Trees Cut Down in McLaren Park with No Warning

One of our readers has this news about trees being cut down in McLaren Park. The destruction has just begun. We’ve published letters in defense of McLaren’s trees before. See Trees Matter: McLaren Park and Environmental Justice.

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— xxx—

Sept 14, 2017

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD’s Natural Areas Program has started cutting trees in support of their trail plan for McLaren Park.  So far 15 Monterey cypress and eucalyptus trees have been chain sawed around Brendt’s Knoll (a.k.a. Philosopher’s Hill, a.k.a. Labyrinth Hill) to make way for their new trail.  This is despite the fact SFRPD has not even presented their final trail plan to the public.

Further, the Natural Areas Management Plan states that, “any removal of trees over 6 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) requires coordination with, and evaluation by SFRPD’s Arborist.  In addition, prior to any tree removal, individual trees measuring 6 inches dbh or greater must be posted for 30 days (Section 1).”  Most of the trees cut down were larger than this and none of them were posted.

This just demonstrates, once more, SFRPD’s disdain for the public and disregard for the law.

The fact they cut down so many trees for just a short stretch of trail confirms our worst suspicions.  Their broad straight trails will not wind through the trees as today’s trails do, instead they will blaze a path of destruction through our forests.

Contact your supervisor and the Park Commission and let them know this is unacceptable.

— xxx—

Here’s the email of the Parks Commission: recpark.commission@sfgov.org  and Telephone: 415-831-2750
Here’s a current list of the emails of the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org,
Norman.Yee@sfgov.org,
sandra.fewer@sfgov.org,
Mark.Farrell@sfgov.org,
Aaron.Peskin@sfgov.org,
Katy.Tang@sfgov.org,
breedstaff@sfgov.org,
jane.kim@sfgov.org,
jeff.sheehy@sfgov.org,
Hillary.Ronen@sfgov.org,
Malia.Cohen@sfgov.org,
Ahsha.Safai@sfgov.org

 

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Restricting Access in McLaren Park

Plans are afoot in McLaren Park to close many of the trails people actually enjoy, and substitute a limited number of broad road-type paths. Most park users don’t realize this is going on – not just in McLaren, but all across the “Natural Areas.” SFFA supporter Tom Borden is trying to get the word out both to park users and to the decision influencers. He’s written to the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission, to Supervisors in affected supervisory districts, to the Parks and Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC) and to the neighbors at McLaren Collaborative. We think it deserves wider attention: All across our parks, access restrictions are reducing the park space our families can actually use and enjoy.

McLaren Park’s Flowered Grassland and Forest

Here’s the letter:

to: Recreation & Parks Commission August 31, 2017
cc: Supervisors Ronen, Safai, Cohen, Fewer, Sheehy
Prosac, McLaren Park Collaborative

Subject: McLaren Park Envisioning Points One Way, RPD Goes another

Commissioners,

The Recreation and Parks Department has been hosting an “Envisioning Process” with the public to plan future improvements for McLaren Park and to decide which immediate needs should be addressed with funding from the 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. RPD has focused the process on four areas, the amphitheater, the primary group picnic area, sport courts and trails & paths. The first three are moving along pretty well, but the trails & paths plan is headed in a direction that defies all public input.

The Bond Money
The 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks bond allocated $10M for capital improvements to McLaren Park. Additionally, it provides that:

TRAILS RECONSTRUCTION ($4 million). A portion of the proceeds of the proposed bond shall be used to repair and reconstruct park nature trails, pathways, and connectivity in Golden Gate Park and John McLaren Park. After identification and development of specific projects, environmental review required under CEQA will be completed.

Since the bond passed, RPD has further earmarked the funds to direct $2M of the trails reconstruction money to McLaren. RPD has modified the bond language in their documentation to specify the money must be used, “to enhance existing trails and their surrounding landscape”. The clear intent of the of this unjustified new language is to allow money to be diverted from building and repairing trails to performing native plant habitat work. This is not what the public voted for.

Further, RPD now says that $1.5M of the $10M must be spent “for projects that create or restore: Natural features, such as lakes, meadows, and landscapes & Habitat for the park’s many species of plants and animals.” That may be a choice RPD could make, but it is not a requirement of the bond ordinance.

Trail and Area Closures
If we subtract out the acreage devoted to the Gleneagles golf course, well over half the park is wild land with a web of small trails that has evolved over decades. In the Envisioning Process, the public has been quite emphatic this trail network, combined with the wild landscape, is the most iconic element of the park and must be preserved.

