Public meeting this Thursday to discuss open fires on Ocean Beach

Photo by St. John’s Community

On Thursday night, the National Park Service will host a public meeting to discuss fires on Ocean Beach. The meeting will be held at the Cliff House- Terrace Room from 6pm until 8:30pm (1090 Point Lobos Avenue).

There has been a long brewing controversy over the fires on Ocean Beach, with beach visitors in favor of them and the Park Service not due to the cleanup and people’s inability to follow the rules when having fires.

Take a stroll on the beach on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you’ll see lots of remnants from the previous night’s fires including trash, bottles and broken glass. It’s this post-fire cleanup that is taxing the Park Service, who say they don’t have the staff or the budget to manage it.

In 2006, the Park Service was threatening to ban fires altogether, but fans fought to keep the tradition alive.

In 2007, a nonprofit organization called Burners Without Borders stepped in to represent the community, and work with the park service to design and build artistic fire pits for Ocean Beach, raising $40,000 for the project. The hope was that designated fire pits would help reduce the amount of rogue fires and encourage the community to better manage the trash and debris.

Unfortunately the designated fire pits did not alleviate the issues, and the Park Service is now reassessing the program.

Thursday’s meeting may be the last chance for the public to give their input into fires on the beach before the Park Service decides on next steps. Options on the table range from requiring permits for beach fires to banning fires altogether.

According to the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, the objective is to “obtain productive input and feedback from the public to help inform the decision-making process for the future of fires on Ocean Beach.”

More from the Park Service:

Throughout the years there have been ongoing issues on the beach in the area wherefires are allowed, making it challenging for the park to manage effectively. The most prevalent issues include: hazardous materials such as broken glass, nails and hot coals; disorderly conduct associated with alcohol consumption; and significant amounts of trash left on the beach and promenade.

This meeting has been structured to provide as much information as possible and respond to questions and concerns from stakeholders. NPS staff will be available to discuss and provide information based on their experience in the field. District 1 Supervisor, Eric Mar, and representatives from San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department will also be in attendance and available to speak with attendees.

The agenda for Thursday’s meeting is as follows:

  • Introductory remarks – Frank Dean, Superintendent of GGNRA
  • Background information – Howard Levitt, Director of Communications and Partnerships, GGNRA
  • City of SF Partnership – Eric Mar, Supervisor, District 1
  • Review of Revised Pilot Program – Samantha Pollak, Planner, GGNRA
  • Concepts for the future – Aaron Roth, Deputy Superintendent, GGNRA

The meeting will also include small group discussions on focused topics. The meeting begins at 6pm at the Cliff House.

Sarah B.


  1. I like the fires but hate the leftover detritus. I can’t make the meeting but 1st preference is to charge/permit for the use with enough funds for cleanup.

    If that falls through, then post a reason why the fires were banned on the sign that outlaws them- “irresponsible people not cleaning up after themselves”.

  2. NPS response to anything: “This is hard! It requires more work for us! So we’re going to ban it!” Ever-reduced dog spaces in GGNRA, beach fires, Land’s End trail maintenance – on and on and on.

    Charge a *reasonable* fee for a permit. Make a portion of it non-refundable if there’s a noticable mess the next morning. Obviously there could be incidents of unauthorized fires, and trash from that, which may cause some permit fees not to be refunded – but as long as the fee is reasonable to begin with, that shouldn’t be a major problem.

  3. The difficulty with fires in locations other than authorized overnight campsites such as the reserved sites operated by State Parks is the user is no longer present when the fire has cooled sufficiently to properly clean up. As the Bay Area definition has been expanded from five to nine counties and the population of the core five counties has tripled in my lifetime, usage and crowding of public resources has similarly increased.

    There will always be people unhappy with whatever decision NPS/GGNRA makes, however I feel it would be best to have a uniform standard across all National Parks/Recreation Areas so that individual visitors will have to address fewer variances in rules when entering park properties.

  4. BAN THEM, if the local community, and that includes EVERYONE, especially around the 94121 and 94122, doesnt care to clean up after the mess these idiots leave behind, then they should not be permitted. im a frequent runner on the beach, and im certainly not going to clean up after these people. STOP THE FIRES.

  5. Agree with Steve! It’s not the NPS’ fault that they don’t get the $ to act as our cleaning crew. STOP THE FIRES.

  6. If it’s taxing the NPS and everyone else, I say ban them.

  7. I’m sure this can be worked out. Instead of meeting in the antiseptic Cliff House (Do the USF students know about the meeting?) why not hold the meeting down on the beach, maybe around a nice little fire in one of the fire pits? A meeting at 6 pm is dinner time for many folks, why not make the most of it and roast some hot dogs, marshmallows, and have some beers on the beach why we work these issues out, it’s the sociable thing to do.

