Killing Our Street Trees in San Francisco

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
William Blake, The Letters, 1799

Most of these Jefferson Street trees were saved due to neighbors’ efforts! Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

San Francisco has a lot of projects going on. SFMTA seems to be flush with wealth, and is “improving” a lot of roads. Developers are planning fancy new buildings.

Unfortunately, every project seems to start with destroying trees – and neighbors never know about it until it’s a done deal and the trees have 30-days-to-death notices on them. Then they object… but the odds are against them. Though they sometimes succeed in saving the trees, more often it’s too late.  Meanwhile, the City seems to be entirely accepting of tree destruction for any and all reasons.

San Francisco has a tree canopy of only 13.7%, the lowest of any major city, and nearly half the appropriate canopy cover of 25%.

(From SF Data: In preparation for the San Francisco Urban Forest Plan (2013), the Planning Department performed an Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) Analysis using aerial imagery and additional data sets to determine a canopy estimate for the City & County of San Francisco. This analysis estimated San Francisco’s tree canopy at 13.7%)

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City

This is an embarrassment for a “green” city, quite aside from the ecological, environmental and health reasons for saving our trees. Unfortunately, between Nativists, developers, and project managers, there seems to be a wave of tree cutting hitting San Francisco. We’re not augmenting our canopy, we’re shrinking it.

REASONS TO SAVE OUR TREES

  1. Trees fight pollution, especially particulate pollution that is dangerous to human lungs.
  2. Trees improve air quality
  3. Trees are good for physical and psychological health; to get the same benefit as living on a tree-lined street, you would have to be ten years younger.
  4. Trees provide habitat for wildlife, especially birds and butterflies.
  5. Trees help regulate water by absorbing it into their roots and gradually releasing it through their leaves.
  6. Trees reduce crime and improve business.

For a detailed list of benefits, read Twenty Reasons Why Urban Trees are Important to Us All

TREES AT GEARY AND MASONIC – GONE

Two years ago, neighbors fought to save this lovely grove of trees at Geary and Masonic. They were cut down because of plans that merely considered them as “green things that are in the way” and were not designed to preserve them.

These trees are now gone. Here’s what that grove looks like now:

THE TREES AT FULTON – GONE

This charming line of street trees, fighting pollution and climate change, and breathing out oxygen in downtown San Francisco, is also gone. In its place there will be a tower block with a footprint out to the sidewalk.

Where once there were trees.

THE BEAUTIFUL FLOWERING PLUM TREES AT FORT MASON – GONE

Plum trees the neighbors loved were removed at Fort Mason, leaving the neighbors in shock.

Fort Mason Flowering Plum Trees - Before

Fort Mason Flowering Plum Trees – Before

Shocked neighbor views the missing trees

TREES THAT CAN STILL BE SAVED

The tree destruction continues, but in some cases at least it may be possible for neighbors to prevail.

The Rincon Point Neighbors are fighting to save ten trees at Howard and Steuart streets. The hearing is May 31 at 5 pm in room 416, City Hall.  Comments should be submitted on the Thursday prior to the Hearing, May 25th, 2017 (Today!) according to Board of Appeals rules. You can email them at: Boardofappeals@sfgov.org

Neighbors are seeking to save this tree, one of the few large shade and habitat trees remaining on Haight Street. It’s disrupting the sidewalk, but an arborist has determined that the tree can be saved simply by enlarging the tree basin to accommodate its roots, fixing the sidewalk, and pruning some of the branches.

If you want to help save this tree, you can sign the Change.org petition here, and also email the Bureau of Urban Forestry  at urbanforestry@sfdpw.org and tell them you protest the removal of the tree at 826 Haight. — deadline June 21, 2017)

Threatened tree at 826 Haight Street San Francisco

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is acutely aware of the value of Green Infrastructure, and we support the efforts of neighbors and neighborhood groups to preserve non-hazardous trees.

Memorial for Peter Ehrlich, 1948-2017

The Presidio had a community work day and memorial for Peter Ehrlich today. Here’s a report from a friend who attended.

