UCSF’s Aldea Campus: More Building, Fewer Trees

UCSF has revealed its plans for Aldea Housing. Back in 2014 when we reported that UCSF was removing Aldea student housing from the “space ceiling” that limited its expansion in the Parnassus area, we weren’t told what was planned. Now it’s been described in the 2020 DEIR (See the whole document here: UCSF-CPHP-Draft-EIR (1) ) Sept 11, 2020 is the last day for comments.

The plan is to demolish the existing low-rise wood-shingled buildings, and replace them with tall ones. The first phase will be three 8-storey and one 5-storey building. Here’s their impression from the DEIR document.

One of our concerns is that they’ll remove even more trees to accommodate the new buildings and the construction space to build them. We can probably expect most of the forest lying between Forest Knolls and the Aldea Housing to be thinned to the point that it is merely a few trees standing around instead of something resembling a wood.

As it is, the picture is already obsolete – most of the trees between the Aldea and Clarendon Drive are gone, and most of the ones along Christopher will be removed or drastically thinned.

Forest Knolls Corner Grove Cut Down

Some of you may remember when I wrote about our trees being poisoned?
This was the grove on the corner of Christopher and Clarendon, and was itself what was left of a lush dense grove that was cut when the pumphouse was built in 2009 (as shown in the poster visualizing the pump station):

Pump Station on poster

Here’s what it looked like in 2013, when I was concerned about *two trees*!

Well, the trees have all been cut down, I think by UCSF.
There’s no grove between Clarendon and the pumphouse, just a couple of trees left.

These were beautiful old trees – maybe around 125 years old. All that is left are stumps.

Meanwhile, the planned trailhead from Clarendon is being built. It’s going to look *very* different from the charming visualization presented by UCSF.

CLARENDON LOSES ITS CENTURY-OLD TREES

Also gone – the tall trees that lined Clarendon Avenue in front of the Aldea San Miguel UCSF student housing.

I remember a time when you couldn’t even see the fence from the street. When UCSF thinned the vegetation there many years ago, they promised plantings that would conceal the chain link fence. Well, they planted some vines, but the concealment didn’t happen.

The chain-link fence is more prominent than ever.

And across the road, a swath of trees adjacent to the homes on Clarendon have been felled too, I think by SF Rec and Parks (or possibly Sutro Tower, not sure).

Over the last decade, we have lost a lot of the glorious trees that made Forest Knolls a community surrounded by forest. I’m glad I had a chance to see them in their former beauty.

+
+
+
+ + +

Clarendon Trail Head Planned Beside Forest Knolls

forest-before The Sutro Stewards and UCSF are going ahead with plans to build the Clarendon connector trail, which would run inside the screen of trees that divides Forest Knolls from UCSF’s Aldea Housing.  This is, coincidentally, the area that was severely thinned in August 2013. (Before picture above, after picture below.) This means that the actual trail probably will cause less destruction than it would have before. They hope to finish it by November 2016.

forest-afterThe trail would start on the Clarendon- Christopher corner, go into the narrow alley behind the pump house and fence, and continue on parallel to Christopher. (That’s the orange line on the map below.)

clarendon trail

They’re also going to punch a new trail through on the South Ridge (the purple squiggly line), in addition to the Quarry Road Trail that was built with no notice to the community. These trails would not be bad, except that they always end up destroying trees – if not immediately, a year or two later when tree lining the trail are declared hazardous. Over 1500 trees have been removed since 2013, with around 350 being felled this last winter. There’s such a thing as too many trails for a 63-acre forest.

NEW TRAIL HEAD PLANNED

On March 14th, they had a meeting to design a formal new trail head at Clarendon x Christopher. (The red labels aren’t original to the picture, they’re just to orient you.)

clarendon trail head site nowThe initial designs showed a seating area of granite, a kiosk with maps and signs, and gravel.  The idea was to provide a well-marked entrance to the forest from the UCSF side (there is already one from the Stanyan side) that would avoid the campus, connect to new trails across Clarendon Avenue being built by San Francisco Recreation and Parks (SFRPD) near Sutro Tower, and have street parking available since UCSF has no plans to provide additional parking for this.  They were looking for public input on what they wanted at the Trail Head.

planned clarendon trail head UCSF

Some of the ideas – seating, some kind of shelter from the wind that blows up Clarendon, a water-fountain, an earthen berm along the Christopher side to provide wind protection,  permeable pavers on the ground instead of gravel.

So far, no funds have been set aside for this. It seems to be a fund-raising opportunity for the Sutro Stewards, who plan to write grant proposals for the money. UCSF may provide some funding too, but it is unclear how much.  The team – the Sutro Stewards, and Julie Sutton of UCSF, seemed to want people to think big. Maybe that would justify a bigger grant?

CONNECTING TO OTHER SFRPD TRAILS

Lisa Wayne of SFRPD attended, to show how the new trail would link to three other trail projects SFRPD is working on: The Creeks-to-Peaks Trail from Glen Canyon to Twin Peaks (already being built); the plan to turn half of the figure 8 on Twin Peaks into a bicycle/ pedestrian area by restricting cars to the other half (in design); and trails to connect Twin Peaks to Mount Sutro via trails past Sutro Tower (yellow dotted line below – in planning).

lisa wayne shows planned trail system

She’s hoping to get work started this summer, for an opportunity to use VOCAL volunteers. Hope this doesn’t  mean cutting down trees in the nesting season. Actually, not cutting down trees at all would be better, but trees are apparently the casualty of every SFRPD project, especially near any “Natural Area.”

next steps for SFRPD trail projects

CONNECTING TO THE BAY AREA RIDGE TRAIL

Several people from the Bay Area Ridge Trail group came, and Bern Smith spoke about how this new trail would connect to other trails and become part of a 550-mile trail system around the Bay.

Bay Area Ridge Trail visionWHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR FOREST KNOLLS?

Quite aside from such issues as tree removal and thinning of the forest, this project will practically be part of our neighborhood. On the one hand, if there’s enough seating, it might make a picnic or gathering spot for a neighborhood that doesn’t have one. On the other – could this mean parking problems on nice days?

UCSF is taking comments. You can send them to Christine Gasparac: christine.gasparac@ucsf.edu

COMMENTS AT THE MEETING

The gallery below shows the comments  from people at the meeting – which included a few members of the public, but no neighborhood representatives. If you click on the pictures, they should become legible.

 

Squat & Gobble Tree Not Saved

So some months ago, I’d asked – Did someone save the Squat and Gobble trees?

