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.

 

San Francisco’s RPD is Closing 31% of Our Parkland in “Natural Areas”

[This article has been updated 7/21/2016 to include more recent pictures. The text has been slightly edited.]

The San Francisco Forest Alliance opposes the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD)’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) for several reasons: Destruction of trees and other habitat for birds and animals; the use of toxic herbicides; and widespread access restrictions for residents and their families including their kids and pets.

NAP is restricting parks to on-trail use only – which shrinks the parks to a fraction of their original usable size.

Grandview-with-Fog-Bank1-600x400

Grandview Park with Fenced Trail

This article is about access – specifically, NAP is closing even more trails than disclosed in the Significant Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP). In the SNRAMP, they said they were planning to close or relocate around ten miles of trail, which was bad enough. But recent actions by NAP show that they are actually closing even more trail than they disclosed in that plan, and that they have already started implementation – despite the Plan not being certified. The SNRAMP is not yet certified, and as such, should not be implemented until the certification is completed. This appears to be a violation of at least three regulations.

Furthermore, this is all being done quietly. We were able to get actual maps of  “designated trails” – but only for a few parks. This article by Tom Borden spells out the details.

mclaren park 2 sign 2015

SFRPD “Welcomes” you

CRIMINALIZING PARK USE

RPD’s Natural Areas Program put up signs in its parklands early last year that say, “Stay on designated trails.”

The signs cite Park Code 3.02, which states, “No person shall willfully disobey the notices, prohibitions or directions on any sign posted by the Recreation and Park Commission or the Recreation and Park Department.” Violations are punishable by fines of $100 and up. This means we can be fined for going off-trail or for using un-designated trails. However, “designated trails” aren’t necessarily marked. How can we tell which trails are Designated and which trails are not? Does the Park Patrol know?

AVOIDING TOXIC CHEMICALS

There is another reason we care which trails are Designated. If we stick to them we can avoid exposure to toxic pesticides like Roundup and Garlon 4 Ultra, which NAP regularly uses in our parks. The Department of Environment has issued rules that govern the NAP’s pesticide spraying, “Restrictions on “most hazardous” (Tier I) herbicides” (Read the rules here: 032216_restrictions_on_herbicides). It prohibits land managers from spraying these chemicals within 15 feet of a “designated, actively maintained public path”. (As the Department of Environment worked on that restriction with RPD, that phrase went from “public path” to “designated public path” to “designated actively maintained public path“. Good thing they are looking out for us!)

WHICH TRAILS ARE “DESIGNATED”?

Of course, the rule is pointless if nobody knows which trails are Designated and Actively Maintained. How would the NAP staff and contractors know where they are allowed to spray? How would the public know where it is safe to walk?

SF Forest Alliance wrote a letter to Phil Ginsburg asking that maps of Designated Trails in all Natural Areas be posted on the RPD website. Mr. Ginsburg refused to respond. (Here’s our letter of 15 June 2016)

sffa letter to Phil Ginsburg june 2016

SF Forest Alliance also submitted a Sunshine request to RPD and was referred to the RPD website where maps for a few Natural Areas are posted. However, there are maps for only 8 of the 32 Natural Areas and two of those posted do not seem to be correct (McLaren and Lake Merced).

WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?

Why won’t RPD’s Natural Areas Program provide maps of their Designated Trails? What are they hiding? The elephant in the room is the effective closure of 31% of our parkland to public access. NAP’s intent, and the meaning of the signs, is that our use of NAP-controlled parkland is limited to their Designated Trails. We may not leave those trails.

TRAILS LIKE CATTLE CHUTES

The NAPs plans to close trails and limit the public to on-trail access only is disclosed in their 2006 Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan or SNRAMP. The SNRAMP proposes “enforcement” to keep people from wandering off-trail and as a “last resort”, the installation of fences. So far, they have skipped over enforcement and gone straight to fences. Grandview Park and Corona Heights have so many fences you feel like you are in a maze of cattle chutes. Implementation of the SNRAMP has serious environmental consequences and so the plan is subject to CEQA. An EIR for the plan has been in process since 2005 and has yet to be released to the Planning Commission for certification.

Corona Heights

Corona Heights fenced trail

In the next section are maps of the NAP areas where Designated Trails have been identified. For parks that have gotten the full NAP treatment, a tally of sharp cornered, splinter enriched, split rail, access control fencing is included. Notice how some of these trail closures cut off entire neighborhoods from their parks. The only public use of NAP parkland is along those green lines. The rest is off-limits.

Corona splinters

TRAIL MAPS BEFORE AND AFTER

On the maps, trails are marked in three colors. The green trails are the Designated Trails where we are still allowed to walk. The red trails are ones identified in the SNRAMP as unwanted and planned for closure when the SNRAMP is implemented. It is now illegal to use those trails. The purple trails are identified in the SNRAMP as Designated Trails to remain open. However, the NAP has chosen to close those as well. In some parks like Grandview, Glen Canyon and Corona Heights, the red and purple trails have been physically closed with fencing and piles of tree limbs. This has yet to be done extensively in the other parks mapped. For now the trails are closed by virtue of the signs, Park Code 3.02 and the maps posted on the RPD website. Don’t worry, the fences are coming. Each park map is followed by a skeleton map highlighting the tiny amount of parkland now open to the public. the colored areas show the usable space in the park. In all the “after” pictures, it’s just the actual – limited – trail.

billy goat hill before and after

corona hieghts before and afterglen canyon before and after1

 

 

grandview before and after

twin peaks trails before and after

hawk hill before and after

The SNRAMP states that 26% of the existing trails would be closed, leaving us with 30.8 miles of trail. Based on the information unearthed to date, the NAP is actually closing 51% of the trails in Natural Areas. If we extrapolate the actual closure rate to all of the Natural Areas, the 41 miles of existing and planned trails documented in the SNRAMP will be reduced to 20.9 miles.

