Emotions ran high at the monthly meeting of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council last night as dozens of people — a record turnout, regulars said — filled the small meeting room at the Cabrillo Recreation Center, most of them eager to discuss replacing the park’s recently departed benches.

By the end of the night, and after lengthy debate, park council members voted to recommend the city replace the benches. Matt Aubrey, Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s representative, said the councilman would recommend those motions to the mayor for implementation.

It was the latest episode in the unfolding saga of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park benches, whose removal last month caused a small uproar among local residents who had used the benches for years as a scenic resting place overlooking the Pacific.

After a presentation by parks department representative Dan Daneri, several community members, in impassioned addresses, urged the city to replace the benches.

Joel Siegfried quoted Thoreau in chastising the city for removing them without seeking local input, saying that “government governs best that governs least.”

The first motion recommending that the city replace the non-scenic benches removed from the park’s parking lots was unanimously approved.

The second motion was suggested by the on-duty police officer who, in the interest of moving things along after a protracted period of confused discussion among the public, tried to summarize the points being made. Because he was not a member of the council and was thus ineligible to propose one, an eligible member proposed the motion he had just outlined, and it was seconded.

The preceding discussion had revolved around the several benches that were removed from the path along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, which the city claimed were liabilities because of their proximity to the guard rails separating the pedestrian walkway from the street.

When a vote was finally taken, few people knew what they were voting on. As the vote was taken, several council members could be heard asking, “What’s the motion?” It passed by a vote of 22-0, with three abstentions.

When asked after the meeting, council Chairwoman Ann Swanson said the audio tape of the meeting would be reviewed in order to determine exactly what the motion had been.

After nearly coming to a vote, a third motion, which recommended the installation of interim benches while the council reviewed the park’s master plan and its longer term bench needs, was tabled. So was a motion to form a committee to review the council’s bench options.

A final motion, recommending that the city confer with the park council on any further action regarding benches, and that the city neither remove nor install any benches before the next park council meeting, passed by a vote of 23-0, with two abstentions. Some of the unauthorized benches that were removed last month have since been replaced by locals.

Daneri said he couldn’t say whether or not those benches would be removed, since technically they were still a city liability. He said his office would be working with the Mayor’s Office and the park department to determine whether reasonable accommodations could be made to install authorized benches on the path overlooking the ocean. Although, if the motions approved are taken seriously by his office and Faulconer’s, that shouldn’t happen before July 6, the date of the next park council meeting.

— ADRIAN FLORIDO

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