Squat and Gobble, the West Portal eatery that was being rebuilt after the fire there, had sought approval to remove a tree to provide heavy machinery access to the site. (I’d thought it was two trees that were scheduled for removal, but it was one.) But, as I reported then, work was well underway and both trees were still there. I was glad; West Portal has lost some beautiful trees, most notably an old one near the tunnel entrance when work was done there.

two trees to be cut down

I wrote to Carla Short at the Department of Public Works, asking if the trees had been saved. She didn’t know. She replied:

As for the West Portal trees, only one tree was approved for removal in order to accommodate the crane for construction. I have not heard that they are planning to preserve that tree, so it may be still coming out. Their permit is valid for six months. If they found a way to work around it, though, perhaps they are preserving it, I just haven’t heard anything. If it does get removed, they will be required to plant a replacement tree, and some additional trees on the West Portal frontage.

Well, the tree was there through much of the construction, but when Squat and Gobble reopened, I found it was gone. Even the tree-basin the tree had grown in was gone. There’s no replacement tree there, nor any along the West Portal frontage.  I hope they’re planning to put them in.

missing tree in West Portal

It’s just one tree, and it was removed through a proper permitting process.  But I’m beginning to see an anti-tree ethos in this city. Whenever there’s a project, whether private or City-led, trees are the casualty. There seems to be no emphasis on trying to preserve and work around them.

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

Brilliant Mustard Flowers at Laguna Honda Hospital

You don’t have to go to Napa to see the brilliant yellow of mustard flowers – they’re blooming right here in the hilly meadow of Laguna Honda Hospital, above Laguna Honda Boulevard.

Mustard meadow in Laguna Honda HospitalI stopped to take a picture, and  as I zoomed in, was struck by the grace and grandeur of the eucalyptus tree above the meadow.

Beautiful eucalyptus tree in mustard meadow at Laguna Honda Hospital San FranciscoAnd here’s a picture from a smartphone… this week’s sunny weather provides such a classical contrast of colors!

photo mustard in bloom Laguna Honda

This Tree…

tree on Claremont, San Francisco

This tree is near West Portal, and I pass it probably twenty times a week. I’ve admired it for years. It dominates the street; there’s no other tree of that size or beauty near there.

A few years ago, I was writing a piece on Memorable Trees, and wanted to add this one. But around that time, the owners had it pruned. It was very well done, not butchered, but still the tree looked shorn, like a child after the kind of haircut you get them when you don’t want to have to struggle with it too often.

For a tree, unlike a kid’s hair, it takes quite a time to come all the way back. In the last year or so, I’ve been noticing it again, and I thought I’d better get photographs before it’s time for another pruning.

To the owners of the tree, should they encounter this post – Thank you!

Thanks for caring for it. It’s a grace to the whole community.

this tree 2

Did Someone Save the Squat & Gobble Trees?

two trees to be cut down[Edited to Add: It turned out they had permission for one tree to be removed, and no, it has not been saved. It’s gone.]

A few months ago, I reported that the two trees were marked for removal, next to the burned-out Squat & Gobble restaurant on West Portal. Though they’d survived the fire and the fire-fighting, they were in the way of the cranes that would be needed for rebuilding on the site.

It was sad. So many trees were being lost. There used to be a splendid old tree at the station, opposite the library; it was removed when work was done on the Station.

But… here it is, mid June. The rebuilding is coming along nicely.

And our trees are still there.

West Portal trees saved

two trees saved in West Portal

If they have indeed been saved, a big thank you to whoever preserved these trees.

How Many Trees to be Cut? Meeting on 21 April 2013

sutro-forest-south-view2

The San Francisco Forest Alliance  and  Save Sutro Forest  are holding a meeting on 21 April 2013 to talk about the planned felling of trees on Mount Sutro — and on Mount Davidson. These actions would gut two important urban forests near our neighborhood and irretrievably alter the landscape.

forest-girl-3aDo you want to know:

  • How many thousand trees do they plan to cut down on Mount Sutro? On Mount Davidson?
  • Who’s “They”?
  • What about Pesticide use?
  • When will this happen?

For answers to these questions and more…
Come to the San Francisco Forest Alliance meeting.

WHERE: Miraloma Park Clubhouse,  350 O’Shaughnessy Blvd,
San Francisco, CA 94127

(It’s about 2 miles from Forest Knolls.)

WHEN:  April 21st, 2013 (Sunday) – 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.

Mount Sutro Forest: 30,000 trees to be cut down

I guess by now, most people in Forest Knolls have some idea that big changes are planned for the forest behind our neighborhood. Essentially, UCSF plans to cut down over 90% of the trees on three-fourths of the forest, and remove 90% of the undergrowth. The only bit to be spared would be 15 acres or so of steep hillside on the western side, above Inner Sunset.

UCSF is having a hearing on Feb 25th at 7 p.m. (They sent around postcards about this.) It’s at the Milberry Union, 500 Parnassus, CA 94134. If you can attend, please do, and speak up. If there’s a big turnout, they may limit each speaker to 2-3 minutes, so have your points ready.

sutro-forest-south-view2

WHY WE’RE CONCERNED

We’re concerned that it would ruin the forest’s character, and Forest Knolls would face consequences like:

  • Changes in wind patterns (the tall, closely-spaced trees are an impressive windbreak);
  • Risk of landslides (the old forest has intertwined and intergrafted roots that function like a living geo-textile and hold up the mountain, while the exposed rock on Twin Peaks has a rock-slide every year or two);
  • Pesticide drift into our neighborhood, affecting us and our pets (right now, Sutro Forest may be the only pesticide-free wildland in the city; the Natural Areas Program, which controls most of it, uses pesticides regularly)
  • Increased noise (the vegetation – the leaves of the trees and the shrubs in the understory are like soft fabrics absorbing sound)
  • Changes in air quality (trees reduce pollution by trapping particle on their leaves until they’re washed down)
  • Environmental impact – (eucalyptus is the best tree species for sequestering carbon because it grows fast, large, is long-lived, and has dense wood; but felled and mulched trees release this carbon right back into the atmosphere).

The implementation would be in two phases; it would start with the “demonstration” plots, around 7.5 acres in Phase I. The largest of these, #1 in the map is a 3-acre strip directly above Forest Knolls. Most of the trees would be cut, and tarping or pesticides used to prevent resprouting. Later, UCSF would extend the same plan to the entire forest (except for the 15 acre piece mentioned).

WHAT ELSE YOU CAN DO:

1. Write to the Board of Regents, who will ultimately decide whether to approve this project. Ask them why they are undertaking this controversial, expensive, and ecologically destructive project, and gutting a San Francisco treasure to achieve a “parklike” environment. You can contact the Regents at their website HERE. (Their email address is: regentsoffice@ucop.edu )

2. Write a comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report. The report is HERE. (It will take some time to load.) The person to write to is Diane Wong, and her email address is at: EIR@planning.ucsf.edu

3. Sign a petition to ask the Regents not to approve this plan. (And see how many signatures we have already!)

Copy (2) of sign button

——————————–

The article below has been copied with some modifications from http://www.SaveSutro.com, which is a website set up to inform people about Mount Sutro Cloud Forest and to defend it.