Peter Ehrlich’s memorial at the Presidio was very well done. There were at least 150 people there and they did a lot of work. Pete had planted many Monterey cypresses around the Spire and they needed to be weeded and mulched. So, the work directly benefited the trees Pete had planted.

The location of the memorial at the Spire was an appropriate location. The massive sculpture of cypress logs by Andy Goldsworthy was important to Pete because he had the pleasure of helping Goldsworthy find the wood for the sculpture.

He really enjoyed talking with Goldsworthy. The Spire was decorated with pictures of Pete and flowers all around the Spire. There was also a book of pictures of Pete that will be given to his daughter, Lily. People were invited to write in that book. There were eucalyptus leaves on which people were invited to write tributes to Pete that were hung on the trees. My message was, “We will watch the Presidio forest for Pete.”

Dee Seligman [former Interim President of SFFA] spoke explicitly for San Francisco Forest Alliance by reading a portion of her tribute that was posted to the SFFA website. When she read the last paragraph about the help he gave us regarding the plans of the Natural Areas Program, people applauded.

SFFA was well represented and Pete would have been proud of how he was remembered.

We would like to thank the author of this account, and thank Dee Seligman for the touching and appropriate remembrance.

Peter Ehrlich, 1948 – 2017

This tribute to Peter Ehrlich was written by Dee Seligman, formerly Interim President of San Francisco Forest Alliance.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: if you plan to join the Presidio community work day on May 21, 2017 in Peter Ehrlich’s honor, please register HERE.

Peter Ehrlich (left), with Ron Proctor, Jacquie Proctor, and Larry Seligman in the Presidio – Dec 2016

 

Tribute to Peter Ehrlich

by Dee Seligman

On Sunday, May 21, from 10 am to 1 pm, the Presidio Trust will host a Community Stewardship Day in honor of Peter, where staff, volunteers, and friends can celebrate Peter by caring for the trees in the cypress grove surrounding Spire. We’ll pause at noon for reflections about Peter. Refreshments will be provided. We hope as many SF Forest Alliance supporters as possible will attend this event to honor Peter.

Peter Ehrlich was a mensch. This Yiddish expression describes a human being, one in the fullest sense of the word with integrity, humanity, and worthy of emulation. It’s an apt description of Peter, the Chief Forester of the Presidio and previously the Manager of the tree maintenance programs in all of San Francisco’s parks for 15 years, who died unexpectedly in a biking accident about a week ago.

This small man from the Bronx with a big heart, a passion for trees and birds, a man of science and of literature, had a special connection to the San Francisco Forest Alliance (SFFA). With his mischievous smile, ironic perspective, and regard for classic literature, he reached out to us as a group, and to many others in the Bay Area. Caring about trees was the common denominator to being Peter’s friend and ally.

He said he learned as a kid in the Bronx to stand up for what he believed in, and Peter believed in trees—boy, did he ever! He loved trees—all trees. He did not differentiate between native and non-native but found value, inspiration, and function in all trees. He understood equally well the physical comforts provided by trees but also, what he called, “the aesthetic experience” of forests.

Peter Ehrlich (on the left) and Ron Proctor planting trees at the Presidio - Dec 2016

Peter Ehrlich (on the left) and Ron Proctor planting trees at the Presidio – Dec 2016

He did his best to protect all trees. In the Presidio, which is controlled by the federal government through the National Park Service, there is forest management and ongoing rejuvenation, directed by Peter. He replaced some blue gums in the Presidio with related species of eucalyptus when absolutely necessary.

However, within the municipal parks of San Francisco, such as in Natural Areas like Mt. Davidson, there has been no ongoing rejuvenation. Peter looked out for the eucalyptus in these areas, too, by working with SFFA to evaluate the trees of Mt. Davidson and Mt. Sutro. He walked both forests with SFFA leaders at separate instances and documented in writing that he did not find them unhealthy nor unusually at risk due to drought, insects, or any of the other reasons dredged up by native plant advocates for the Natural Areas Program. He supported our point of view in a letter to the Planning Commission and to Rec and Park Commission when the EIR came up for certification.

