Park group won’t take the removal of cliffside benches sitting down
by ANTHONY GENTILE
Published - 08/05/09 - 05:32 PM | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council on Monday rebuffed city efforts to remove additional cliffside benches by the end of the week and formed an ad hoc committee to study the matter further. 
                            PHOTOS BY SEBASTIAN RUIZ | THE BEACON
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With city staff members present at Monday’s Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council meeting, the two sides agreed to disagree when it comes to the safety and relocation of popular cliffside benches.

The result of the deliberation between the two sides was a temporary hold on further removal of Sunset Cliffs benches until the park’s council meets again in September — the latest twist in what has been a contentious issue since the city ordered the removal of the benches in June.

“I strongly support the community and I think they’ve set up a good process where we’re going to have neighbors involved in the new benches and sites,” said District 2 City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer. “I think that’s what should have happened from the very beginning.”

Dan Danieri, the district manager for shoreline parks, and the park council’s city staff representative Michael Ruiz came to the meeting with proposed bench locations and three design types for the council to choose from. Their goal was to move forward with the process — that is, the removal of benches by the end of this week. The goal, however, will have to go unmet.

“The members of the council were extremely concerned by the presentation and the fact that there was virtually no chance for public participation in any of the decisions that were made,” said Camilla Ingram, member of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council.

The discussion over the benches dominated the entire meeting, which lasted for over two hours. The park council raised concerns about many items, including the installation and uniqueness of future benches, the gap between removal and installation of benches, erosion and advance notice and publicity of future meetings.

One issue that was clarified was how it was determined that the benches were a safety hazard in the first place. Greg Bych of the city’s risk management department said during the meeting that the benches were deemed a hazard by city officials as the result of a survey that was taken in the area after resident Kristan Wagner’s deadly fall from the cliffs last November.

“We have immunity whenever something happens that we had no knowledge about,” Bych said. “Once these guardrails and the benches within these guardrails were brought to our attention, it creates a huge liability for the city.

“The problem is that the public doesn’t perceive it as a safety hazard,” he said. “But fiscally, to the city, there absolutely is one.”

In the end, the park council members ensured they would have input on the new benches by creating an ad hoc Special Bench Committee made up of council members who will meet Saturday, Aug. 8 at a private residence in Point Loma.

Meanwhile, Bych will recommend to the city that removal of the benches be deferred for a month. The goal of the ad hoc committee is to bring a set of suggestions to the park council’s next meeting on Sept. 14.

“We’re going to discuss the design for benches that is appropriate to the ambiance and the culture of folks that go to the cliffs,” said Ingram, who will chair the ad hoc committee. “We want to try and get a design that resembles more of what people have put in on their own, yet fits the criteria that risk management has.”

Residents with suggestions or ideas on future bench location, type of materials or designs can e-mail Ingram at cingram@ucsd.com.

Ingram said all suggestions are welcome.
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