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Existentialists at Public Utilities Commission Move Tons of Ocean Beach Sand

Scott Lucas | December 8, 2014 | Lifestyle Story City Life

Like a metaphor straight out of a Jean-Paul Sartre novel about something we're too lazy to look up, because it’s Friday afternoon and we’re just marking the time until the weekend starts, for the next five weeks, earthmovers chartered by the city of San Francisco will be moving 42,000 tons of sand from the north side of Ocean Beach to the south end.

“We call it a sand bypass,” explained Michael Carlin, the deputy manager of the city’s Public Utilities Commission in the Chronicle. Sand bypass. That’s too complicated-sounding. Is it some kind of heart surgery? Could he come up with a more direct way to put it? “We pick up sand in one location and take it to another location.” Ahhh. Now we get it.

But—other than fulfilling the dreams they had when they were eight years old—why move the sand? The city says that as the waves and wind push it from the south to the north, too much sand is deposited, clogging stairwells, closing parking lots, and smothering wildlife. It’s also not good for the south side, because the sand there protects a tunnel through which waste water flows.

Now, if you read all that and thought, “gee, won’t the sand just move back north once the dump truck deposits it?” congratulations on grasping the futility of the human condition. The city, working with the National Park Service, had to do a sand bypass in 2012, and expects future bypasses every two to five years. While that’s going on, the Great Highway from Lincoln Way to Sloat Boulevard will be closed to all but the sand-laden dump trucks from 7 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday.

Groups have suggested longer-term solutions, including pumping underwater dredge onto the beach or abandoning the Great Highway altogether. No decisions have yet been reached.

We leave the sand at the foot of the beach. One always finds one's burden again. Each atom of that beach, each mineral flake of that night-filled sand, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission happy.

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