Ocean Beach due for an overhaul

| July 09, 2008

For a city whose No. 1 industry depends so heavily on attracting visitors to an inviting environment, San Francisco has been curiously inconsistent about maintaining or enhancing its most unique and enviable features, such as The Embarcadero and Golden Gate Park. The City’s five-mile western shoreline of Ocean Beach has been sadly forgotten and neglected for decades.

Even in its presently unkempt state, Ocean Beach undeniably retains traces of a rough and semi-wild charm. It is surprising to see a Northern California beach just across from city streets, where surfer culture is untrammeled and dogs frolic freely with their owners, while the nights uniquely belong to cheerful bonfire parties.

However, such activities are relative minority tastes. A busy weekend at the beach would bring no more than 10,000 daily visitors, while only 2,000 beachgoers are rated a busy weekday crowd.

Ocean Beach is almost startlingly bereft of even the most basic public amenities. There is not a single public bathroom, which leads people to relieve themselves against the graffiti-defaced beach walls. Garbage often litters the beach, a mess encouraged by the inadequate number of overflowing trash cans.

Emergency call boxes and sufficient lighting are largely nonexistent. Homeless people are generally on hand. And the pitch-dark, sporadically patrolled night streets make it a near-irresistible temptation for drive-by vandals to smash numerous car windows in the parking lots.

Although the beach is owned by the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, San Francisco is responsible for maintaining all streets and parking areas up to the sand. And finally, Ocean Beach is back on City Hall’s radar. Calling The City’s western shoreline a "natural treasure," Mayor Gavin Newsom in March announced the formation of the Ocean Beach Vision Council to prepare a beach revival plan encouraging environmentally sustainable public access and recreation.

The council’s first town-hall meeting is Thursday, hosted by Supervisors Carmen Chu and Jake McGoldrick. Twelve such community meetings are scheduled, and already it is evident that much disagreement exists about Ocean Beach’s future.

Some neighbors want the area to remain exactly as is, to avoid attracting more traffic and crowds. Others just want a few restrooms and better garbage pickup. Surfers and dog owners have their own strong priorities. And more visionary planners see the possibility of interesting commercial development that doesn’t turn the whole place into Coney Island.

All of these conflicting viewpoints must somehow be reconciled, but it is good that some city attention is focusing on Ocean Beach at last. One small example of what could be done to revive the area for a variety of distinctive uses is the Beach Chalet, a near-abandoned 1925 architectural landmark that is now a destination brewery-restaurant with spectacular lobby murals still intact for public view.

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