A Real Tree Tour – Oct 31 2010

Mike Sullivan, author of the book The Trees of San Francisco that I wrote about, is giving a tree tour under the auspices of Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF). This is a fairly strenuous walking tour (unlike the Landmark Tree tour, which used a fairly large bus) and it’s in Forest Hill. Here’s the information from the FUF website:

Free Tour of Forest Hill

When:  Sunday, October 31, 11am – 1pm
Description: Join us for a tour of landmark trees in the Forest Hill neighborhood led by Mike Sullivan, long-time tree tour leader, former FUF Board Chair, and author of The Trees of San Francisco. Forest Hill is one of San Francisco’s “best-treed” neighborhoods, and this will be the first-ever FUF tour of that neighborhood, so be sure to make this one! Meet at 381 Magellan (near Montalvo) in front of the Bernard Maybeck-designed Forest Hill Association Clubhouse.
Note: we will be traversing several staircases in the neighborhood, so be prepared for some strenuous walking.
Costumes optional.
This should be a great tour. Forest Hill has some really special trees.

Reopened: Medical Center Way

Medical Center Way is open again. This is the lovely mountain road that goes through Sutro Forest, connecting the UCSF Aldea student housing to Parnassus (and is the shortest route from Forest Knolls to Stanyan). I’ve heard it called the prettiest road in San Francisco, and people have told me they take that route just for its beauty. Certainly I’ve trundled down the half-mile stretch between Johnstone and the dog-leg above Parnassus  at 15-20 mph, taking in the splendour of the trees and the scent of eucalyptus. It’s looking shorn now; a lot of the understory growth has been cut back, and some of the trees are gone. But even if not the lush wild place it was before, it’s still lovely.

A spaceship in the forest?

It had been closed for nearly a year, for the construction of UCSF’s stem cell research building (or rather, The Center for Integrative Medicine). That building looked amazing in the drawings, and fantastic from Golden Gate Park: like a spaceship that had landed in the forest. And someone else, gazing at the building said, “It looks like it’s been CGI’d into the forest.” (If anyone has a better picture, please send it! This really doesn’t do it justice. ETA: Thanks… this is a lot better.)

Close up, not so much. Snaking along the lower reaches of Medical Center Way, behind the hospital on Parnassus, it’s sheathed in what looks like aluminum siding. “Like a trailer abandoned by the roadside,” sniffed my companion. It does have a rather boxy, automotive appearance, like an RV or a railroad car. This is a pity, because the actual structure has a lot of interest.

That’s visible from the loading dock side, which isn’t technically a public access area. The box curves along the road, and it’s balanced on a network of struts that isolate it from its base in case of an earthquake. With the tall trees behind and beside it, it looks somewhat surreal.

[ETA 2: Here’s another article on the building, with a lot of architectural details. I notice they’ve used our spaceship metaphor. The sincerest form of flattery! And this article is from UCSF itself.]

Tree-hunting in San Francisco

I’m not going to call them “Landmark Trees” since that term’s already taken. I was thinking of “spectacular trees,” but Donna in comments asked, What defines a spectacular tree ? That’s an important point. Size? Location? Species? Appearance? There’s no easy way to say.

So what I’m going to call them is Memorable Trees. They’re the trees one notices and remembers. We’re lucky we have many of them around. Here are a few, all from around the West Portal area. They’re all, as far as I know, on private property. I hope their owners find them as remarkable as I do.

This palm tree is one of several on Portola Drive. They’re so unexpected in this foggy part of the city, but they seem to be thriving. This one in particular is amazing because its trunk is covered in other plants, mainly succulents. It’s not just a tree, it’s a garden in itself.

This humongous tree is on Portola, too, just before the Junipero Serra/ Sloat split, at the entrance to St Francis Wood. And what better guardian could the neighborhood have?

I’ve long been beguiled by this tree’s dramatic and unusual shape. An araucaria of some kind?  It has big spherical fruit. The owners like it (I complimented them on it when they were re-doing their yard). But I can’t see where its water is coming from, surrounded as it is with brick and pavement. Hope it lives long and prospers.

This is another dramatic tree on Wawona. I love the contrast of the very traditional European-looking house with fountain and trimmed lawn, and this unusual tree.

And the final picture for today (also from Portola)  isn’t a tree at all. It’s a flower spike taller than a double-storied house.

Christopher Crestmont Cleaned Up

A few days ago, I posted (here and here) about UCSF cleaning up the brush along Christopher and Crestmont. Over the last couple of days, I’ve been walking around and talking to people who live near there. It’s looking good.

They did a pretty neat job of trimming back the bushes that were overhanging the pavement, so it’s easier for cars to park without blocking the roadway. Some of the overhanging branches have been trimmed back too, and it’s all been nicely and professionally done so it actually looks good rather than raw and nasty. They’ve been careful to preserve plants that people had put in or nurtured along the road edge.

They actually felled and removed two hazardous trees along Crestmont. Any others presumably must await the full hazardous tree report.

And as a bonus, this old prickly-pear cactus appeared, apparently thriving under all the acacia! (You may need to click on the picture to embiggen it to actually see the cactus.)

Thanks, UCSF; and thanks, Forest Knolls Neighborhood Organization, which has been working to make this happen.

Separately, I’m not sure where the dispute with the city stands on who has responsibility for hazardous trees. The map below shows the issue: The purple line (I think) shows the UCSF boundary. (This map – made in Year 2000 -is based on an excerpt from the EDAW report done for UCSF. The colors just show in which direction bits of the mountain face…blue is north, red is west, yellow is south, and green is east.)

