Councilman Kevin Faulconer is writing to the Mayor’s Office asking that several benches removed from Sunset Cliffs Park over the last week be re-installed.

The benches have for years been cherished by park visitors for their ocean vistas. Many local residents have used the benches as meeting points and places for reflection, said Joel Siegfried, a local resident who for years has met with friends at the same bench, which they called “our bench.”

But last week, Siegfried and other park regulars noticed that city crews had started removing benches along the strip of park stretching from Ladera Street to Point Loma Avenue.

Initial concern turned to anger when the bench that Siegfried and his friends have used for years was removed, but they were unable to get answers when they asked work crews and city offices the reason for the removals.

Residents of Ocean Beach, Sunset Cliffs, and Point Loma wrote a letter to the mayor’s office and organized a petition demanding that the benches be reinstalled.

“Especially in a time of great fiscal challenges, to employ City staff with the needless and destructive task of dismantling and confiscating such beloved and functional facilities, at the very least shows poor judgment, as well as actions which are thoughtless, mean spirited and not in the best interests of the people who have elected you to serve them,” they wrote.

Faulconer said the benches were removed in response to a February memo he sent to the Mayor’s Office asking that the park be assessed for possible safety improvements. In November, Ocean Beach resident Kristan Wagner fell to her death while using a trail that hugs a cliff’s edge.

In an April 22 response memo to Faulconer, the developed regional parks district manager, Daniel Daneri, informed the councilman of the safety improvements that would be made as a result of a joint assessment between the parks department and the city’s risk management department.

In addition to blocking off hazardous areas and repairing erosion, “[u]nauthorized wooden benches installed adjacent to the guard rails will be referred to the Streets Division for removal,” Daneri wrote. The memo did not note the safety hazard posed by the benches, although some residents speculated that their proximity to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard may have affected the risk assessment.

Susan Reed, a member of the Ocean Beach Town Council who said she was speaking independent of her role, said that the benches did not appear to be city-installed, but that they were nonetheless of high quality.

In his initial memo to the mayor’s office, Faulconer wrote that “any potential solutions should be generated and reviewed in conjunction with the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council and any other interested parties.”

It was unclear whether the park officials worked with anyone other than the city’s risk assessment department to devise the safety measures.

When I reached Daneri by phone this afternoon, he said he couldn’t comment before speaking with parks department officials.

“These benches should not have been removed. I like the benches, the community likes the benches, and any questions about the benches should have occurred after working with the Natural Parks Council,” Faulconer said.

Asked about the benches potentially being unauthorized, he said: “If there were issues of the benches we could have talked about alternative benches.”

Faulconer said he would be writing a memo to the mayor this afternoon, asking that the benches be re-installed or replaced with official city benches.

— ADRIAN FLORIDO

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