 

However, RPD has a completely different vision, driven by the desires of the Natural Areas Program (NAP). Under the cover of the Envisioning Process and using as much of the $12M as possible, they hope to turn the wild parkland into a nature preserve, accessible only to RPD staff and to supervised volunteer groups. To forward this goal, they plan to gut the interior of the park of 5.5 miles of trails (while adding less than 1.5 miles of new trail). This would roughly halve the length of trails in the park. Their plan focuses on developing primary paths that run around the outside perimeter of the park with the apparent intent of directing people away from the park interior. Some of the remaining interior trails would be substantially widened to carry the traffic displaced from the closed trails. In effect, the public are to be channelized on a few large trails.

If that was not bad enough, RPD have stated their intent to restrict public access in wild areas of the park to on-trail only. We will not be allowed to explore, climb on rocks and experience nature up close. In effect, they want to close over half of the park to public access.

Over the course of the Envisioning Process, RPD have refused to publish maps showing the existing trails that will be closed under their plan. The obvious intent of this is to avoid discussion of the trail closures. To help people understand what the RPD plan means, I have taken the RPD trail proposal presented at the last trail workshop and overlaid it with the existing trail alignments. These existing trails are ones shown on the current official park map and those that appear in the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan(SNRAMP). A few other trails missed by these maps are also included. Only well used trails appear on the attached map.

The other side of the coin is the area closures. RPD plans to completely remove trails from certain areas, meaning those areas will be closed to the public. On the second map [below] I’ve blacked out some of them and noted why they are special. Keep in mind, even where there are trails, if it’s a Natural Area, off-trail access is to be prohibited. The green shaded areas on the maps are Natural Areas. Leaving the golf course out of the calculation, well over half the park will be off limits. All we have left of our wild parkland is the shrinking network of trails running through RPD’s closed nature preserve.

Does the Department have a mandate?
RPD will say this is what the people want, that these trails closures and land closures are part of the SNRAMP. The SNRAMP EIR was certified by the Planning Commission, overcame an appeal at the BOS and was adopted by the Recreation and Park Commission. However, the currently proposed trail closures are much more extensive than what is presented in the SNRAMP. The intent to restrict the public to on-trail only in Natural Areas was not disclosed in the SNRAMP and not evaluated by its EIR. In the entire 711 page SNRAMP there is only one sentence that mentions the idea of restricting the public to trails and it is only in reference to MA2 areas. In the 1200+ page EIR there is no discussion of the impact of restricting the public to trails and closing everything else. RPD has not discussed the trail closures in the park. RPD has held no public hearings or had any other public process for the on-trail only restriction. There is no mandate for RPD’s current plans.

What the public wants
In 2004 RPD published its Recreation Assessment Report, “the culmination of a nine month planning effort and process to evaluate the recreation needs of residents and to ensure the future direction of recreation within the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.” It showed that by a very wide margin the most important recreational facility to the public is walking and biking trails. See the excerpt of the report at the end of this document [below]

The 2012 McLaren Park Needs Assessment revealed exactly the same result, that more hiking and biking trails are the most desired park improvement. Why is RPD closing almost all of the trails to bike riders and dramatically shrinking the trail network? All of the trails in McLaren Park have been in use by pedestrians and cyclists for decades, sharing the trails without incident. RPD has no reports of user conflicts or accidents due to the mix of cyclists and pedestrians.

The existing trails are well evolved to take people to the places they want to go. As a result, off trail excursions are dispersed and not frequent enough to lead to heavy trampling of plants. (Yes, things are different in the off leash dog area, but that does not apply to the park in general.) The surface area of the existing trails comprise less than 5% of the land area. The impact of park visitors on the viability native plants is trivial compared with the impacts of the changing local environment, global warming and the inevitable arrival and spread of plant species from outside the City.

The planned trail closures and access restrictions run completely counter to the needs of the public. On top of this, the Department wants to siphon off money to fund their closure plan that could be spent on sorely needed park improvements, all of this with no demonstrated need to override the public good.

Please consider asking the Department to:

spend the bond money as the bond ordinance states and the voters intended. The trail money is for trails. The rest of the money is on the table for all purposes. The bond ordinance does not require the NAP receive $1.5M. Spend it where it will do the most good.

Repair and improve McLaren’s existing trails. The public wants more and better trails, not fewer, wider, straighter, less engaging trails.

Conduct a transparent public process to work through any trail closures. Individually document the need for each trail closure, gather public input and act to serve the public.

Allow people to ride bikes on all park trails unless a need to restrict cycling is demonstrated.