He spoke at conferences, gave local talks, and guided walks in the Presidio. I witnessed his perceptive service on the Technical Advisory Committee for UCSF on Mt. Sutro, where he asked definitive questions, such as whether there were risk ratings done for all the trees on the mountain? He emphasized that “lack of vigor”  is different than “hazard,” in other words asking for more nuanced information from any assessment of the trees. In fact, Peter’s questions prompted the assessing arborist to explain that they had two different rating systems: one for individual trees in high-use areas, but another for all the rest of the trees. This fact was unlikely to have been revealed without his astute questions.

Peter did not mince words. After reviewing an early draft of an Urban Forestry Council’s proposed document on “best management practices for the urban forest”, he advised us that “if the goal of the document was conversion [i.e., of the type of species in the forest], it should be clearly stated as such.” He advised against references to fire or other objectives “if the real goal is type conversion.” He questioned, “What are San Francisco’s ‘priorities’? What are San Francisco’s endangered species on Mt. Davidson and Mt. Sutro? The Presidio has four. What are the endangered species on Mt. Sutro and Mt. Davison? The ‘sensitive species’ are impossible to define. The word ‘sensitive’ with respect to species is overused.”

And he would not accept easy answers. For example, “thinning,” as proposed by the Natural Areas Program is not a universal cure-all. He said: “Thinning is presented as an event that is self-explanatory. It is not, as thinning must be done, if it is deemed necessary, with low-impact techniques that preserve residual trees. A contractor without tree protection constraints could do a lot of damage. In fact, even with tree protection requirements in place, an on-site monitor would be necessary to make sure residual trees were not negatively impacted.”

Another glib answer he rejected was Rec and Park’s explanation that the eucalyptus were all “dying due to drought.” He differentiated between blue gum eucalyptus having no leaves at all, possibly signifying a lack of regeneration, from blue gums having a decreased canopy percentage, not necessarily a sign of poor health. In dry weather, blue gums often protect themselves by shedding some leaves, which would transpire water, and growing epicormic sprouts instead.

Although somewhat constrained by working in a politically sensitive position in the Presidio, he was clear-eyed about the environmental politics of San Francisco. Nothing could be more telling than a comment he once sent me about the long, contentious, and circuitous process to certification taken by the Significant Natural Resource Areas’ Management Plan (formerly known as SNRAMP, now called NRAMP, or Natural Resource Areas Management Plan).

Peter said, “As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear: ‘Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.’”
We all miss Peter very much. 


Peter also loved wildlife and birds. A few years ago, he sent us some pictures of young Great Horned Owls in a nest in the Presidio. He gave us permission to use them then, and we publish them here in grateful remembrance.

 

Ecological “Restoration”: “Someone Pays and Someone Profits”

The article below was first published on April 1st on MillionTrees.me – a site fighting unnecessary tree destruction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Though it references mainly the widespread tree destruction planned for the East Bay, the same principles apply broadly.  The article is republished here with permission

————————————————————————————————

The Ecological “Restoration” Industry: Follow the money

Matt Chew is one of many professional academics that criticize invasion biology.  Unlike most, he emphasizes explaining the weaknesses of eco-nativism using scientific, historical, and philosophical methods, depending on the issue.  This has made him a useful collaborator and resource for like-minded but primarily science-oriented colleagues. Million Trees is deeply grateful for his willingness to speak publically about the fallacies of invasion biology, including the generous gift of his time in writing this guest post for us.

Dr. Chew is a faculty member of Arizona State University’s Center for Biology and Society and an instructor in the ASU School of Life Sciences.  He teaches courses including the History of Biology, Biology and Society, and a senior conservation biology course in “novel ecosystems,” described HERE on the university’s “ASU Now” news website.

He was also a speaker at the 2013 annual conference of Beyond Pesticides.  A video of his presentation is available HERE (go to 24:40).  He says that “invasive” plants are convenient scapegoats that are presenting a marketing opportunity for the manufacturers of pesticides. Invasion biology is at the core of the greening of pesticides.

