Mayor appoints Ocean Beach council

by Karen Kinney

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has brought renewed attention to a situation Richmond and Sunset district residents have known for a long time: Ocean Beach, one of the City's most valued treasures, is in need of a long-term design to preserve and develop the area's unique characteristics.

Newsom has appointed federal, state and local leaders along with community business owners to form the Ocean Beach Vision Council. One of the goals of the 10-member council is to continue building on the foundation of work started by the disbanded Ocean Beach Task Force, which was formed during former Mayor Willie Brown's administration. The task force also consisted of city and federal officials as well as business owners who met monthly and educated each other on the needs of all involved. Laura Trupelli who previously chaired Brown's task force and owns the Beach Chalet, will also chair the Vision Council.

Ocean Beach Vision Council members include: Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, supervisors Carmen Chu and Jake McGoldrick, Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Superintendent Brian O'Neill, Jared Blumenfeld of the SF Department of the Environment, Scott Preston of the environment-based planning and design firm EDAW, Clark Manus of Heller Manus Architects, Jean Rogers of ARUP, Gabriel Metcalf of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, and Trupelli.

"The council is committed to finding the balance of enhancing the open space that is Ocean Beach, yet support urban living," Trupelli said. "We would like to create a vision for Ocean Beach that takes into consideration the needs of all Ocean Beach users."

Community input will play a large part in creating a sustainable vision. Issues being addressed are Ocean Beach safety and cleanliness, connecting Ocean Beach with existing open spaces, like Golden Gate Park, keeping the area ecologically strong, protecting natural resources and recreation at the beach, and facilitating public transportation.

Trupelli says there are a number of community groups committed to Ocean Beach's health and are supportive of ensuring its future. The council anticipates several community meetings to be held in the near future.

Over the next year, the Ocean Beach Vision Council will put together a cohesive plan that will recommend environmentally-friendly options to upgrade beach access, utilize untapped resources and reconnect Ocean Beach with city residents.

According to Supervisor Carmen Chu, in order to create a well-balanced vision the council needs to work as a team to create a consensus of what is best for Ocean Beach as a whole. Some potential ideas, such as building houses across from the SF Zoo, renovating the existing bathrooms at the beach, and improving safety with more police presence will require cooperation from all interest groups and requires community involvement early on.

"The solution here can be complicated and we need help from local resources as well as at the state level," Chu said. "Fiona Ma supporting us at the state level and the collaborative involvement of the GGNRA and Department of the Environment is crucial."

The expertise of the GGNRA is vital to the vision because the agency has already had major success transforming areas like Lands End and Crissy Field, which once were unpopulated dense areas, into two of San Francisco's most sought after environments for recreational outdoor activities.

Because Ocean Beach attracts international visitors, director of the Department Blumenfeld believes Ocean Beach is a global hub for ocean energy. Its global resources can be used to heighten awareness of this national treasure and educate people on the value of natural resources. He would like to see open spaces, like Sutro Heights, be better connected to the beach to promote more biking and walking.

"(Ocean Beach) is the biggest urban beach in the nation," said Blumenfeld. "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."

The main point the council would like to convey is that this is the beginning of the process and that it is premature at this time for identifying any sort of budget.

"We are 100 percent committed to addressing all concerns in order to work towards the creation of a vision for the future of Ocean Beach," said Trupelli. "Collaboration within the community is an integral part of the process."