Continue to allow the public full access to the wild areas of the park. Closing large areas of the park should require a substantial public process which has not taken place. The namesake of the park, John McLaren, famously declared, “There will be no ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs.”

Sincerely,

 

Tom Borden

The San Francisco Forest Alliance opposes access restrictions from closing the trails made by park users and restricting access only to on-trail use of our parks.

 

Pesticides in our Parks, Jan-March 2017

Herbicide Spraying in Glen Canyon May 2017

Someone recently sent us this picture (above) of herbicide being sprayed at Glen Canyon.

Saw a guy spraying pesticides in Glen Canyon today. I didn’t want to get close enough to read the sign because he’s spraying right now and I’m pregnant.  I’m assuming its one of the same old for the same old reasons.  It’s right near a child’s classroom and right near someone’s backyard.  Somewhat related, did you hear that a coyote in Glen Canyon was killed by rat poison?

Clicking on the picture will bring you to a very short video of the spraying.

In other news, the petition opposing pesticides finally closed with 12,113 signatures!

PESTICIDE USAGE, FIRST QUARTER 2017

We recently received and compiled the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) pesticide usage reports for the first quarter of 2017. There’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first: The first quarter continues to be Garlon time in the Natural Areas, which comprise the areas under the Natural Resources Division of SFRPD and the SFPUC areas that are managed by the same land managers.

In 2017, they applied Garlon 25 times, up from 23 in 2016. The volume applied is nearly the same; on an “active ingredient” calculation, it’s 61.2 fluid ounces in 2017 slightly down from 61.5 fl oz in 2016. Garlon is used only against Bermuda buttercups (oxalis, sourgrass, soursob, oxalis pes caprae).

The main parks where it was applied were Twin Peaks, McLaren Park, and Mt Davidson, though they did use it at other locations too.

This is especially bad news because Garlon is one the most toxic herbicides the city is allowed to use. Ever since we’ve been following it, not only has it been designated Tier I (Most hazardous), there’s been a notation against it: HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE.

Garlon is also supposed to be twenty times as toxic to women as to men. (See page 28 of this California Native Plant Society Presentation which discusses best management practices in herbicide use: Law_Johnson 2014 presentation toxicity )

Oxalis is not considered terribly invasive. Its brilliant yellow color and early spring flowering make it very visible, but it needs disturbance to spread. If it is ignored, it will over time give way to other plants. In any case, after its explosion of spring color, it dies down and other plants take over. There is considerable doubt about the effectiveness of herbicides on oxalis, because it grows from bulbils (tiny bulbs) that are well protected, and will resprout the following season.

Here’s our quick presentation about Garlon and oxalis: Garlon vs Oxalis in Ten Easy Slides. In summary: San Francisco could get rid of this very toxic “HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND ALTERNATIVE” herbicide merely by calling a truce on its war with oxalis. (Here’s a longer article, with some lovely photographs: Five Reasons why it’s okay to love oxalis and stop poisoning it )

Now for the good news:

  • SFRPD has cut back a lot on its use of Roundup (also called Aquamaster), i.e. Glyphosate. This is the chemical that the WHO declared a probable carcinogen.  In 2017, Natural Areas used it three times, twice at Twin Peaks and once at Laguna Honda.
  • The main user of Glyphosate: Golden Gate Park Nursery, which Chris Geiger (the Integrated Pest Management person at SF Environment) explained is not a public area. They used either 25 fl oz or 40 fl oz of glyphosate (active ingredient basis), depending on whether one of the entries is a duplication. We have a question in about that to SFRPD and SF Environment, and will update this when we have an answer.
  • No Tier I herbicides were used in Glen Canyon from Jan-March 2017. Though Natural Areas elsewhere were sprayed with Garlon for oxalis, none was used in Glen Canyon – where neighbors are concerned because of the many small children who play there, as well as potential water contamination.

CONCERNS

We still have concerns, though we do acknowledge the efforts of SF Environment and SFRPD to control the use of toxic herbicides. We will go into those in detail another time, but here are a few, in brief:

  • Allowing the use of Tier I herbicides even in non-public areas does not prevent them from contaminating the environment.
  • This is especially true now that San Francisco will be adding its own ground water to the public water supply. No one wants pesticides coming from our taps.
  • The Natural Areas already severely restrict access by requiring people to stay on the limited number of “designated trails” – mainly broad paths that have been improved in some cases into stairways and mini-roads. Using Tier I herbicides will give them an incentive to block off much of the park, so it is accessible only to SFRPD staff or volunteers.
  • Instead of eschewing herbicides altogether, new combinations are being considered for addition to the list of permitted pesticides.