  8. OMG the rules say no alcohol on the beach, that’s news to me. Instead of “beers on the beach” make that “beverages on the beach”.

  9. Wow, surprised at the “BAN IT” reaction here. Since every beach activity imposes costs – even picnickers or kids with plastic shovels can lead to trash and harm – let’s just ban everything. Fence off Ocean Beach, keep it pristine.

    After all, that’s what the NPS is trying to do, as 4thGen alludes (and seems OK with) – trying to treat a very heavily visited URBAN park the same way it treats Yosemite back country. The problem with that is that the GGNRA was never intended to be a wilderness, a Yosemite. I think it was a mistake to place all this land under federal control to begin with, but that doesn’t mean we have to roll over just because some D.C. bureaucrat can’t wrap their head around the fact that San Franciscans have the gall of wanting to actually use their parks for a wide variety of recreation.

  10. Let’s be realistic; banning fires on the only beach is asinine. The solution for cutting down the number of “rogue fires”… Creating a few (which fill up quickly and are held all day/night) decorative pits is basically worthless, and short-sighted, especially in consideration to how many people go to Ocean Beach to have a fire in the first place. Asking for people to request a permit or pay a fee is ridiculous—neither of which will limit “rogue fires” or pay for clean up, let alone stop people from littering.

    To me, the only sensible solution would be to allow more fires add more designated pits ~20), put in bathrooms, and like 400 more trash cans(on the beach itself). This isn’t a very challenging issue to address appropriately, and should be seen as an opportunity to not only create a better experience but provide the basic services and facilities needed to control trash and guide people’s behavior more effectively.

  11. I think they should get rid of them. There is broken glass and nails all over the area where the fires occur. Its like walking through a mine field the next day.

    Having the fires at night attract complete trash for people. I live close to the beach, and the people leaving the beach once it closes are drunk and rowdy. Just a few years ago, I watched a car leave the parking lot, drive up next to me and a small group of friends waiting outside my house and the car occupant shot a BB gun at us and hit a friend in the leg. This is just a drop in the bucket of the problems that arise from from allowing the opportunity for idiots to go get smashed and raise some hell on their way out. The barrier of entry is way to low for this free entertainment, society is full of too many shitheads.

  12. I grew up on the east coast beaches where fires are not allowed at all. When I moved here, bonfires on the beach were the coolest thing I had ever seen and a sign to me of what a great place I had come to. So I urge anyone involved to keep them going – time and again everyone misses out because of a few immature people. Let the adults have their fun!

  13. Step 1: Increase authorized fire pits in a set area. Demarcate zone with flags for easy sighting from the promenade. Set up the fire pits in areas with preexisting restrooms. Increase size of trash bins at these locations.

    Step 2: Post signs along the promenade stating fires are allowed in authorized pits only. Signs will include information such as: $250 citation for unauthorized fires. $75 citation for glass bottles. Egregious behavior will have community service (cleaning the beach) automatically added during sentencing.

    Step 3. Work with local businesses in the community such as Safeway. Post flyers on businesses reminding beach visitors that glass is prohibited. Have a sign in charcoal/wood section reminding visitors to set fires only in designated areas.

    Step 4: Enforce the rules.

  14. Is the Ocean Beach cleaning process all manual? (It sounds that way based on the volunteer requests). Some public beaches in other parts of the country use beach cleaning gizmos that are sort of connected to a tractor/truck that screen the sand and pick up everything, even cigarette butts. If the city or GGNRA doesn’t have such a gizmo maybe it’s time to get one. The 20th Century was a marvelous time, maybe it’s time to make use of some of the technology invented back then.

  15. @Richmond Resident – best post I’ve seen in a long time!

    @ Not Eric Mar – great ideas. Perhaps you should run for Supervisor, LOL

  16. Here’s an idea. Many beach cities have found that one good solution to trash is to actually provide people with trash cans. Just a thought.

  17. Agree with @Sabbie. I was at Ocean Beach Sunday morning. It was apparent that many people had tried to throw their trash away, but the cans were all full. People stacked their trash around the trashcans, but the wind was blowing it around. Would it really be all that hard to provide a few more trashcans and recycle bins for people? And as others have said, more fire pits = less “rogue” fires

  18. every morning there are still smoldering ashes from fires left unattended, broken bottles, crows eating remnants of food scraps and an underfunded NPS trying with a skeleton crew to clean up the mess a bunch of scumbags left behind. do the scumbags who disrespected my front yard show up on surfrider beach cleanup days? nope. should fires be banned on the beach? yup. this is a national park and not some jersey beach owned by the municipality. it should be treated as thus. pack it in, pack it out, and if you don’t like it, move back to jerz. see you at the meeting.