In his guest post, Matt helps us to understand how he chose to pursue a multidisciplinary critique of one topic rather than adopting a single disciplinary approach and identity. He began his professional career as a practicing conservation biologist, experiencing firsthand the sometimes startling disconnects between laws, policies, aspirations, public expectations, and realities “on the ground.” 

We celebrate April Fool’s Day with Matt Chew’s article.  When we waste our money on ecological “restorations” the joke is on us!

Million Trees

Matt Chew with his class in novel ecosystems


Those familiar with my academic work know I invest most of my efforts documenting and explaining the flaws and foibles of “invasion biology.” But I got into this messy business as a practical conservation biologist, a natural resources planner “coordinating” the Arizona State Natural Areas Program during the late 1990s. I found the toxic nativism of natural areas proponents morbidly fascinating, and the practical politics of natural areas acquisition and management morbidly galling. I chose to follow my fascination. But as “Death of a Million Trees” marks the end of its seventh year as a WordPress blog, and in light of recent decisions by Bay Area authorities, it’s time for a galling reminder:  Follow the money.

Authorities responsible for suburban fire suppression and recovery necessarily view stands of living trees as liabilities. They can’t see the forest for the fuels. The prospect of eliminating them merely drives their value further into the negative. That it must be subsidized is ironic because eucalyptus and Monterey pine are plantation grown in many countries for timber or pulp. But they aren’t traditional sources of California wood products and a glut of more familiar drought-killed trees awaits salvage far from finicky neighbors.

So condemned trees can’t just be disappeared by pointing them out to eager loggers. “Concept planning” can be fairly vague, but “action planning” must be very specific. A job this big requires both general and sub-contracting. It requires hiring and training and supervising. Capital equipment will be acquired, maintained and repaired. Affected areas must be surveyed and material volumes estimated. Before trees can be felled, access routes must be surveyed and created. After trees are felled they must be sectioned, staged, loaded and hauled away for disposal. More often they are shredded in place. At every step, someone pays and someone profits.

Where “ecological restoration” is the objective, stumps must be pulled or blasted and roots must be excavated. The eucalyptus seed bank will need to be eliminated or rendered inert. Perhaps even a century’s accumulation of organic topsoil will need amending, or removing and replacing to reconstitute prehistoric substrates. Seed suppliers and nurseries will be contracted to provide plant “native” materials. After the armies of tree-fellers and stump-blasters will come waves of laborers, tractors, diggers, spreaders, and planters in an endless relay of trucks. Ecological restoration is farming, all the more so in proximity to a cityscape arrayed in exotic plants. If all goes well and the rain falls in judicious quantities at auspicious times, planting will be followed by perpetual weeding. At every step, someone pays and someone profits.

It’s hardly surprising that FEMA has no intention of underwriting restoration on that scale. Their plans envision minimally spreading shredded wood, leaving a layer up to two feet deep to gradually decompose, and hoping whatever oaks and other present understory plants they haven’t accidentally fractured or flattened will thrive in the sudden absence of big trees. Two feet of material will gradually compact, but assurances that it will rot into organic soil within a few years are pretty optimistic. Whether and when it will support anything resembling a native plant assemblage is dubious. Meanwhile, some viable stumps will require recurring treatment with the herbicide du jour and occasional supplemental felling. It’s not a reset-and-forget strategy. It’s just the first step of a long and contentious cycle of interventions. And of course, at every step, someone pays and someone profits.

Whenever public property and expenditure is concerned there should be an open procurement process with a clear data trail. A call for proposals is written and published, bids are received, contracts awarded, and work commences. But we can be certain that by the time the prospect of deforesting the Bay Area was openly discussed by policymakers, potential bidders were positioning themselves to influence the shape of the emerging policy and take advantage of it. And various interest groups who saw deforesting the hillsides as a means to their ends became a de facto coalition of advocates. Some acted more openly than others, and some to greater effect. But prominent nonprofit organizations expect returns on their investments. Nothing happens unless someone pays and someone profits.