San Francisco Forest Alliance’s stance: No Pesticides in our Parks.

We continue to work toward this goal, and support the efforts of SF Environment and thousands of people to get there.

 

 

Trees Matter: Mc Laren Park and Environmental Justice

This is one of our park visitor posts, written by a neighbor of McLaren Park. The Natural Areas Program targets over 800 trees in McLaren Park for destruction.

TREES MATTER by Ren Volpe

My San Francisco neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by freeways. Interstates 101 and 280 are busy spewing exhaust all day and most of the night. Breezes and fog from the ocean help dissipate some of the smog, but on windless days the air hangs heavy and dense. The only thing saving our air quality is the trees.

The Excelsior is not your typical rich San Francisco neighborhood. It is mostly families and working class folks. The tech buses have not found their way down our streets and our main retail corridor is filled with nail salons, dollar stores, pot clubs, and boarded up storefronts. Despite having nearly 40,000 residents, sometimes it feels like we are a forgotten neighborhood. Tourist maps often omit the entire south end of San Francisco and visitors have been known to ask whether they are still in The City.

The wealthier a neighborhood, the more trees it has. Rich people have trees, poor people get cement. This is especially true in the Excelsior, Visitacion Valley, and the Portola, where the single-family homes are modest and many front yards are paved over and littered with old cars. Our sidewalks are “tree poor” compared to wealthy Noe Valley and posh Pacific Heights. But the working class neighborhoods on the southeast side of San Francisco have one thing going for them : McLaren Park.

McLaren Park San Francisco copyright Ren Volpe

McLaren Park is the second biggest park in San Francisco, after Golden Gate Park. It is as wild and isolated as Golden Gate Park is manicured and visited. It is possible to hike miles of trails without seeing another person. I have seen foxes, coyotes, red-tail hawks, and great horned owls on my daily walks. In many parts of the park birdsong drowns out the constant drone of the freeways and the tree canopy blocks the cityscape. McLaren is our little piece of paradise in this urban corner of the City.

McLaren Park sunrise copyright Ren Volpe in San FranciscoRecently I found out that San Francisco’s Rec and Park Department has big plans for this urban oasis: the Natural Areas Program. The plan calls for cutting down many hundreds of healthy trees in an attempt to recreate the native scrubland that existed in the 1700’s. The trees slated for removal are not only eucalyptus, but mature and healthy Monterey Pine and Cypress, among others. Millions of our tax dollars have already been spent on this boondoggle, while maintenance in our park is practically nonexistent.

The “Natural Areas Plan” claims about ⅓ of San Francisco’s city parks, but Rec and Park’s biggest conquest yet may be McLaren Park. Could it be because the southeast corner of the city is the least rich, the least white, and the least likely to oppose this butchering? Almost 50% of the population in adjacent neighborhoods are foreign-born and speak english as a second language. People on this side of town don’t have the same political clout and connections as those living in wealthier neighborhoods. Even chopping down dying trees in other parts of the city creates a community uproar. When it comes to environmental justice, our hood is just not rich enough and not white enough.

Trees clean the air, absorb traffic noise, and provide respite from our hectic city lives. As the Bay Area becomes more populated, we all need more access to public green space. John McLaren created the park in 1927 in order to save the area from development. Now we have to save it from clearcutting.

McLaren was originally mostly coastal shrubland. Three-quarters of lush Golden Gate Park was originally sand dunes. Sutro Forest was desolate, sandy and wind whipped. Whether you agree with “native plant restoration”, the bigger question here is, should a beautiful yet neglected city park surrounded by freeways and adjacent to tree-poor neighborhoods be slated for such a project?

san francisco sand dunes

Sand dunes in Golden Gate Park – source: sfbotanicalgardens.org

SF Rec and Park maintain that they just don’t have enough money to pay for proper garbage cans and trash pick ups, trail and tree maintenance, repairing crumbling playgrounds, and other upgrades that McLaren desperately needs. But the department apparently has enough money for spraying cancer-causing herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup), cutting down healthy trees, and fencing off large parts of our park to visitors. The Natural Areas Program may have a different budget category within the Rec and Park department, but it all comes from our tax money.

Our city and our neighborhoods need more trees, not less. San Francisco has the smallest tree canopy of any major U.S. city. Poor children and children who live near freeways have higher rates of asthma, and studies show that a dense urban tree canopy can decrease these high rates of childhood asthma. Children in the southeastern part of San Francisco have the highest asthma rates in the city, and all the residents this side of town on experience high rates of air pollution.