Mount Sutro Forest has approximately 45,000 trees in the 61 acres belonging to University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and designated as an open space reserve. This dense forest, with an estimated 740 trees per acre, a sub-canopy of acacia, an understory of blackberry and nearly a hundred other plant species, is functionally a cloud forest. All summer long, it gets its moisture from the fog, and the dense greenery holds it in. Where it isn’t disturbed, it’s a lush beautiful forest, providing habitat for birds and animals, and a wonderful sense of seclusion from urban sounds and sights.

(CLICK HERE to see the Google Map of the forest.)

Mount sutro forest greenery

THE TREE REMOVAL PLAN

UCSF now has published a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on a project to remove over 90% of the trees on three-quarters of the area. Only 15 acres – on the steep western edge of the forest – will remain as they are. Tree-felling could start as early as Fall 2013.

[Edited to Add:

Here is the PDF of the DEIR. Mount_Sutro_EIR_1-16-13_with_Appendices

Comments were due on March 4th, but because of the length and complexity of the document, neighbors asked for, and got, an extension. Comments are now due before March 19, 2013.]

On most of the forest (44 acres), UCSF plans to cut down trees to achieve a spacing of 30 feet between trees – the width of a small road – and mow down nearly all the understory habitat. On another 2 acres, they will space the trees 60 feet apart. The stumps of the trees will be covered in black plastic, or else poisoned with Garlon to prevent re-sprouting. Eventually, this will kill the roots, which will start to decay. We’ll address some of these issues in more detail in later posts.

Right now, we want to talk about the number of trees that will be felled. A spacing of 30 feet between trees gives about 50-60 trees per acre. A spacing of 60 feet gives 12-15 trees per acre.

(The easiest way to think about it is that each tree occupies a 30 x 30 foot space, or 900 sq ft. An acre is 43,560 sq ft, so this would give 48.4 trees to an acre. The DEIR calculates it as 61 trees per acre, assuming each tree occupies a circle that’s 30 feet in diameter, 707 sq ft. But there’s no way to arrange circles without wasted spaces between them, so this doesn’t exactly work.)

So on 44 acres, they will retain maybe 50 trees per acre (or maybe fewer). On two more acres with a 60-ft spacing, they will retain 12-15 trees per acre. All the rest will be cut down. Even using the DEIR’s overly optimistic calculation, they will be felling some 31,000 trees. Our calculations are closer to 32,000. Either way, it’s a huge number.

That means that in the 46 acres where UCSF will be felling trees, they will remove more than 90% of the standing trees.

The DEIR says that they will start by cutting down trees that are dead or dying. Aside from their value as habitat (some birds like woodpeckers depend on them), there are not all that many of them in Sutro Forest, which despite everything that has been claimed to to opposite, is a thriving forest. Next in line will be trees with diameters under 12 inches, or roughly 3 feet around – as thick as an adult’s waist. Then they’ll start on the larger trees. Since it’s going to be 90% of the trees, we expect thousands of large trees to be removed.

IT GETS WORSE

However, this is not all. We expect further tree losses for four reasons:

  • Wind throw. Since these trees have grown up in a dense forest where they shelter each other, removing 90% of the trees exposes the remaining 10% to winds to which they’re not adapted. This can be expected to knock down a significant number of the trees not felled. Since the Plan only calls for monitoring the trees and felling any that seem vulnerable to wind-throw, it’s unlikely any vulnerable trees will be saved.
  • Physical damage. Damage done to the remaining trees in the process of removing the ones they intend to fell. With such large-scale felling, damage to the other trees is inevitable, from machinery, erosion, and falling timbers.
  • Something like AvatarPesticide damage. This forest has an intertwined, intergrafted root system. When pesticides are used to prevent resprouting on tree-stumps and cut shrubs and ivy, it is quite possible for it to enter the root system and damage remaining trees.
  • Loss of support. Compounding the effects of the wind-throw, the remaining trees will suffer from a lack of support as the root network dies with 90% of the trees being removed. This could destabilize them, and make them more likely to fail.

What remains will be a seriously weakened forest with a greater risk of failure and tree-loss, not the healthier forest that the DEIR claims. It is likely that the long-term impact of the Project will be the elimination of the forest altogether, and instead will be something like Tank Hill or Twin Peaks plus a few trees.

IMPLEMENTING THIS PLAN

The project is to be implemented in two phases. In the first phase, trees will be felled and the understory removed in four “demonstration areas” totaling 7.5 acres. They are shown on the map below in yellow, as areas #1-#4. [The 3-acre area #1 is right above Forest Knolls.]  One of these, #4 “East Bowl”, is the two-acre area slated to have only 12-15 trees per acre.

hand-drawn map not to scale

One area (#5 on the map) is supposed to be a “hands off” area to demonstrate the untouched forest. However, a trail has already been punched through it in November 2011, even before the DEIR had been published.

During this phase, they would experiment with the 3 acres on the South Ridge, just above the Forest Knolls neighborhood. On 1 acre, they would use tarping to prevent regrowth of felled trees; on 1 acre, they would use pesticides, particularly Garlon; and 1 acre they would trim off sprouts by hand. They could also use pesticides on the understory “consistent with city standards” – presumably those of the Natural Areas Program (See article on NAP’s Pesticide Use.)

In the Second Phase, the plan would be extended to the remaining forest, with the proviso that not more than a quarter of the forest would be “thinned” at “any given time.”

sutro-forest-south-view2
Why it’s called “Forest” Knolls – and described as “Marin-like”
sutro-deforested
Digitally-altered image – Forest Knolls without Sutro Forest. Maybe there’ll still be some trees left after this Plan is implemented.

Is Someone Poisoning Our Trees?

In the last day or two, I’ve noticed that one of the trees that screen our neighborhood from the UCSF Student Housing is brown rather than green. It’s a eucalyptus, and they don’t change color; in fact, if anything, they’re greener when it rains. So I went to have a closer look at this tree, which is one of the group by the Pump House at Christopher, just off Clarendon.

I wondered if it might have been girdled. “Girdling” is a process of killing a tree by cutting all round it, and has been used by Native Plant activists to kill trees in “Natural Areas.” One example it the Murdered Tree on Mt Davidson, clearly visible from Portola.

[See “The Murdered Tree of Mt Davidson” for more information about girdling.]

Looking more closely at the tree, I didn’t see any girdling marks. I also saw it was dying in parts, which I think is more consistent with poisoning. (It’s not very clear from the photograph above – if anyone wants to take a better pic and send it over, I’ll add it here.)