Some of the premises underlying the logic of the program will inevitably be faulty. Should it falter at any step due to unforeseen events (e.g., meteorological, horticultural, ecological, economic or political), contingencies will be implemented… if funds are available. There are only three certainties. Firstly, no action occurs unless someone pays and someone profits. Secondly, nature, within which I include all aspects of human society, is complex and capricious. No one can predict with much certainty how a post-deforestation landscape will look or function. Finally, a coalition of the discontented will emerge and agitate for improvements that require someone to pay, and allow someone to profit.  As Nancy Pelosi recently reminded us, “we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.”   

Matt Chew

Van Ness Trees on Death Row – Chris Parkes

Not all the threatened trees in San Francisco are in our parks. San Franciscans have been dismayed to find that many of the SFMTA road improvements seem to have been designed with no thought for the mature trees that are so important in reducing pollution, sequestering carbon, and providing habitat. We’ve written about these before HERE. Now the Van Ness Project is imminent, and the neighbors are fighting to save these trees. Here’s an article by Chris Parkes.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
William Blake, The Letters, 1799

Van Ness Trees on Death Row by Chris Parkes

Please call SF Supervisors Today!

In just a few days, most of the trees in the center of Van Ness will begin disappearing in the middle of the night.

van-ness-threatened-trees-1

Many sidewalk trees will follow. In all, nearly 200 trees, many 50 yrs old or 50 ft tall, will be cut down. Eventually they will be replaced by saplings as two car lanes on Hwy 101 are permanently converted to bus-only lanes as part a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.

van-ness-threatened-trees-2The project sponsor will argue that the impacts are positive. Are they?

What are we getting? Even if you ride the bus all the way from Market to Lombard, your typical ride today is 15-19 minutes. How much time will you save for this huge expense? 3 minutes? 2 minutes? Less?
What else will we get? Traffic jams, increased fumes. Loss of half-century old trees.

The elderly and disabled will need to board the bus from a narrow median in the middle of a congested highway.

Please ask SF Supervisors for a ballot measure to let voters decide this. Let’s save our limited transit funds for better projects, such as a modern subway system.

Many were unaware of this project until the city posted signs on trees last year, only to learn it was then too late to change.

As this project unfolds or unravels, please call and leave a voicemail for your SF city supervisor TODAY, and often, to let them know what YOU think of it. If on the other hand you are ok with it, or do nothing, you will be pleased and comforted to know that there are many more similar projects that are already in the pipeline and that will soon become unalterable.

van-ness-threatened-trees-3

When the Van Ness project was first conceived, it was estimated to cost $60 – $65 million. Now the scope and cost estimate has blossomed to exceed $300 million, and ground has not even broken. Costs will continue to rise as changes mount.

Play a role in your city’s future. Please call your supervisor today.

As Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax once said: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

van-ness-threatened-trees-4

California’s Urban Greening Grant Program: An opportunity to speak for the trees

This article is republished with permission from “Death of a Million Trees“, a website dedicated to fighting unnecessary tree destruction in the San Francisco Bay Area.

SFFA Supporters:

We need our urban forests- especially those with non-native trees.  The attached article describes a grant program that restricts the planting of non-native trees.

You can ask the CNR Agency to revise their grant program guidelines (Urban Greening Grant Program) to NOT restrict the planting of non-native trees.

Public comment must be submitted by December 5, 2016.

Send comments to: Urban Greening Grant Program c/o The California Natural Resources Agency Attn: Bonds and Grants Unit 1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1311 Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: (916) 653-2812,

OR

Email: urbangreening@resources.ca.gov

Fax: (916) 653-8102

This is all you need to say:

Restrictions against planting non-native trees must be removed from grant guidelines in order to increase our tree canopies in California’s urban environments.

Thank you for talking the time to speak for ALL the trees!