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City (data source: socketsite.org)

Tree-filled parks don’t just beautify our neighborhoods, they also improve our psychological well-being. Green urban neighborhoods with plenty of trees actually improve our health, according to several recent studies. Our 49 square-mile city is the second densest in the country, right behind New York. Attempting to return large swaths of our urban parks into the treeless landscape that they once were doesn’t make sense in present day San Francisco. Urban trees do more than just improve air quality; they improve our quality of life. Living in a city can be stressful, hectic, and cramped. We all need access to open, public, forested green space.

McLaren Park's Flowered Grassland and Forest

McLaren Park’s Flowered Grassland and Forest

SF Fire Department Busts Some Myths

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Gonzales smRecently, Supervisor Norman Yee called a hearing of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee to find out how prepared San Francisco was to deal with fires in brush and forest. The San Francisco Fire Department busted some myths we’ve heard all too often.

MYTH #1:  The forests of San Francisco – in particular those on Mount Sutro and Mount Davidson – are a fire hazard.  Vegetation fires are 12-13 times more likely to occur in grass and brush than in forests. And importantly –  in the north and west of the city, the fog protects it by adding moisture. The south-east is more vulnerable to vegetation fires, particularly around the freeways. (But the real fire danger in San Francisco is from structure fires because of closely-placed wooden houses, not so much from vegetation fires.)

MYTH #2: As city fire-fighters, SFFD wouldn’t know how to respond to a forest fire. Actually, SFFD have 200 fire-fighters trained to fight vegetation fires. This myth is a quarter-century out of date.

MYTH #3: SFFD doesn’t have the equipment or information to fight vegetation fires. Actually,  SFFD has special resources including four maneuverable “mini-pumpers” for fighting outside fires. And it has a mutual aid agreement with other cities and can call on their resources if needed.

MYTH #4: San Francisco’s Wildland Urban Interface is a very high fire hazard severity zone. No, it’s not. It’s not technically a Wildland Urban Interface (though there are some pockets) and the whole of San Francisco has a “moderate” fire hazard severity rating (that’s CALFIRE’s lowest rating).

We attended the hearing, and were impressed by SFFD’s well-planned arrangements. After an introduction from Supervisor Norman Yee who convened the hearing and Fire Chief Joanna Hayes-White who stressed that SFFD was prepared for vegetation fires, Deputy Chief Mark Gonzales gave a detailed presentation on where they happened and how SFFD handled it. This was followed by a talk about  prevention from Lieutenant Mary Shea, (mainly weed-abatement in vacant lots and similar). The Department of Emergency Services’ Bijan Karimi  described preparedness,  to help affected families stay safe and return to normalcy in the event of any disaster. Then Curtis Itson, UCSF’s fire marshal, spoke specifically about Sutro Forest, and finally there were some comments from the public – including a singer!

WHERE THE OUTSIDE FIRES ARE

San Francisco’s main concern is actually more with structure fires, because as Deputy Chief Gonzales said,  “…we have wood buildings in the districts, and they’re all next to each other.”

However, there are some calls for outside fires. They tend to be concentrated around the south and east of the city. Because of the fog, the north and west of the city (i.e., areas that include Mount Sutro Forest and Mount Davidson) are generally moist and not a concern. The focus for outside fires is in the drier South east part of San Francisco: Hunter’s Point, McLaren Park.

grass and outside fire calls - SFFD

From the presentation by Deputy Chief Mark Gonzales:

“… we have fog and even during the drought the rest of the city, the west and the northwest gets the fog. The best weather is in Hunters Point, southeast, so that’s where it’s driest.  One of the concerns is Mclaren park.  So the four mini-pumpers are in that area. We have front line stations in the city.  A lot of those companies have been trained in wild land operations, and the chief mentioned that we have over 200 firefighters that do that.”

The open weedy area around freeways are also a concern. Thrown cigarettes and occasional campfires may account for ignition. He said: “…actually there is a big correlation if you noticed near the freeways… all along and open patches of lands that we respond to, to knock those out.”

When there are vegetation fires, they are mostly in grass and brush. The data the Deputy Fire Chief showed indicated that in the last three years,  fires in grassland and/or brush were 12-13 times more likely than fires in forested areas/ wild lands.