In the tree beside it, someone had stuck blue plastic marker flags from The Urban Farmer Store. I’m wondering if this tree – and maybe the ones beside it – is being poisoned by some eucalyptus-hater.

If so, it’s illegal. A tree can’t be killed along a public right-of-way without a proper 30-day-notice posting, which the Department of Public Works would do. (Or, if this is UCSF property, then UCSF would do it.) There’s a process that applies.

Even more importantly – it’s incredibly irresponsible. Poisoning a tree across the road from someone’s home will leave a weakened or dead tree standing near a residential house. Even before that, it could drop branches on cars parked beneath.

I really really really hope I’m wrong on this one. I have a hard time believing that anyone could be so stupid.

[Edited to Add:  I contacted UCSF; I was hoping they might get an arborist to determine what happened. If they did that, I don’t know about it. But they thought the trees might be the responsibility of the Water Department. In any event, three of the trees have been removed. One is still dead and still there, but it does not look like it’s a hazard. If anyone would like to follow up further, let me know.]

When Clarendon Avenue was Almshouse Road

The article below is republished with permission from Outsidelands (with some added emphasis).  Click HERE for the original article. I want to thank Rex Bell for a wonderful step back in time.

———————————–

A WALK ALONG THE ALMSHOUSE ROAD:
A Historical Description of Today’s Clarendon Avenue

by Rex Bell

I’ve always been fascinated with San Francisco history. To indulge my interest, I sometimes try to imagine what areas of the City I’m so familiar with were like in the past. I recently got a little help when I discovered a detailed, descriptive article that appeared in the San Francisco Call on Sunday, November 8, 1896.

The author of the article is unknown and long forgotten, but he created with words a vivid image of what was then a truly rural part of San Francisco. He writes about his walk along a road, very close to the City, but well hidden and isolated. He clearly describes what he sees and hears along the way, orienting the reader to his starting point, the curves in the road, and the changes in grade.

The author began his walk at the top of Stanyan Street, just above Cole Valley on the east side of Sutro Forest, on a clear Fall day in 1896. He described a place at that location where Stanyan transitioned into a dirt road that provided access to the beautiful rural path then known as the “Almshouse Road.” (So-named because it led to the Almshouse, which was an infirmary that housed San Francisco’s sick and poor of the day, located at the present site of Laguna Honda Hospital).


As I studied the article, I came to realize that much of what the author described is today known as Clarendon Avenue—the street that winds through a wooded portion of the City beginning at Twin Peaks Boulevard near Clayton Street. It heads up and over the hill along the eastern edge of Sutro Forest, descends down into a valley between the neighborhoods of Midtown Terrace and Forest Knolls, past the Laguna Honda Reservoir, and ends at Laguna Honda Boulevard.

On a Sunday afternoon in July 2011, I set out to retrace the steps that the author took on that day in the Fall of 1896. I began at his starting point (at what is now the intersection of Stanyan and Belgrave Streets), but I found the path blocked by houses. Slightly annoyed, but not dissuaded, I walked around— over Tank Hill and up Clarendon to where Stanyan once came come through. From this location, with a copy of the article in-hand, I began my walk back in time along the section of Clarendon that was once known as the “Almshouse Road.”

This is the spot where my walk began on Clarendon Avenue. Stanyan Street no longer comes through. The sign points to several houses accessed by the isolated stairway.
Top of Stanyan Street stairs at Clarendon Avenue, 2011 – Photograph by Rex Bell

From the San Francisco Call, November 8, 1896:

“A GENUINE OLD-FASHIONED COUNTRY ROAD WITHIN THE LIMITS OF THE CITY OF SAN FRANCISCO”

“What other city in the world the size of San Francisco can boast of a country road within its limits, only a short distance away from the busy marts of trade? By this is not meant a street with a rural appearance, but a real road, without side walks or lamp-posts, that winds among tree-covered hills, past ranches and gardens and pretty homes, with vines and flowers in the yard, at the same time being shut out from all sight and sound of the busy metropolis. It is very likely that the city by the Golden Gate stands alone in this respect, as she does in many others. It is also likely that comparatively few of the residents of this City know of such a road’s existence, although most of them have undoubtedly been within a few hundred feet of one end of it.

“Nevertheless the road exists and is not at all hard to find. It is down on the map of San Francisco as “the Almshouse Road,” and the end nearest town starts at Stanyan street, several blocks south from the Haight-street entrance to the Park.”

Route of the almshouse walk shown on 1915 map. Blue Mt. is today’s Mount Sutro. – Courtesy of Rex Bell
The author began his walk where Stanyan Street joins Clarendon Ave. (red dot). He proceeded southwest through the valley between Blue Mountain (now Mt. Sutro) and the hill just to the east (right). (The latter hill is the present location of Sutro Tower. The buildings identified as the “Affiliated Colleges” are today’s UCSF Medical Center).

“At this point there is nothing unusual looking about the road, it having much the appearance of many of the newly laid out streets in the vicinity. It starts up a gradual incline and goes through a cut in the hill only about a block away. A little has been done in the way of improvement here. Wooden curbs have been put in and the center of the road is covered with crushed stone the same as is used in the park. But go up to the cut in the hill and look beyond. The entire aspect changes and every bit of suggestion of a city street disappears. The roadbed is simply laid on the surface of the ground and almost nothing done in the way of grading. On both sides there are hills and trees with vacant lots divided by fences.

“About two hundred feet from the end of the road it makes a curve and a descent at the same time, then a sudden ascent. Here there are a few small houses, and by turning back one can look over the park and even beyond and see the smoke of the big City mingling with the clear blue of the sky.

– Photograph by Rex Bell
At about this location, the author turned back to look over the city. The Panhandle of Golden Gate Park is visible at the roofline of the house.

“But keep on and another descent will lead into a canyon and a few hundred feet up this and all sight of the big City is lost. When once within this big canyon it is hard to realize that only a few hundred feet to the northeast there is a big City throbbing and pulsating with life. There is no suggestion of it here, and as far as the general aspect of nature goes, one might as well be in the depths of the Sierras. Away to the south the road can be seen winding among the hills, every now and then disappearing behind a bluff only to reappear a short distance farther on.

– Photograph by Rex Bell
Present day Clarendon Avenue. The spot is where the road “descends into a canyon”. Mt. Sutro (not visible in the photo) is to the right and the peak upon which Sutro Tower sits is to the left. It was just beyond this location where the author said, “one might as well be in the depths of the Sierras”.