  19. Bonfires aren’t the only longstanding tradition the National Park Service wants to get rid of in the GGNRA–which is a RECREATION area, not a national park. They want to get rid of dog walking with a “dog management plan” and they want to reduce public access with a “general management plan.” Their plans are about what the National Park Service wants, not about what the community wants. We need to figure out how people in the Bay Area can hold the Park Service accountable for incorporating our needs and concerns into all of the changes they’re proposing. If we banned every activity where some irresponsible people didn’t clean up after themselves, there would be no activities allowed.

  20. Andrea@12:17 pm
    We can hold the Park Service accountable for incorporating our needs and concerns into their changes by presenting those ideas to the Park Service AS WELL AS TO our elected Federal representatives including Feinstein, Boxer, and Pelosi. Use the “girl power”.

  21. I would like to not see more rules set in place. Having a fire on the beach is a great right and can be a positive thing. I surf at the beach and people break bottles and leaves nails behind. I think that the litter bugs should be fined $500 or have to do community service for the park. Responsible people don’t litter.

  22. While we are talking about neighborhood issues, if anyone happens to go to this meeting (and agrees), be sure to encourage Mar with regard to his proposed lowering of the speed limit. There is no reason why anyone needs to be able to drive at highway speeds through the neighborhood. Since people seem to push the speed limit by about 10 mph, lowering it will assure the hood is safer and more tranquil for us all. Maybe we can crack down on the noisy motorcycles that tear through the neighborhood, too. Sorry, I realize this is off subject, but this is about as good a community forum as we have. See the Examiner article today: http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/sf-examines-lowering-speed-limits-in-the-name-of-safety/Content?oid=2918982

  23. The last time this topic came up before the GGNRA folks I suggested that they let out a bid for a small business to park a trailer at the beach and that the business sell fire wood. They give out maps that clearly show where they can build a fire.

    The cost of the wood also includes the permit to burn. Since the wood is provided there will be no nails or other stuff in the wood. The permit could be a flag on a fiberglass pole that the people paying stick into the ground. The business selling the wood would also have a big incentive to call a ranger if they see a fire out of the fire area or in it without a permit flag.

    All very simple and the process would work.

    The trash issues will be around with or without wood burning. A beach sifter, a machine, like in Santa Monica would take care of the junk.

    The answers are simple it is the politics that are hard.

  24. JD: Good idea – such a good idea I am not surprised they didn’t take it up.

  25. The higher ups at the NPS, and their environmentalist activist allies, want the beach to be pseudo wilderness area or at minimum, some type of ‘interpretive center of sustainability and climate education’. This despite the fact that the beach is part of a city of 900K inhabitants and has served as a recreation spot for countless thousands since the 1800’s. No, the fewer humans (and dogs), the better for them. So, they provide no amenities, minimal on-the-beach services, no restrooms, no warming hut style snack stand, no beach cleaning machine for north OB despite the glaring need for it and the requests to do so for many years. The crowd in charge would rather leave the beach as a confused, neglected dump than properly manage it into a regional jewel. Their monetary priorities, hearts and minds are elsewhere.

    Fires could work at the beach if the whole beach was properly managed. Fire pits work at other beaches in CA. Sadly, with the NPS folks at the helm and their priorities what they are, fires do not work at ocean beach. I was deeply involved with the firepit improvement efforts in 2006-2008 and I know of what I speak.

  26. the nps does not have the funding or staff necessary to do some big shiny corporate beach renovation ™ complete with funnel cakes, wicked rad beach cleaning machines, perhaps a stunning waterpark and barely has the ability to manage the jerks who leave behind burning fires and broken bottles. mostly, kind residents from the sunset and richmond volunteer their time and resources to clean up what entitled tourists leave behind. lets ditch the fire idea so the nps can focus their money and efforts from babysitting a few jerks to cleaning and renovating the whole beach for all to enjoy.
    oh, and f the ban dogs b.c. of snowy plovers thing. dogs don’t kill plovers. crows/gulls kill plovers and their population is EXPLODING because scumbags leave their trash everywhere. also invasives cover the dunes. maybe if enough dogs pee on enough ice plants, the plover nesting habitat will be recovered.

  27. John C: I agree – if we can have a clean beach comparable to those down the 1, even better with native plants, at the edge of our neighborhood, that is all I need. NPS and neighbors shouldn’t have to put endless time and effort into cleaning up after 20 year olds.

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