He also pointed out that SFFD did have the resources to fight vegetation fires:

  • Four “mini-pumpers” – small maneuverable trucks for fighting outside fires (as well as operating in crowded conditions). They can go off-road and carry special equipment for fighting vegetation fires.
  • Two hundred firefighters with training in fighting vegetation fires, unlike 20-25 years ago when it had few if any. In fact, 30 of SFFD’s people were deployed to help fight the Butte fire and the Valley fire in other parts of California.
  • There’s a mutual aid arrangement in place that would allow SFFD to call for help if it faced an outside fire it could not control with its own resources. The people it would call on would be at least as well-trained as SFFD’s own fire-fighters – possibly more so because they are from hotter less built-up areas where they experience more outside fires.

NOT A WILDLAND URBAN INTERFACE, AND ONLY MODERATE HAZARD

Lieutenant Mary Shea, who is responsible for Prevention, started by pointing out that San Francisco was not technically considered a Wildland-Urban interface, though there were pockets that appeared so.  She also said that based on topography and fuel, CALFIRE considered San Francisco a moderate fire hazard area, not a high fire hazard zone. [“Moderate” is actually CALFIRE’s lowest rating.]

 not WUI fire area
Her prevention efforts therefore  focused on overgrowth of weeds, grass and vines,  30-foot defensible spaces, tree-limbs within 10 feet of chimney outlet, buildup of leaves or pine needles on roofs.

SFFD weed abatement program

They mainly responded to complaints from neighbors, perhaps half of which were justified and the remainder were people disgruntled with the next-door tree overhanging their house or yard. They usually sent out abatement notices two weeks before 4th of July. Owners usually complied and most yards were well-maintained – the owners didn’t want fires, either. The main problem was in abandoned properties where the neighbor could not be found, or people unable for some reason to maintain their homes. SFFD worked with such cases to ensure safety. Most notices came from Hunters Point/ Bayview around the freeways, and Bernal, places like that.

UCSF MAY DO ANOTHER ROUND OF “FIRE HAZARD REDUCTION”
Chief Joanna Hayes-White praised UCSF for the “fire safety” work 2 years ago, and they said they would be reviewing it this fall. She talked about defensible space and fuel reduction.

UCSF’s  fire marshall, Curtis Itson, emphasized that UCSF has a commitment to keep buildings, visitors, and nearby neighborhoods safe.

In comments, we pointed out that given the fog and the way the vegetation trapped moisture, we needed to be careful that we did not increase fire hazard by reducing the forest’s ability to retain moisture.

More important public comments:

  • In the parks and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, native plant interests are felling trees and substituting more-flammable native plants for fire-resistant non-natives like trees and ice-plant. These landscape transformations increase fire hazard.
  • Trees are a lot less flammable than the myths say. In the parks,  trees are felled and left on the ground as fuel, while toxic herbicides are in use. SFRPD’s forest management needs improvement.
  • Someone  talked about dying trees as fire hazards along O’Shaughnessy, and a singer sang that it would be alright.

If you want to view the hour-long hearing, here’s the LINK.

McLaren Park walk: Looking at the Future, Minus 800 Trees

[Apologies: Some glitch on the website caused Draft versions of this post to be published. Please ignore the earlier posts.]

On a Saturday in late August 2015,  the San Francisco Forest Alliance organized a walk in John McLaren Park – Natural Areas for a  group of our supporters and other interested people. It wasn’t just about a walk through this fascinating park on San Francisco’s southern edge – we all wanted to understand what was planned for its future.

DSC00001

The group wanted to learn about the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (“SFRPD”) plans for the Park:  elimination of 8.3 acres of dog play areas; the removal of 809 trees ( eucalyptus, Monterey cypress and Monterey pine);  and using herbicides to poison the  “non-native, invasive” vegetation. The idea is to expand native plants – mainly scrub – in the Park.

In McLaren Park, nearly all the areas that are not actually built up or used for sports, are designated as “Natural Areas.”The Natural Area covers 165.3 acres and is made up of grassland, scrub, and blue gum eucalyptus trees. These are subject to the “Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan” – or SNRAMP (pronounced Sin-Ramp).

mclaren NAP Map 1

All the colored areas in the map above – brown, tan, and olive – are subject to SNRAMP.

SNRAMP McLaren Map

Outlined areas (with diagonal lines) will be “restored.”  Trees and shrubs are to be removed. Native species will be planted.

The walk was led by Tom Borden, bicyclist, and Ren Volpe, long-time dog walker both of whom know the park and RPD’s plans for McLaren.

THE TREES THAT ARE GREEN NOW

So with SNRAMP maps in hand the group walked 3+ miles around the Park to see the trees that the city wants to remove. According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park:    “… Tree removal at McLaren Park is planned mostly for individual trees or small groups of trees within grasslands. …”

We started the walk parallel to the Mansell St corridor, where the city plans to change 4 lanes of traffic into 2 lanes for vehicles and 2 lanes for pedestrians and bikes.