“There is a breath of autumn in the air. The grass on the hill sides is sparse and brown, but the birds are singing and the murmur of the brook can be heard as it tumbles over the rocks. A gentle wind rustles the dead weeds and sends the dried leaves flying. Listen. Not the faintest sound of the big City comes in here. Surely this cannot be San Francisco. But it really is, and just over the hill to the right not much farther than a boy could throw a stone are well laid out streets, all the modern improvements that make up a metropolis.

– Courtesy of Rex Bell
The map from 1897 shows two creeks flowing into Laguna Honda Reservoir. (The grids of streets shown on the map were never laid out). The upper creek is likely the one the author heard “tumbling over rocks”.

It [the creek] no longer flows on the surface but now runs just underground at the base of the lush gully located between Laguna Honda Hospital and Clarendon Avenue (below).
– Photograph by Rex Bell
“Although the road really goes up hill it does so so gradually as to be imperceptible. Every step takes one farther and farther into the depths of nature, and the canyon becomes almost wild for a short distance. There are big jagged rocks overhanging the way and seeming ready to fall at any moment. At this point the hills on both sides are so high the sea breeze is kept out and an absolute silence reigns.”

A section of the road that the author walked is visible in the lower portion of the photo. The cluster of buildings faintly visible at far left is the Almshouse. Laguna Honda Reservoir is barely visible in the distance near the center of the photo. The low spot in the foreground where the road forks is the present location of the Midtown Terrace playground and the covered Sutro Reservoir. This picture was taken from Twin Peaks in 1905; not a lot had changed since the article was written.
The same location as the picture above, taken in July, 2011. Laguna Honda Hospital on the left has replaced the Almshouse. Sutro Reservoir is the large flat structure at middle-right.
– Photograph by Rex Bell

“In the vicinity of the Almshouse the roadway is lined with pretty residences, and numerous ponds and reservoirs add to the country-like effect. Roosters are crowing, cows bellowing, dogs barking and hens cackling, mingled with the sound of the woodsman’s ax in the timber near by.

The prettiest portion of the whole road is just beyond the Almshouse gate. It might properly be named the Eucalyptus road, for both sides of the driveway are lined with the most picturesque specimens of those artistic trees. The trees are just in their prime and make a most refreshing shade, that is pleasant to look at in cool weather and cooling when the sun is hot. This avenue is about 500 feet long, and in some places the branches of the trees meet overhead, forming a natural archway, the equal of any in the State. When the sun is low in the west and the trunks of the trees cast long shadows over the roadway, then is it indeed a beautiful sight. The spots of light dance as if endowed with life, and the whole interior of the archway is filled with a soft glow that mingles with the quivering sunshine.

Lithograph depiction of the old Almshouse on the present-day site of Laguna Honda Hospital. –

“Beyond the Almshouse there is a clearing where the inmates of the institution are want to come and rest while seated in the sun on the logs of the newly felled trees. They add considerably to the picturesqueness of the scene, those poor old people, as they move about, many of them attired in the most outlandish garments of the brightest colors. But some how they seem to blend with nature, and even if the clothes they wear have been out of fashion over half a century, the wearers are proud of them; perhaps proud of the length of time they have had them.”

“Half a mile from the Almshouse gate the road is of the most countryfied description. There are barns and stables on both sides, and back on the hills dozens of vegetable gardens. At present these gardens are looking their best. Great rows of all sorts of good things are in the most perfect condition of greenness, and walking among them are gardeners singing at their work.

“Every foot of the Almshouse road is a pleasure to walk over to any one who enjoys nature. Add to this the fact that it is within the limits of one of the largest cities in the world, and the trip over it becomes a most unique experience.”

“A peculiar feature of the Almshouse road is that it can be followed for about two miles and suggest nothing but the country, but after that distance it makes a curve toward the City, and in a mile more comes back to the streets of San Francisco not many blocks from where it started.” (End of article.)

The road leading to Seventh Avenue from Laguna Honda with Sutro Forest above, 1910s. The road back to the City, about half a mile north of the Almshouse (this is the location of present-day 7th Avenue).
Around the bend and over the treeless portion of the hill (left) is the area not far from where the author began his walk.

The rural countryside has long since vanished, and the charming country road described by the author is now a four-lane boulevard. Most of the area has given way to residential housing. The Almshouse was long ago replaced by the Laguna Honda Hospital complex and Sutro Tower dominates the skyline for miles around.

But it would be wrong to say that absolutely nothing remains of the place described in the article. The rural roots of this part of the City still linger. Eucalyptus-covered Mount Sutro is still a forested wilderness and much of the landscape around Laguna Honda Reservoir remains undeveloped. Even within the quiet residential neighborhoods of Midtown Terrace and Forest Knolls, bisected by Clarendon Avenue, it still holds true that “…it is hard to realize that only a few hundred feet to the northeast there is a big City throbbing and pulsating with life. There is no suggestion of it here…

Tree Walk in Cole Valley with Friends of the Urban Forest (and vote?)

A few days ago, I joined the Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF)  tree tour of Cole Valley, just over the hill and to the east of us. It was led by Mike Sullivan, who  likes trees (in fact, he wrote The Trees of San Francisco). In 2010, I went on a tree-walk he led in Forest Hill, which was excellent.

VOTE FOR FRIENDS?

Friends of the Urban Forest helps people who want street trees planted in front of their homes. If neighbors get together and call them in, they’ll help figure out if there’s space for trees; if there are utilities and things underground there; what kind of tree would work well in that place; and then get the trees at a discount. Their volunteers care for the trees for three years after they’ve been planted, so they are well-established. As San Francisco loses trees to various mishaps, they’re trying to keep up and replace them.

City trees fight pollution and clean the air, so they’re important quite aside from their beauty. (Though the beauty is important, too; homes on tree-lined streets are valued up to 30% higher than homes on treeless streets.)

You can help FUF to win a grant for $10,000. Odwala is giving this money to the the top ten tree-planting organizations, and FUF is nearly there. Your vote counts for a lot. (One person can only vote once.)  If you’d like to help, CLICK HERE for the link to the voting page.

THE TREE WALK

Cole Valley has some great trees. We started down at Parnassus, near the Walgreens, where the first tree we encountered was Victorian Box. It’s a popular street tree; it’s large enough to look like a tree, but doesn’t try to claim the sidewalk. This street has several.

Unfortunately, when three trees outside the Walgreens were killed in a rare freeze about 15-20 years ago, the owner decided not to replace them. It’s bare sidewalk there.

This interesting tree is a Bailey’s Acacia, also called a Golden Mimosa. It wasn’t in bloom , but Mike said that in season, it’s completely covered in yellow flowers. I looked it up on the Internet, and it’s quite spectacular.

It wasn’t only trees. He stopped under a rather gnarled tree, but what he showed us was the house: It was the childhood home of Governor Jerry Brown. Right here, in Cole Valley. The tree, incidentally, is a Brazilian pepper tree; its berries, apparently, taste peppery.

