They're old and crumbling, worn down from the corrosive ocean air.
But what should the new and restored stairways look like? And which construction materials would be both attractive and better able to withstand the elements? Those answers aren't as clear.
Given the possibilities, and the vast number of people who descend the stairs or glide past them on the popular bike path, Manhattan Beach wants feedback. The city last week kicked off the first of four planned meetings on its proposal to replace seven staircases and improve another 13 others along the coast from Eighth Street to Rosecrans Avenue.
The city has set aside $1.4 million in federal money and $300,000 in matching city dollars for work on the 20 "worst" staircases; it is targeted for next winter to avoid hassles during the busy summer season.
Ideas vary, at least judging from those presented by the handful of residents who turned out for a meeting at the Joslyn Community Center.
There, consultants displayed pictures of steep concrete stairs with tread damage, and crumbling balustrades lacking the handrails that would make them accessible to disabled individuals. Some stairs have metal railings, others none at all.
Peter DeMaria, an architect who sits on the city's Cultural Arts Commission, suggested the city reach out to residents and art and architecture students for design ideas.
"I think aesthetically what we have, there's no redeeming quality to it," he said.
If the budget doesn't allow for art to be incorporated into every staircase improvement, why not focus on doing so for at least one or two, DeMaria suggested.
"I think there's an opportunity here to do something interesting," he said. "A staircase can be more than just something that can get you from the Strand down to the sand. A departure from what we have could be something wonderful."
City Planning Commissioner Paul Gross, who has lived on the Strand for 50 years, said he's watched the town rebuild its beach stairways at least a handful of times. That's convinced him that whatever design is chosen must take into account the most durable construction materials -- a point that wasn't lost on DeMaria.
"We have to be concerned about safety, and that's why there's urgency to this thing," Gross said. "Causing the safety issues is the deterioration of the materials."
Even still, some favor designs similar to the existing stairs, many of which have concrete balustrades with decorative spindles.
Lifelong city resident Chris Post said she wouldn't want any change to be too dramatic.
"It would be nice to still have a flavor of what's been there for such a long time," she said.
Next month, city staff members hope to display for the public potential designs that incorporate both concrete and metal elements, City Engineer Steve Finton said. That would allow for more comment before a proposal moves to the Planning Commission and, later, the City Council.
The work is long overdue; the city considered making stairway improvements about 15 years ago as it embarked on a Strand improvement project, officials said, but the money wasn't there.
Plans call for the removal and replacement of stairs at 21st, 25th, 29th, 30th, 32nd, 33rd, and 35th streets. Meanwhile, stairs and railings will be rehabilitated at Eighth, 10th, 14th, 16th, 18th, 20th, 23rd, 24th, 26th, 31st and 34th Streets, Marine Avenue and Rosecrans Avenue.
In addition, the city also proposes to add two wheelchair ramps leading from the Strand to the bike path at points south of Marine Avenue and 26th Street.
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