Ocean Beach Master Plan

ESA  Image

Ocean Beach is a national park, recreational destination, the site of major infrastructure, and a flagstone of the San Francisco landscape. Urban development along the coastline began in the late 19th century and continues today – from the construction of the Great Highway, to the adjacent Westside Wastewater Treatment Plant. Ocean Beach’s traditional coastal management approach has relied on seawalls and hard structures to hold the line, significantly impacting the beach and its users.

ESA collaborated with the San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR) to develop an extensive interagency and public process for the Ocean Beach Master Plan, resulting in a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems, and improve public access. We provided technical analysis and guidance related to coastal dynamics, management, and engineering, including analysis and assessment of the potential impacts of sea level rise, beach nourishment, armoring, and retreat using a scenario-based planning methodology. Our experts supported public meetings and workshops, often presenting our analyses directly to the community and stakeholders. We projected sea level rise for the identified timeframe, consistent with state guidance, and, based on extreme wave runup and overtopping analyses, estimated the approximate extents of coastal erosion and flood hazard zones. We developed several management scenarios that considered different degrees of intervention, from a focus on protecting infrastructure using seawalls and structures, to ecosystem-based concepts incorporating retreat and restoration. Ultimately, a hybrid approach was selected, presented, and recommended in the final Ocean Beach Master Plan.

ESA continues to assist SPUR in advancing the selected approach. We developed a vulnerability assessment and adaptation feasibility study for implementing portions of the Ocean Beach Master Plan that would protect the Lake Merced Transport tunnel, allowing beach restoration efforts to remove asphalt, concrete, and rock debris that are currently protecting the bluff. Working in collaboration with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and coordinating with the National Park Service, our team is assessing the limits and likelihood of short- and long-term erosion, reviewing available geotechnical information, evaluating the structural integrity of the tunnel under different soil conditions, and analyzing the engineering feasibility of constructing a low-profile wall protection device as recommended by the Ocean Beach Master Plan. ESA developed an immediate-term coastal management plan that outlines three low-risk operations that may be used to protect portions of threatened bluff in the event of an emergency. The results from these studies inform a draft interagency management agreement that will be used to identify the responsible parties, their roles, the phasing of implementation, and the groundwork for completing regulatory compliance and environmental review.

The Ocean Beach Master Plan is widely acknowledged as a pioneering example of how to develop innovative and scientifically sound adaptation approaches to managing the challenges of coastal climate change. ESA’s scientific rigor and innovative solutions to this multi-objective problem strive to protect, enhance, and restore the beach, providing improved public access and long-term protection of San Francisco’s critical infrastructure.

This project received the 2013 National Association of Environmental Professionals Environmental Excellence Award in Planning Integration.

Specialized Services

  • Beach and dune enhancements
  • Coastal erosion assessments
  • Engineering design and construction documents
  • Floodplain mapping
  • Geomorphic assessments
  • Master planning