The next tree was a magnolia champaka, a tree whose flowers are sweetly scented, something between jasmine and frangipani. The flowers of this tree are used in worship in temples. Mike plucked one of he flowers and passed it around. The tree apparently came from Sloat Nursery, and the owner was lucky; they usually need a warmer less windy climate. But this one’s clearly thriving.

Another non-tree: Or perhaps I should say, a former tree. Pat Montandon, a prominent San Franciscan, lived here in a house whose gate was formerly flanked by two stately Monterey cypress trees.  After one was felled by a storm, causing some property damage, she decided the second one had to go as well. But rather than just removing it, she had the tall stump carved into “The Angel of Hope.”

We walked on to one of Mike’s favorite trees: A New Zealand Christmas tree, a species that is generally covered with red flowers. Only this one is a mutation; its flowers are yellow.

Descended from two trees discovered in New Zealand in 1940, it was planted only a few years later by the owner of a nursery garden behind the house.  It’s now maintained by his daughter and son-in-law.

Though it wasn’t in bloom, it was an interesting tree with a rounded shape and a lot of aerial roots.

The Tree Tour continued into the Sutro Forest. There we split from the group and wandered homeward over the mountain and through the woods. (That report is on the Sutro Forest website, HERE.)

Coit Tower Ballot, Mount Davidson Tree Destruction: The West of Twin Peaks Council Meets

I went to the West of Twin Peaks Central Council (WTPCC) meeting last evening, at the beautiful Forest Hill clubhouse. The WTPCC is an association of associations; it has some 22 member organizations (including Forest Knolls).

COIT TOWER’S ON THE BALLOT

The Coit Tower initiative that I wrote about last time got enough signatures to go on the ballot, so you’ll be seeing it when you vote. It’s trying to push the SF Rec & Park to spend some of the visitors’ fees money to actually maintain the tower, which risks water-damage and cracks to its famous murals. WTPCC wants to write a supportive note on the ballot. It costs $200 + $2 per word. After a heated discussion about the exact wording, they decided to budget of $500 for it, and will sort out the wording later.

NATURAL AREAS PROGRAM DESTROYING TREES

Gus Guibert,  Open Space committee, gave a hard-hitting presentation on what SFRPD’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) plans for Mount Davidson:

  • 1600 trees to be felled, including clear-cutting a 3.86 area, with more tree losses expected to wind-throw;
  • suppression and removal of uncounted saplings under 15 feet in height;
  • closure of several trails.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said that with NAP’s budget merely $1.3 mn annually, this is an unfunded initiative. But the fact is, as I pointed out, that trees are already being killed.

(As an aside: On Mt Davidson, a number of trees have been “girdled.” If bark is removed all around the trunk of a tree, it starves to death. The San Francisco Forest Alliance (www.SFForest.net) has recently been organized to fight tree-felling, habitat destruction, use of toxic herbicides and waste of money better utilized elsewhere. I’ve joined that group. It’s trying to prevent further damage to Natural Areas including Mount Davidson.)

Separately, Sean Elsbernd discussed the America’s Cup, and also the planned new Parks Bond of $185 mn.

NERT TRAINING STARTING 15 March 2012

If anyone is interested in NERT (Emergency Response) training, it’s on offer at Aptos Middle School Thursday evenings starting March 15th and running through April 26th. It’s free, and kids (especially grade school age) are welcome with their parents.  Click here for the flyer (It’s a PDF file).

JOURNALISTS HONORED

Patrick Monette-Shaw, who has been investigating Laguna Honda Hospital’s issues around its Patients Gift Fund, was awarded the James Madison Freedom of Information Award.  WTPCC congratulated him. His advocacy pushed the City into a full audit of the Fund.

Mitch Bull, who publishes the Westside Observer, ran the articles. He pointed out that it’s the small neighborhood newspapers that actually have freedom of speech. (I agree. Westside Observer ran a story about Sutro Forest back in November 2009, when most papers were in lockstep favoring  the Native Areas Program and tree-felling.)

(Other problems relating to Laguna Honda Hospital:  Right now, it’s a loud whiny aircon system that’s eroded an estimated $50,000 each from the value of nearby homes in Midtown Terrace by rendering their yards unusable.)

I have to say I’m an admirer of neighborhood newspapers and newsletters that address day-to-day issues that impact our lives. Will blogs ever replace them? I don’t know, but I’m glad that these newspapers are available online as well. It makes their archives easy to access long after the last paper issue got tossed out.

Meeting Joel Engardio, D7 Supervisor Candidate

A couple of weeks ago, Joel Engardio contacted me. He’s running for District 7 supervisor. (Some of you may already know – as I didn’t – that the current District 7 Supervisor, Sean Elsbernd,  terms out this year.)

Joel doesn’t like the idea of wasting millions of dollars to cut down trees, close trails and deny access, use toxic pesticides on public land, and destroy habitat. He wanted to use some of the pictures from the SutroForest.com website (of which I’m webmaster) in a short video. Sure, I said. That’s a cause I believe in. (He asked separate permission for photos on the site that were taken by someone else.)

Clicking on the picture below will take you to the video he made. It’s sensible and  it’s beautiful and well worth watching. (Also see the Comments below.)

He’s not a single-issue candidate, though. Here’s what his website says he stands for: Common Sense. Accountability. Fiscally Responsible. Socially Progressive.

I asked if he wanted to say something here, and he sent me this note:

I’m running for supervisor to bring more common sense and innovation to City Hall. We must champion the entrepreneurial spirit to create jobs and fund the programs we need. Throughout my career, I have fought for the social issues San Francisco cares about like marriage equality, immigration and human rights. As your supervisor, I will fight for the fiscal responsibility and government efficiency San Francisco needs to be a vital and vibrant city that works for everyone. Every effort by City Hall must be held accountable and measured for success. I’m running in District 7, but will work for all San Franciscans. That’s why people are supporting me citywide. Please join us: www.engardio.com

I don’t know who else is running for District 7, so I’ve no idea what they stand for. But I have to say I’d be pretty happy to have Joel Engardio as my Supe. Or even as a Supervisor, even if it’s not for my district…

which could happen.

ARE WE DISTRICT 7?

Right now, Forest Knolls is in District 7. But as readers of this site will know, we’re in the middle of the ten-year redistricting exercise. The initial draft planned on moving Forest Knolls, Midtown Terrace, The Woods all into District 8. The Supervisor there is Scott Wiener, and he’s there until 2014.

Meanwhile, the West of Twin Peaks Central Council is fighting to keep these neighborhoods in D7. (The report on the meeting to discuss that is here.)

Here’s the map they propose:

(The colors indicate various neighborhood associations.)