Read article: California’s Urban Greening Grant Program: An opportunity to speak for the trees


CALIFORNIA’S URBAN GREENING GRANT PROGRAM: AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK FOR THE TREES

In September 2016, the State of California passed a law that allocated $1.2 billion to create a cap and trade program to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. The California Natural Resources (CNR) Agency was allocated $80 million to fund green infrastructure projects that reduce GHG emissions. The CNR Agency is creating an Urban Greening Program to fund grants to cities, counties, and other entities such as non-profit organizations in URBAN settings. 75% of the funding must also be spent in economically disadvantaged communities.

These grants must reduce GHG emissions using at least one of these specific methods:

  1. Sequester and store carbon by planting trees
  2. Reduce building energy use from strategically planting trees to shade buildings
  3. Reduce commute, non-recreational and recreational vehicle miles travelled by constructing bicycle paths, bicycle lanes, or pedestrian facilities.

Clearly, planting trees is one of the primary objectives of this grant program. That sounds like good news for the environment and everyone who lives in it until you read the draft program guidelines which are available HERE.

Unfortunately, as presently drafted, the grant program will NOT increase California’s urban tree canopies, because the program requires the planting of “primarily” native trees. That requirement is explicitly stated several times in the draft guidelines, but there are also places in the draft where the reader might be misled to believe the requirement applies only to plants and not to trees. Therefore, I asked that question of the CNR Agency staff and I watched the public hearing that was held in Sacramento on October 31st. CNR Agency staff responded that the requirement that grant projects plant “primarily” native species applies to both plants and trees.

The good news is that the grant program guidelines are presently in draft form and the public has an opportunity to comment on them. If you agree with me that we need our urban forest, you will join me in asking the CNR Agency to revise their grant program guidelines to remove restrictions against planting non-native trees. Public comment must be submitted by December 5, 2016. Send comments to: Urban Greening Grant Program c/o The California Natural Resources Agency Attn: Bonds and Grants Unit 1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1311 Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: (916) 653-2812, OR Email: urbangreening@resources.ca.gov Fax: (916) 653-8102

Here are a few of the reasons why limiting trees to native species will not increase tree canopies in urban areas in California:

Many places in California were virtually treeless prior to the arrival of Europeans. Non-native trees were planted by early settlers in California because most of our native trees will not grow where non-native trees are capable of growing. According to Matt Ritter’s California’s Guide to the Trees Among Us, only 6% of California’s urban trees are native to California:

urban-trees-origins

Draft guidelines for the Urban Greening grants refers applicants to the California Native Plant Society for their plant palette (see page 24 of guidelines). If applicants use this as the source of their plant palate, they will find few trees on those lists. This is another way to understand that if you want trees in California, most of them must be non-native.

Most California native trees are not suitable as street trees because of their horticultural requirements and growth habits.

  • The approved list of street trees for the City of San Francisco includes no trees native to San Francisco. There are many opportunities to plant more trees in San Francisco because it has one of the smallest tree canopies in the country (12%). The US Forest Service survey of San Francisco’s urban forest reported that 16% are eucalyptus, 8% are Monterey pine, and 4% are Monterey cypress. None of these tree species is native to San Francisco.
  • The approved list of street trees for the City of Oakland includes 48 tree species of which only two are natives. Neither seem appropriate choices: (1) toyon is a shrub, not a tree and the approved list says it will “need training to encourage an upright form.” It is wishful thinking to believe that toyon can be successfully pruned into a street tree; (2) coast live oak is being killed by the millions by Sudden Oak Death and the US Forest Service predicts coast live oaks will be virtually gone in California by 2060.

coast-live-oak-current

coast-live-oak-2060

Climate change requires native plants and trees to change their ranges if they are to survive. One of the indicators of the impact of climate change on our landscapes is that 70 million native trees have died in California because of drought, insect infestations, and disease. The underlying cause of these factors is climate change.

  • 66 million native conifers have died in the Sierra Nevada in the past 4 years because of drought and native bark beetles that have spread because winters are no longer cold enough to keep their population in check.
  • 5 million native oaks have died since 1995 because of Sudden Oak Death. A study of SOD by University of Cambridge said in spring 2016 that the SOD epidemic is “unstoppable” and predicted that most oaks in California would eventually be killed by SOD. The Oak Mortality Task Force reported the results of its annual survey for 2016 recently. They said that SOD infections increased greatly in 2016 and that infections that were dormant in 2015 are active again. This resurgence of the pathogen causing SOD is caused by increased rain in 2016.
  • Scientists predict that redwood trees will “relocate from the coast of California to southern Oregon” in response to changes in the climate.