We believe the city will remove these trees along Mansell.  See link to the City’s plans here.

Trees along the north and south side of Mansell will be removed

Trees along south side of Mansell Street will be removed ” to preserve the grasslands … “

These other trees will likely be cut in this area along Mansell:

DSC00004

Trees to be removed to “…allow coastal scrub and oak woodland communities to become established…”

“... In the area downslope of Mansell Street, near the water tanks, the overall plan is to remove enough trees to preserve the grasslands and allow coastal scrub and oak woodland communities to become established. This would involve thinning the stand, which would leave the edges intact and would not result in a substantial change in ground‐level wind hazards and windthrow.

We walked along the trail to the Upper Reservoir and saw where the removal of “invasive” trees is planned and the reintroduction of native plants will be undertaken.

Guide Tom points out the area

Our guide points out where “invasive” trees will be removed … to be replaced by “sensitive plants to prevent the extinction of rare or uncommon grassland plants”

According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park: “… in some locations, trees would be replaced by native scrub or grassland species, which would open up views that are currently blocked by trees….

We diverted our walk to take in the magnificent views from this part of the Park.  The views from the Water Tower provided us with a 270 degree view looking west and north to the downtown skyline:

We walked along the Philosophers Way trail where Tom noted that trees along the sides of John Shelly Drive will be removed. This is presumably to open up to yet more views of the downtown skyline  – and to the wind.

 

At the east end of the Redwood Grove and picnic area, Tom shows which trees are likely to be removed

RESTRICTIONS ON PETS

We observed signs around the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater that dogs would be allowed off-leash around the amphitheater “unless there is a permitted event“.   Someone pointed out that dog-walkers needed to know when there is a “permitted event’ so that they could avoid the area or leash their dogs.  No one knew how SFRPD planned to communicate a  “permitted event.”

According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park: “… DPAs [Dog Play Areas – off leash] would be reduced by 14%. The existing DPAs at this park are 61.7 acres…

Our walk continued to the open grassland area  south of the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater and parallel to Mansell Street.  This photo show where grasslands will created by cutting down trees, and will be closed to people (and dogs).

Open grassland with threatened trees

Grassland, now open as a dog play area, will be restricted use and probably fenced off

More dog walkers will be coming to McLaren Park when the GGNRA clamps down on dog access in areas controlled by the National Park system (the Presidio, Fort Funston, etc).  This will force more dog walkers into an ever smaller area. It’ll be smaller still if NAP further restricts the existing boundaries that NAP is planning for the off leash dog area (now within the John Shelley Drive loop) – which is entirely possible.

RESTRICTIONS ON BICYCLES

Tom reminded us that the SF Urban Riders and McLaren Bike Masters had donated thousands of hours for trail-building in McLaren Park – and then were shut out of the trails they’d helped to build.  (We wrote about that HERE.)

Our tour included the grasslands area that looks down to Visitacion Valley and the Gleneagles Golf Course. We were informed that trails have been closed to bicycles where previously biking was allowed.

Looking down to Vistitacion Valley

Looking down to Visitacion Valley and the Gleneagles Golf Course

Lower trails closed

This portion of the Philosopher’s Way trail has been closed to bicyclists since earlier this year

In the area south of Mansell Street, near the 2 water tanks, NAP plans to remove enough trees to allow establishment of a coastal scrub community. That means many of the trees in the picture above will be removed.

RUINING THE AMBIANCE AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

Local residents of San Francisco (people, bicyclists, dogs and wildlife) get enormous benefits from the beauty of McLaren Park.  It’s a  welcome respite for a very urban population, surrounded on all sides by freeways and boulevards. Local residents come here to enjoy the serenity and beauty that is just a few minutes from their homes.  A lot of that ambiance will be taken away when the City removes hundreds of trees.

It’s not just beauty. The trees in McLaren Park provide valuable ecosystem services. They fight climate change by sequestering carbon; and mature trees absorb more carbon than smaller young ones. They help fight urban pollution by trapping particles on their leaves, keeping them out of the air and our lungs. It cleans the air, especially fighting particulate pollution, by trapping particles on its leaves that eventually get washed onto the ground. They regulate water run-off and reduce the load on our sewer system.

In San Francisco, we have few wildland fires – and when we do, they’re grass fires. When the fog rolls in over the trees of McLaren Park, moisture drops on the ground, allowing for a dense damp understory that fights drought and resists fire. Trees  provide wind breaks, thus reducing the impact of wind on surrounding neighborhoods, and also reducing fire hazard.