Chances are that WoTPCC will prevail. We’ll know by April 15th, 2012. That’s when the redistricting commission has to submit its final map.

Redistricting, SF Overlook, and Coit Tower: West of Twin Peaks Central Council Meeting, Jan 2012

Another day, another visit to a lovely building. This time, it was the Forest Hill clubhouse to attend a meeting of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council (WTPCC). This is a group of some twenty neighborhood organizations, including Forest Knolls Neighborhood Organization, The Woods, and Mt Sutro Woods Home Owners Association.

Here’s my take on it  — and things you might want to act on.

SF RPD  PROPOSES A $185 mn BOND

San Francisco Rec and Parks  had a bond issue back in 2008 and want to come back for more. Though Dawn Kamalanathan made an excellent presentation, with pictures of kids and playgrounds, I got a sense of skepticism from the room.

The first set of questions related to the funding: If SFRPD borrows $185 mn from the public, it will have to pay interest and then pay it back… with taxpayer funds. Where, people wanted to know, are the repayments coming from?

The second issue was that SFRPD has spent money on extensive capital improvements, but it doesn’t have the operating budget to maintain them – or indeed, anything else. One example was JP Murphy Playground, where they renovated and improved the clubhouse, and then laid off the director and closed it down. Someone else quoted a park in her area, where improvements were made and all the gardeners laid off or retired and weren’t replaced.

A third set of concerns – where I also spoke – was about the Natural Areas Program and how funding it is leading to tree felling, habitat destruction and a growing use of Tier I and Tier II pesticides. Is this a good idea to fund?

Later, someone pessimistically told me that bond measures always pass because they’re paid for by home-owners but voted for by renters – and renters are the majority in San Francisco. I dunno.  I was a little puzzled at the tone of the whole thing. It was not exactly, We really need to do these specific things, and so we need the money. It was more like, We really want to raise some money, and so you tell us how you want us to spend it. Odd.

SAN FRANCISCO OVERLOOK

The steep hillside above the planned development

As readers of this site will know, the old Crestmont project slated for the dead end steep slope on Crestmont Drive has been revived in a new guise: San Francisco Overlook. (My article on the original project is here.) An Environmental Impact Report has been submitted to City Hall, and it’s under review.

The WTPCC wrote a letter in support of the Mount Sutro Woods Homeowners Association, which is spearheading the resistance to this dangerous project. (The picture here is the steep slope just above the planned development.)

COIT TOWER PRESERVATION GROUP

Jon Golinger made a presentation explaining that though the San Francisco Rec and Parks Dept (SFRPD) is making maybe $500 thousand a year from Coit Tower, it’s not maintaining the place at all. Lights are broken, signs are outdated and warped, and worst of all, there’s water damage on the historic murals. Meanwhile, SFRPD wants to change the concessionaire and rent out the space for private events.

The group is trying to get enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot to force SFRPD to spend some of the money it makes off Coit Tower in maintaining and improving it. If anyone would like to collect signatures for them before Feb 4th, please email me at fk94131@yahoo.com, I have a signature sheet. Their website is at ProtectCoitTower.org

REDISTRICTING SAN FRANCISCO

Every ten years, San Francisco’s districts are redrawn, based on population. This year, the growth in population in District 6, because of all the new building there, means all the lines have to be redrawn. Here’s the preliminary draft of the proposed new districts.

According the the tentative plan proposed by the Redistricting committee, Forest Knolls, Miraloma Park, Mount Sutro Woods, and Galewood Circle,  The Woods and Twin Peaks Improvement Association would all move to District 8.

The concern for WTPCC is that such an arrangement would mean that the concerns of the homeowners of the current District 7 would be over-ridden by the quite different concerns of the voters on the other side of Twin Peaks. They have made a different proposal. In the map below, everything within the blue boundary would be D7. (The colors denote the various Neighborhood Organizations.)

I think it’s a pretty good option, but I’m concerned that Mount Sutro goes into an entirely different district. Rising as it does above our neighborhood, everything that happens there (at least on this side) affects us. If the trees are felled and there are landslides when their roots die, our neighborhood is where they’ll land. If they start using pesticides as the Natural Areas Program does regularly on Twin Peaks, it’s our area it’ll wash into. If the tree-felling destroys the windbreak, guess which neighborhood gets the wind?

Artichoke, what?

If, like me, you’re generally accustomed to seeing artichokes in grocery stores, this is what you are familiar with, right? Spiky globular green things with overlapping scales like some delicious reptilian vegetable?

I knew in theory that what they were was thistles.

But it wasn’t until a recent trip to Rockaway Beach that I really got the point. Someone had planted an artichoke in a flowerbed beside a parking lot.

It looked like this:

As I paused to take these photographs, a lady heading to her car stopped to see what I was looking at. She was as amazed as I was. “Who knew?” she asked several times. “Who knew?”

Just what I felt. I wonder if these things would grow in my yard.

Shaggy Grass (Formerly Furry)

About a year ago, I posted about some fantastic grass that had been planted near the intersection of Junipero Serra and 19th. It was almost surreal in the intensity of the green and the furry texture. Here’s what it looked like then.

But when I went to take some photographs, it already had signs that it might not last. Here’s what I wrote then:

But a few weeds are finding their way in already. It may be at its loveliest right now.

So next time you’re coming back from Serramonte or Pacifica or the airport, and the light changes against you at the intersection of 19th and Junipero Serra – rubberneck the grass.

It was true. A year later, it’s shaggy, not furry. I wouldn’t say it’s ugly; it looks like hay. It’s brown, and gone to seed which is what grasses do. Areas shaded by street trees are still green, so it may be the sun, I don’t know. It’s very springy under foot. Here’s what it looks like now.

And here it is from another angle.

Anyone Want A Street Tree?

Kathleen posted a message to the neighborhood Yahoo Group, to let us know that Friends of the Urban Forest are offering to plant street trees in our neighborhood. (It’s reprinted with permission.)

First, the message from Doug Lybeck (DougLybeck@fuf.net) at Friends of the Urban Forest:

Hello!  This is a monthly neighborhood organizing report for tree planting in your neighborhood!

Friends of the Urban Forest is working to get enough commitments to plant trees to enable us to have a tree planting in the  Twin Peaks Area and in almost every other area of the City. When we get up to 30 trees committed by property owners we’ll be able to schedule a community tree planting. Can you help create the  necessary demand?  In so doing you will create a legacy right here in our “front yards” — one that can be enjoyed by yourself and the children and grandchildren of the neighborhood.  And at just $75 for the tree and periodic maintenance for 3 years the price is a real bargain. Research shows that trees increase property values, help the environment and improve our quality of life in many ways.  So please plant a tree in  front of your house or talk with neighbors or local business about planting one (or two) in front of their property!  If you know the owner of a site that  could plant several trees please let me know — we would love to help them start reaping the benefits of having trees.  Plantings are fun and literally  bring neighborhoods together.

