The Vision for McLaren: Golden Gate Park or San Bruno Mountain?

McLaren Park is the third-largest park in the city, after Golden Gate Park and Lake Merced. It’s being tagged as a “destination park” — that is, one of interest not just to its neighbors but to everyone who lives in or visits San Francisco. So the vision for McLaren concerns us all.

McLaren Park with non-native tree and off-trail recreation

Some park users have expressed their vision for it: Something like Golden Gate Park. Green, with good trails, usable recreational spaces, trees and flowers — while having enough forest, thickets, and habitat that millions of birds and small mammals find refuge there as they nest, breed, or pass through on migration.

However, almost every part of McLaren that is not actually playing fields or buildings or lake — over half the park — has been taken into the Natural Areas Program (NAP), which is really a “Native” Areas Program. The vision for that is closer to San Bruno Mountain than to Golden Gate Park, with an emphasis on “native plants” – scrub, rather than trees.

This will be achieved by removing non-native plants with the use of some of the more toxic pesticides that the city permits on its land, destroying the existing eco-systems. The plan is outlined in the Significant Natural Resource Area Management Plan (SNRAMP or Sin-ramp), which details what is intended for each of the 32 sites falling under the NAP.

Golden Gate Park boasts that it has no “Keep off the Grass” signs; the NAP by contrast has signs restricting access only to the limited number of “designated trails.” The idea is to create Native Plant museums, which you can look at but not touch.

The NAP plan for McLaren

  • Cut down >800 “invasive” trees (and more may be lost to storms and wind-throw). Trees under 15 feet may be removed at will.
  • Close 8.3 acres of dog play areas and “Monitor” the rest to see whether to close it. No new areas would be added.
  • Close or relocate over 3 miles of trail.

Since McLaren is so large, the plan breaks it into three sections: above Mansell, below Mansell and below the golf course. Each has a substantial portion claimed by the NAP.

In the maps below, all the colored areas are NAP lands.

Clicking on the thumbnails will bring up larger versions of the maps.


There are a number of myths and misconceptions about what is planned for McLaren, resulting in the kind of questions we address here.

1.  Isn’t it just hazardous trees that will be removed?

NAP are not responsible for evaluating or for pruning/ removing hazardous trees. That’s a different department. The objective of NAP’s tree removal is to create Native Plant areas.

2. They’ll plant new trees, one for one, right?

First, there’s no plan to replace the trees one for one. The SNRAMP  calls for the creation of open areas of scrub and grassland. Second, if the city does indeed plant one for one (which, besides being unlikely and not in the plan, falls short of the usual standard of 5 new saplings for every mature tree removed), they may be anywhere in the city – probably in Golden Gate Park, where there actually has been some tree planting. Third, a lot of the trees they plant aren’t really trees – they’re large shrubs.

3.  The 809 trees will be removed over 20 years. Isn’t that just 40 trees each year?

Though it’s true the SNRAMP runs for 20 years, it’s not cost-effective to remove just a few trees each year. It’s much more efficient to do the whole job at one time as soon as funding becomes available.  Usually it involves calling in contractors, marking the trees, and then cutting them down in one go. Also, trees that are under 15 feet in height don’t count as “trees” and aren’t included in this number; they can be removed at will. Finally, even if it’s a slow death of the trees in the park, it’s still death.

4. But NAP will make the park safer by improving the paved trails and adding lighting and trail markers?

Those aren’t in the SNRAMP, which is essentially about converting the existing parklands to native plants. Improvements are a separate issue that will compete for funds with the Native Plant conversions. In fact, SFFA advocates diverting funds from NAP to such uses, as well as functioning toilets, safe playgrounds, and properly staffed clubhouses and park programs.

5. They’ll make it safer by increasing usage, right?

Usually, native plant areas see much less usage than a park like say Golden Gate Park. Native Plant Areas don’t provide much recreation, since they require people to stay on the trails. The main users of parks are dog-walkers, parents with children, and joggers. Of these, only the joggers get any benefit from Native Plant areas, because they would stay on the trails anyway.  We actually like parks to be popular with dog-walkers – even if we have no dogs – because that does increase usage and therefore safety. Closing or reducing the off-leash areas is counter-productive in this regard.

6. It’ll get the homeless out of the park, though?

Probably not. The signs say the park closes at 10 p.m. That means they’ll be deserted at night, but there’s no real funding for park patrols. Homeless people can move in after dark with impunity.

Imazapyr and Glyphosate in McLaren

7. They only use pesticides very occasionally, like once or twice every couple of years?

In some parks, that’s true. In Buena Vista Park’s NAP land, for instance, no pesticides were used in 2011 (according to city records).  In McLaren, though, they used pesticides designated as Tier II  (hazardous) some 15 times in 2011. NAP’s pesticide usage has been increasing, with Twin Peaks, McLaren, Mount Davidson, Glen Canyon Park, and Bayview being the main targeted parks.

8. But aren’t these harmless herbicides? They only affect plants?

They are indeed herbicides, and to NAP’s credit, it seldom uses chemicals against animals. However, they are not harmless; even though they are targeted at plants, they have an effect on people and animals as well. Click HERE for more information on the pesticides NAP uses.

[EDITED TO ADD  (4 June 2012):  Here’s another pesticide notice from McLaren, for three different plant species, using Glyphosate. Said the person who sent it to us, “This one notice was for the whole park!“]

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1 Response to The Vision for McLaren: Golden Gate Park or San Bruno Mountain?

  1. Philip Snyder says:

    The Recreation and Park Dept. is totally out of control. I recently discovered a bicycle obstacle course that has been built in the redwood forest beside the Rose Garden in GG Park. It is a course built with ramps and jumps and twisting curves up and down the hillsides. It is clearly marked ” No Bicycles “. I confronted a Park Worker in a Park Truck about this and he stated that he knows of this facility. It was built by bicyclists, but the Park Dept has done nothing about it. The bilkes are jumping and racing right on top of the Redwood roots, but the Parks Worker I talked to doesn’t think it will harm the root system. I asked him if he approved of this facility and he said he did.
    All this is in direct violation of the Golden Gate Park Master Plan. I ask you to read from the plan, page 3-18, Policy C – Off Road Bicycle Use, and you will see that this course violates every sentence of that policy. This is another abuse of Phil Ginsburg who I suspect is the real source of these screwball programs. We need to make the City aware of the actions of this loose cannon ASAP.

    Philip Snyder

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