of the Bay Areas. Other people are concerned about the impact of dogs on fragile ecosystems in the area. It’s difficult for the Park Service to steer a course between these two groups and they are working hard to give the public an opportunity to express their ideas about what the future of parks and beaches should be.

While these local issues may seem far removed from the great national issues of the moment and especially from the lingering horror over the shootings in Arizona last week, there is a strong connection. Much has been made in recent days about the importance of civility in discussing political issues. San Francisco is offering its residents a chance to tell others how they feel about public issues and setting up mechanisms for reasonable, polite discussion. In the past, the question of dogs in public parks has led to loud arguments and even threats, but perhaps now we are all ready to be more restrained. No one will have a public park that meets her every wish. We all of us—people, dogs, and plovers alike—have to share the precious wild spaces still left in the bay area. Let’s hope we can argue about the plans, discuss all the options, and then settle down to enjoy our resources together.

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