Kathleen’s message indicates why for some of us, it’s not feasible, even though we’d love to have street trees (like Forest Hill or St Francis Wood!)  I have the same problems. Not enough space on the street.

But. All the homes here are not uniform, and some of you may have space and inclination to add trees. Please email Doug Lybeck, and/or leave comments here.

Howdy Neighbors,

Friends of the Urban Forest is organizing the planting of trees in our neighborhood (Forest Knolls is included in the “Twin Peaks Area”).  See below [i.e., above] if  you are interested in getting a tree planted in front of your house.  We checked into it and the sidewalk is not wide enough in front of our house (you  need 4′ clear on the sidewalk plus room for a minimum 2-1/2′ cut out for the tree basin).  They will also plant the tree in your front planter if you are  interested in that (we already have trees in all our planters).

Kathleen

Glen Canyon Glorious

Last February, I was celebrating the brilliant oxalis flowers on Twin Peaks…

If San Francisco were to have its own version of Napa’s mustard festival, surely ours would be the Fair Oxalis. These flowers herald our spring more clearly than the daffodil (which are also starting to bloom) and mark the sunshine months (or month!) before summer arrives with its cooling fog. It may be a weed, and spread easily (though I’ve heard say that it doesn’t set seed in San Francisco). But it is undeniably gorgeous.

[ETA: I got a friendly email saying, “it sure feels like spring, but actually the first day of spring isn’t til march 20…”

Oh, I know… but no one told the flowers! That’s why I called it “our spring.” My East Coast friends assure me their spring is still someplace else.]

Right now, the place to go is Glen Canyon. The meadow areas are golden with Bermuda Buttercup (alias oxalis) and wild mustard.

If you want to see this wild flower spectacle, the place is the eastern slope at the north end of the park — easily accessed from Turquoise Way (or the parking lot of the nearby Diamond Heights shopping center).

Go soon on any sunny day (oxalis furl their bells in shade), before the Natural Areas Program decides to spray this invasive non-native weed with toxins.  They’re already at work on Twin Peaks.

[ETA2: Someone told us the spraying of Garlon 4 Ultra in Glen Canyon will start 18 Feb 2011.

ETA3: It’s been further postponed, we hear; apparently parents of preschoolers who play and hike in the canyon oppose the use of toxic chemicals there. Or it may have been the weather.]

Forest Hill Tree Tour with Mike Sullivan

The San Francisco Forest Hill tree tour last Sunday, led by Mike Sullivan, had a great turnout. “I thought there’d be about ten or twelve,” said my companion. In fact, there were perhaps three times that number. The tour started at the Forest Hill club house, which is surrounded by big old Monterey cypress. It’s a strikingly pretty place;  the Bernard Maybeck architecture and the tall trees give it a medieval air.

Forest Hill Club House - Maybeck

Mike had autographed copies of his book available for sale; since I’d already got one and blogged about it, I passed. Otherwise, it’s an opportunity I’d have grabbed.

We moved on to a strawberry tree just up the road. It’s native to Southern Europe —  and surprisingly, southern Ireland. Mike explained that most likely, they had a wider range before, but climate change had pushed them southward. This was a common pattern: It explained the distribution of Monterey pine, in small pockets as far apart as the Monterey peninsula and San Luis Obispo. Trees changed their home ranges in response to changing climatic conditions.

The next tree we saw was one I’ve been planning to photograph for a Memorable Trees post. It’s a Monterey Pine that towers above a white Spanish-style house. The  house is handsome, but this tree is what makes it memorable. The tree has an almost manicured appearance. It’s been well-cared for and expertly pruned.

ARAUCARIA AND CONTINENTAL DRIFT

It’s almost impossible to think about memorable trees without considering the weird Araucarias, a age-old genus of living fossils that knew the dinosaurs. (Flowering plants didn’t. The dinosaurs lived in a world of horsetails and treefern — and araucaria.) They have wonderful names like bunya-bunya and monkey-puzzle and Norfolk Island Pine (though they’re not at all related to pines).

They come from the Southern Hemisphere, from places as distant as  New Zealand to Chile in a scattered  distribution.  Mike’s explanation was continental drift: these trees were around before the continents split up, and traveled with the land masses as they moved.  San Francisco has a number of them, of various kinds (including two of the Memorable Trees I posted about earlier).

NEIGHBORS AND STORIES

Most of the trees we saw were on private property, and some of the neighbors came out and told us about their trees. The owner of an English birch beech that I’ve often admired said the big window opposite the tree brought it right into the house, so it felt as though their living room was part of the tree.

Elsewhere, someone invited us into his backyard to see a large buckeye, which was already bare – it shed its leaves as early as July – showing off the twisty branch structure. Mike told us that another buckeye is the subject of the only tree easement in the city — one that was saved from destruction when a builder bought the land on which it grows. Friends of the Urban Forest holds that easement.

Another neighbor told us about selecting sourwood trees – possibly the only ones in San Francisco – for the spot outside his home. Mike told us that the wood actually was sour, and jam could be made from the fruit. Later, we stopped to admire a rather large and twisted coastal live oak.

[Edited to Add: Forest Hill is proud of its trees; each one is tagged with a little metal accession number, and listed in a database. Someone explained that the neighborhood association cares for the trees; and will help a home-owner who wants to plant a tree to do so, free of charge. I have to say I was extremely impressed.]

One group of neighbors were trying to get support for a tree removal: A group of tall, stately, and possibly dangerous Monterey pines. They wanted to take down these trees, and replace them with smaller, younger ones.

WHAT NOT TO PLANT

One aspect of the tree tour didn’t appeal to me personally: Continual inputs about why various trees were bad. Invasive roots. Brittle wood. Dripping stamens and berries. Sensitivity to freezes. Pest vulnerabilities. (To be fair, most of these  comments did not actually come from Mike.)

I think I’d want to know all these things if I were actually trying to select a tree for a street (a process Mike noted was extremely site-specific, depending on the micro-climate, the underlying soil,  and the preferences of the owner).

But in the context of a tree-tour, a bit of a downer.

MIKE’S WEBSITE

In addition to his book, The Trees of San Francisco, Mike maintains a website at www.sftrees.com — including a list (no pictures, unfortunately) of interesting street trees by neighborhood, as well as ‘Mystery trees’ he wants to identify. It also has occasional updates about the particular trees mentioned in the book.

FRIENDS OF THE URBAN FOREST

The tour, which was free, ended with an appeal for support for Friends of the Urban Forest. This marvelous group helps plant street trees all over San Francisco.