West of Twin Peaks Central Council opposes Natural Areas Program, Part 4: Poor Public Process
August 1, 2012 1 Comment
This article is Part 4 of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council (WTPCC) letter opposing the Natural Areas Program (NAP). Emphasis has been added.
(For the whole letter in PDF form – and an addendum from board member Caroline Squeri- click on the link here: 2012.06.04 – WTPCC Letter Opposing NAP )
POOR PUBLIC PROCESS
WTPCC opposes NAP in part because of the poor job NAP has done to inform park neighbors and neighborhood associations about its plans. Neighbors who live immediately adjacent to Mt. Davidson, for example, have said they were never given any official notice of NAP’s plans for the park, especially its plans to cut down 1,600 trees. Established neighborhood associations, including many WTPCC members, have not been contacted by NAP. Many have said they never heard anything about the DEIR. Indeed, the Planning Department offered a tacit acknowledgement of this lack of public outreach when it re-opened public comment on the Draft DEIR last month.
NAP did not contact park neighbors and users or neighborhood associations to find out what they wanted in the natural areas in their neighborhood parks when NAP staff were developing their plans. During the plan development process, citywide NAP advocacy groups were contacted for input on what NAP should do in the parks, yet the people who live adjacent to or who regularly use the parks (that is, those who will be most impacted by any NAP restrictions) were ignored. The only input most people had was whatever they could say during a one-minute public comment at a Recreation and Park Commission meeting after the plans were already developed. The parks belong to the people of San Francisco, not to NAP staff. All park neighbors and users (not just those known to support NAP) must be involved in discussions about what to do in natural areas. Without this level of public outreach and engagement, NAP’s plans lose support and credibility.
Even when people have explained their concerns to NAP staff, it seems to fall on deaf ears. At a 2002 meeting of the Golden Gate Heights Neighborhood Association (GGHNA), members complained about NAP’s removal of iceplant at the neighborhood’s Grandview Park. Grandview is the only remaining sand dune in San Francisco (other than at the beaches), but it is completely surrounded by homes, some of which have backyards that abut the park. Over the years, neighbors and park staff had planted iceplant at Grandview because it was the only plant that seemed able to hold the sand in place. When NAP took control of the park, it began to remove the iceplant because it was non-native. At the GGHNA meeting, several park neighbors complained that the iceplant removal had caused sand to drift into and cover their backyards, damaging their property. Lisa Wayne, the head of NAP who had been invited to respond to the neighbors’ concerns, responded that NAP had no responsibility for property damage outside park boundaries caused by its removal of erosion-controlling plants. When the SNRAMP was released several years later, it called for “scattered, open sand” at Grandview Park. Over the years, GGHNA has repeatedly submitted public comments asking NAP to remove the goal of “scattered, open sand” at Grandview, yet it remains in NAP’s plans.
NAP’S EXPANDED MANDATE
WTPCC opposes the expansion of NAP’s mandate beyond the protection and preservation of existing remnants of San Francisco’s natural heritage. The original Management Plan for NAP, written in 1995, was 12 pages long.
Over the years, however, NAP has claimed more and more city parkland, to the point that most of the land under NAP control does not have existing remnant habitat. Rather NAP has claimed land that it wants to change from the existing habitat that currently has few native plants to one that more closely resembles the habitat before Europeans settled in the area. Because of this expansion, the final SNRAMP is 711 pages long.
WTPCC supports the idea of preserving existing remnants of the historical habitat. We do not support the idea of wholesale habitat conversion that requires cutting down thousands of healthy trees, extensive and repeated applications of herbicides, closure of access to large areas of our parks, and destruction of existing habitat needed by the animals and birds living there now. As a result, WTPCC opposes NAP and its current plans for our parks.
The fundamental goals of NAP are misaligned with what San Franciscans want in their parks. To date, NAP has focused on restoring open space in San Francisco to “native” status. The SNRAMP was written to interpret “Natural” to mean “Native.” That’s not what San Franciscans want their natural areas to be.
We want Natural Areas to be:
- Accessible to the public
- Green and filled with growing things (trees and plants)
Nowhere on that list does it say “native only.”
People love Golden Gate Park (which is filled with non-native species), but it’s not always easy to get to – so they want miniature versions of Golden Gate Park in their neighborhoods. They want a variety of plants that look nice, and space that gives them a chance to escape where they can walk, run & play with their family, friends and pets. Purely native areas do not provide the same visual and recreational opportunities that our non-native areas do. That’s why people living in San Francisco more than 100 years ago introduced non-native species in the first place. Lush and green is what we want, and we’re not picky about whether it’s native or not.
The Natural Areas Plan should reflect that desire, and work to accommodate it. NAP can certainly preserve a small portion of the total parks space for native plants (much like the botanical gardens include sections that are native only), but only if these native areas can meet the requirements above (i.e. accessible, walkable, safe, well maintained and green and lush). In a densely populated urban area like San Francisco, native-only should be a “nice to have” that takes a back seat to priorities like accessible, safe and lush.
WTPCC asks the Planning Department to address the issues we identified with the Draft DEIR. We ask the Recreation and Park Commission to rethink its support for NAP.
Thank you for your consideration.
cc: Mayor Ed Lee; Board of Supervisors; Planning Commission; RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg; Natural Areas Program Director Lisa Wayne; RPD Chief of Operations Dennis Kern; Bill Wycko, Environmental Review Officer, Planning Dept.