wave.jpgA nonprofit is suing San Francisco over what it calls years of illegal dumping of rocks and debris on Ocean Beach in an effort to halt erosion.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 9 by the California Coastal Protection Network, argues that the city has been dumping rocks and other materials on sections of Ocean Beach without permits from the California Coastal Commission since around 1997, in violation of both state law and city policy. The lawsuit seeks the removal of the debris and the development of long-term plans to protect the area.

The city has placed rock, concrete, steel poles and sand at the southern end of the beach over the years in an effort to protect Great Highway and a sewer tunnel from erosion. Most recently, after heavy storms over the 2009/2010 winter season closed Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard for months, the city placed a 425-foot rock wall on the beach in April 2010 and removed 1,000 tons of debris from the beach, according to information from the Department of Public Works.

The problem, according to the lawsuit, is that the city never obtained the necessary permits to do the work, or in some cases violated the terms of the emergency permits that it did obtain. Furthermore, the debris used to shore up the beach impedes access to the beach and creates a hazard to beach users.

When San Francisco sought after-the-fact authorization for several of the projects from the California Coastal Commission this July, as well as permission to add more rock to the beach, the commission unanimously rejected the request.

In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the work violates city policy. In 1999 a city resolution prohibited the use of further city funds for shoreline armoring at Ocean Beach, and called for the rocks to be removed, the complaint states.

Attorney Mark Massara, a San Francisco resident and long-time advocate for coastal issues, called the debris piled on the beach by the city “pollution” and said it was dangerous to beach users.

“There’s rebar and sharp rocks, there are metal poles stuck in the sand along the shoreline that surfers have to surf around,” Massara said. “It looks like a post-apocalyptic war zone.”

Attorney Vic Otten said fines to the city if the lawsuit is successful could run as high as $15,000 a day for each violation, and the lawsuit alleges multiple violations.

“You’re looking at $20 million in potential fines, depending how you calculate it,” Otten noted.

Department of Public Works spokeswoman Gloria Chan said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but noted that a long-term planning process for Ocean Beach is being led by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. A call to SPUR this afternoon was not returned.

Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the city was reviewing the lawsuit and did not have any comment at this time.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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