If you care about climate change, please join us in this effort to create a grant program that will expand our urban forests and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Restrictions against planting non-native trees must be removed from grant guidelines in order to increase our tree canopies in California’s urban environments.

 

Better Parks for People Who Need Them: The Proposed “Anti-Equity” Metrics

Proposition B provides San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) with set-aside funds for the next 30 years. It also requires them to ensure equity for the parks, by spending more on parks in under-served areas. Let’s call those the “Equity” tracts (they’re based on census tracts showing below-average income).

Now SFRPD proposes a calculation method (“metric”) that indicates it’s actually devoting more resources to those parks already. (You can see that calculation HERE: item-2-equity-metrics-staff-report-final-080416) How? By simply assuming that only the “Equity” tracts use the parks within a quarter-mile of their homes, so that they get ALL the resources spent on those parks. Of course, that’s simply not true. The Equity tract users use those parks, but so does everyone else who lives nearby. (Large parks may even attract people from across the city.) They share the resources, they don’t get all the resources.

Tom Borden shows graphically what’s wrong with SFRPD’s current Equity Metric. In the next article, he will provide a more detailed analysis of this hastily-designed measure.

THE ANTI-EQUITY METRIC

by Tom Borden

RPD’s Equity metrics show paradoxically that the disadvantaged neighborhoods of San Francisco enjoy more park resources than the average city resident, much more. On a per capita basis, the equity population is way ahead of the average resident. Below, the first number shows the resources for the “Equity” tracts (i.e., under-served populations, determined by census tracts), vs. City-wide resources.

  • Acres of park/1,000 people:  4.42 vs 4.00
  • Number of parks/1,000 people 0.49 vs 0.26
  • Capital Investment/1,000 people $64,003 vs $24,333
  • Recreational Resources/1,000 people 530 hours vs 284 hours

Do you believe it? They must be doing something wrong in their calculations. Let’s take a look.

The graphic below shows a 10 acre park where five census tracts are within 1/4 mile of the park.
Two of the tracts are equity tracts. For simplicity, let’s say 4 people live in each tract.

park-equity-graphic-1
When SFRPD calculates their metrics, they assign 100% of a park’s resources to equity zones if an equity zone is within 1/4 mile of the park. For our park above, let’s use the SFRPD method to calculate the acres of park per capita for the equity tracts. Here’s what that looks like:park-equity-graphic-2

Using the SFRPD method, the 8 equity neighbors share 10 acres, or 1.25 acres per capita. Do they really have all that space to themselves? No. All those other neighbors standing outside use the park too. They put wear and tear on the park, occupy the tennis courts and picnic tables, take spots in programmed activities, fill up the trash cans, and take lanes at the pool.

The SFRPD method shows the equity neighbors are getting much more than they actually are. The right way to calculate this is shown below.

park-equity-graphic-3

All twenty neighbors share the park, so each enjoys 10 acres / 20 people = 0.5 acre per capita. This is the same for equity and non-equity neighbors. The two equity tracts should be allocated acreage as follows:
8 people X 0.5 acre per person = 4 acres

The portion of any particular park resource to allocate to the adjoining equity tracts is based on the simple ratio of equity park users to total park users, in this case 8 / 20 = 40%.

If there 30 picnic tables, the equity tracts would be allocated 30 x 0.4 = 12 tables
If $1,000,000 of capital was spent in the park, $400,000 would be allocated to the equity tracts.

SFRPD needs to correct their accounting for parks shared by equity and non-equity tracts. The resources of each shared park should be calculated as illustrated above. If this is not done, the error makes it look like the equity tracts are being better served than they really are. Instead of having Equity Metrics we have Anti-Equity Metrics.