SHRINKING OUR PARKS

The loss in trails is nothing compared to the loss in actual parkland available to the public. Assuming the average trail is 10 feet wide and the NAP only closes the trails disclosed in the SNRAMP (both very generous assumptions based on what we have seen so far), we can calculate how much parkland remains for the public. 30.8 miles of 10 foot wide trail only amounts to 37 acres. This is 3.4% of the 1100 acres available to the public before the new access restrictions. That is unacceptable. At the actual trail closure rate we will only be left with 25 acres. That is even more unacceptable, especially if your neighborhood park is a Natural Area.

IS SFRPD ABOVE THE LAW?

The signage, trail closures and fences implemented to date appear to violate the following:

  • BOS resolution 653-024 which prohibits the NAP from imposing, “Trail closures, or restrictions on access and recreation” until the Board of Supervisors (BOS) has approved the natural areas management plan (SNRAMP). They have not approved the management plan.
  • CEQA, PLANNING DEPARTMENT CASE NO. 2005.1912E.  The SNRAMP Environmental Impact Report has not been certified by the Planning Commission, yet the NAP is implementing its plan. All of the trail closures, fences and signage are part of the SNRAMP. RPD is brazenly violating CEQA.
  • City Charter Article IV section 4.113 RECREATION AND PARK COMMISSION: No park land may be sold or leased for non-recreational purposes, nor shall any structure on park property be built, maintained or used for nonrecreational purposes, unless approved by a vote of the electors.” The signs and fences violate the intent of this, dramatically reducing the amount of parkland available for recreational uses. The parkland is not covered by a parking lot or a gift shop, but it takes away recreational space all the same.

The Recreation and Parks Department seems to be operating outside the rule of law. It does not answer to the public or the Board of Supervisors. It appears more concerned with pleasing special interests than the public at large. Something needs to be done.

Twin Peaks – Extensive Trail Closures Planned

On Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 (tomorrow!) the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency(SFMTA) Board will consider approving the proposed Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign Pilot Project, a cross-departmental project of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) and the SFMTA. The meeting (which is of course open to the public) is at 1:00 p.m. in City Hall, Room 400.

This plan goes with extensive trail closures on Twin Peaks by SFRPD. We wrote about that last June. We’re republishing that (with minor updates) because it’s immediately relevant. If you oppose the trail closures, please attend the meeting and say so. You can also email or phone them a comment (today, before 5 p.m) at:

Office of the SFMTA Board of Directors
Phone: 415.701.4505
Fax: 415.701.4502
Email: MTABoard@SFMTA.com

—————-

Here we go again – the shrinking of our parks by the Natural Areas Program (NAP). Instead of allowing visitors to experience wide natural lands, these plans want to restrict access to a very limited trail system. From these trails, you can look at the natural areas – but not touch or explore them.

It’s happened in McLaren Park recently. Now, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is planning major changes on Twin Peaks. Extensive trail closures are planned for Twin Peaks. In the map below, the trails that will be gone are marked in red.

twin peaks trail closures in red

The project was positioned as one that would close half the Figure 8-shaped roadway to cars to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists by making it a Figure 3-shape. What they didn’t publicize was plans to close most of the trails allowing access to the peaks from various points. They will make the entire south side of Twin Peaks inaccessible.

Instead, there will be only one trail going straight through, a sort of pedestrian roadway. (The solid yellow line.)

HIDING THE TRAIL CLOSURES

On June 25th 2015, SF Recreation and Park held an Open House on the Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign. Project Objectives were presented, stated as:

“We will share proposals that address the following project objectives:

• Reallocate a portion of the existing roadway from vehicle use to pedestrian and bicycle use;
• Locate pedestrian crossings to link with trail sections; and
• Recommend realignment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail to cross over Twin Peaks Blvd.”

Notice that there was no discussion on Trail closures as part of these Project Objectives now, in 2015.

However, at a September 24 2013 meeting RPD made a presentation that showed extensive trail closures, along the east guardrail and closure of the two southern lobes. See the third page of the presentation here:

http://sfrecpark.org/wp-content/uploads/Twin-Peaks-Trails-Improvement-Project_PORTOLA-TRAIL_Community-Meeting-Presentation_9-24-13.pdf

This trail closure plan was also part of a handout used at a small May 7, 2015 stakeholder meeting. We strongly suspect these closures remain part of the RPD plan, but they do not want to alert the public. The trail closures, along with the new “Stay on Designated Trails” signage, would effectively close off public access to the south side of Twin Peaks.

SF Forest Alliance feels that NAP is going above and beyond the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) before the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is even released and approved. They are using the Draft EIR as a decision-making document to decide which alternative to approve. They are putting out the road lane closure as the focus of this and then sneaking in the trail/land closures as part of the deal.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Write to SFMTA immediately at:

Office of the SFMTA Board of Directors
Phone: 415.701.4505
Fax: 415.701.4502
Email: MTABoard@SFMTA.com

Also, please call your supervisor and let them know as well.