TREES ARE GOOD FOR OUR HEALTH

Trees are good for our health. A New Yorker article linked here references a recent study that shows that ten additional street trees on a city block had the same health impact as giving each household $10,000 – or making all the adults seven years younger. Other studies have shown trees improve mental health, reduce stress, and aid healing.

SNRAMP is bad for health. Aside from blocking opportunities for outdoor exercise and recreation, it would require the use of large quantities of poisonous herbicides to prevent resprouting of the felled trees – herbicides that are likely get washed down the hillsides and into surface and ground water.

The City plans to remove 809 trees in this park since they are labelled “invasive”.  We strongly oppose this action.   Aside from the beauty of the Park, and the undisturbed wildlife habitat that would both be destroyed, we think it is environmentally irresponsible. Trees sequester carbon; eucalyptus, with its dense wood, its size, and its 400-500-year life-span, is particularly effective.

MORE WALKS, AND STAYING IN TOUCH

We plan to organize more such small-group walks through beautiful areas that will be impacted by SNRAMP.  They are always free, and no donations are expected. They’re guided by people who know the place well.  (HERE is a post about our recent visit to Sharp Park in Pacifica.) If you would like to know about the planned walks, as well as get updates about issues of trees and access restrictions, please stay in touch. We encourage you to enter your email address at the top right (“sign me up”) in order to receive our updates directly to your email.

If you’re on Facebook, please “Like” our page. https://www.facebook.com/ForestAlliance  We currently have 475 “likes.” Help us to take it over 500!

Let us know how we can be more effective and inclusive  at this email address: SFForestNews@gmail.com

 

McLaren Park: Stairways, Wildflowers, and Great Blue Heron

This is another of our Park Visitor series: First-person accounts of visits to our San Francisco parks. This is by Tony Holiday, a San Francisco hiker and blogger. It’s adapted from his blog, Stairways are Heaven and published with permission.

Go HERE for the original post on McLaren Park (and more pictures).

 

1 Starts from Visitacion Ave.

Passing on recent pix of a McLaren Park stairway that some SF stairway walkers may not be familiar with: The longest in the park with 195 steps, and starts up at the dead-end of Campbell Ave  in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. It’s set back a bit from the street, thus slightly “hidden.”

195 steps

195 steps

Down into Vis Valley neighborhood

Down into Vis Valley neighborhood and out to Campbell Ave

It climbs past Visitacion Valley Middle School and up to Visitacion Ave. When you reach the top, continue up steep Visitacion to divided Mansell.

hidden stairs at dead end of Campbell

South of Mansell is the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. North of Mansell, to the east of the park, is the Portola ‘hood.

From the foot of the stairs, this time downhilled on Campbell a couple of streets to Delta. Left on Delta to the next street up, Tucker, and onto the skinny, steep, rough concrete walk (seven steps to start).

Delta pathway Tucker to Tioga

INTO THE PARK

At the top of this pathway, the next cross-street up is Tioga, then Wilde. Turn left on Wilde to Ervine for a steep curving trail into the park, the old observation tower above.

Vis Valley below

You can’t see the stairs until you’re partway up (about 56 steps) at the top of which are a couple of Philosopher’s Way musing stations and view benches.

Musing Station on the Philosophers Way

There’s a seriously steep trail off the stairway, also up to the view benches.

Steep trail up from the stairway

Especially love the south, open space part of McLaren with big sis San Bruno Mountain across, everything green and wildflowery now at both parks.

san bruno mountain in the distance

San Bruno mountain in the distance

What is this flower seen south of Mansell?

[Webmaster: Gaillardia?]

wildflowers

Unfortunately one of the nearby musing station plaques had been graffitied-upon; hope there are ways to remove the paint from the artwork.

Check out these daisies all over the place, just north of the tennis courts, with Bernal Hill in distance.

Daisies on the lawn, Bernal Hill in the distance

A favorite trail descends to Lake McNab that starts a short distance below the tennis courts, north of Mansell.

Trail to Lake McNab

It’s steep, switchbacked, hard-packed dirt.

Trail sign climbing back up

Critters seen: a squirrel (too far away), a lizard (too fast), and this guy.

great blue heron gopher-hunting

McLaren is around 318 acres and the third largest park within SF city limits. However, since the Presidio’s a national park, some people don’t include it when talking about acreage, even though it’s larger than Golden Gate Park. So one is likely to hear city park McLaren still spoken of as being the second largest SF park.

Great Blue Heron - long-legged beauty