According to this map, the UCSF Open Space Reserve boundary is not exactly aligned to the roads. There’s a space between the road and the reserve. And that’s where some of the trees are that people are worried about. Of course, if the map is accurate, then one crucial area is fairly obviously UCSF’s: where Crestmont makes a sharp turn from North to East.

Furry Grass Near Forest Knolls

I thought I was the only one who’d noticed the fabulous grass on the roadside between  Junipero Serra and Randolph, next to a gas station. It’s an intense green, and instead of being mown short, it looks like long green fur. I pass it frequently on my way back from a southbound trip, and I always admire it. It’s such an unlikely location for such a beautiful planting. There’s a constant flow of traffic, and a few years ago, a shooting.

But of course I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed, and I was delighted to see an informative article in the Chronicle (in Pam Pierce’s column) in response to a reader query. It’s a fescue sod planted by the San Francisco Water Department’s Jerilyn Downing about 10 weeks ago. It doesn’t require much water once it’s established (it did have to be irrigated quite heavily initially), and it’ll only be mown twice a year. Ms Downing recommended a UC Davis publication on no-mow fine fescues by Ali Harivandi. (It can be downloaded as a PDF file: #8391 in UC Davis’s catalog.)

I thought I’d get a photograph for this post. There’s no parking right there, but I made a right turn onto Randolph, found a place to squeeze my car in, and wandered along the street. It looks wonderful. I really hope it works out. 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.


[ETA August 2011: There’s a followup story, a year later, on this site.]


[Edited to add: Oh, and as a bonus – while I was photographing the grass, I encountered the pinkest car I’ve ever seen. And it had zebra-patterned upholstry…]

A book for San Fran treelovers

On the Landmark Tree Tour I wrote about recently, they were passing around an interesting book with a green cover: The Trees of San Francisco.  “Mike Sullivan never met a tree he didn’t like…” said the inside flap, about the author. And he called eucalyptus “Australia’s gift to California”  (though he takes a neutral position on the Sutro Forest issue). It was full of photographs and descriptions of San Francisco’s street trees.

I had to have this book.

Ready for a Tree Exploring Walk

It arrived today and it’s even better than I thought. The descriptions are lucid and easy to read. The photographs (by Jaime Pandolfo, a Brazilian resident of San Francisco) are beautiful; some are so artistic you can almost imagine them as posters. And it includes a whole bunch of walking tours, laid out by neighborhood and noting the special trees.

Unfortunately, some of those trees are now not what they were, as storms have taken their toll. A picture of the city’s Christmas Tree – a Monterey Cypress – in front of McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park shows the tree in its heyday; today, it’s sadly diminished as large branches have fallen off.

But many of the trees are even bigger. And with all the new trees being planted, we hope later editions of this book will still have thousands of trees to celebrate. Meanwhile, Mike Sullivan has a convenient website at sftrees.com that includes some updates to his book.

(Details: The Trees of San Francisco by Mike Sullivan, Pomegranate Communications, 2004)

Mount Sutro Cloud Forest Hike

It’s been a foggy summer, and here in the Fog Belt, it’s been like living inside a cloud.

It’s the perfect time, if you like mysterious ethereal forests, for a walk in our neighborhood Cloud Forest. On a foggy day, it may be the most beautiful place in all of San Francisco .

So for those who haven’t done it before… here’s my personal guide to the forest.

There are several ways to approach the forest from our neighborhood, but I’ll divide them into the Adventurous and the Easy. On foggy days, you could describe them as Wet and Dry. Generally, there’ll be few people on either set of routes (though maybe a few more on the Easy ones).

If you double-click on the map above, you get a larger one that can be printed out. (There’s also a Sutro Forest trail map as a PDF file at Pease Press Cartography.)


The two routes that lead directly from Forest Knolls are what I call adventurous, for two reasons.

First, access is very steep, especially for the first part of it. It involves scrambling up a trail. It’s not inaccessible by any means – I’ve been up there with neighbors in their sixties. But … it’s not a walk in the park. Also, it’s easier going up than coming down it, so you might plan a route that returns by a less steep path.

Second, on foggy days, it leads into the deepest Cloud Forest. This is actually my favorite part, but it’s Wet. The ground can get very slushy indeed, and I often return with much mud on my shoes and jeans.  Sometimes, the narrowest trails can become boggy.

The first route starts with a few steps opposite 365 Crestmont. On the map, it’s the West Ridge Trail. It’s narrow and you may need to go carefully, moving back blackberry stems as you go. (And be aware there may be poison oak around.)

The second is the access to the South Ridge, opposite 101 Christopher, between the lamp-post and the chain-link fence (fenced radar site) hidden among the bushes. It may even be a little steeper.

There’s also another access point on Crestmont, about halfway between these two, but I think that’s maybe unofficial. It seemed to have more poison oak, too. And finally, I have sometimes scrambled up the Gash left by the SFPUC’s water-pipe replacement (on Christopher) but I don’t recommend it because it’s very steep.  It brings you to the Aldea campus.


The “dry” routes, which are still lovely but don’t feel as wild, start out in the Aldea Student Housing. If you want to drive up, you can sometimes find parking on Clarendon Avenue next to the campus. There’s no public parking on the campus itself.

Here again, there are two options.

1)  If you go uphill on Johnstone and then along  Behr, you will come to a chain blocking vehicle access. That’s the Nike Road, and it’s wide and paved. If you follow it to the top (this is a pretty short route) , you will find the Native Garden, officially the Rotary Meadow. It’s about 3 acres of shrubs, (which are green this time of the year) and grass (which is brown). It has  wide gravel paths, and is surrounded by the forest. You can investigate some paths with an easy out if it becomes too steep or slushy.

2)  The second option is the Fairy Gates trail, which starts on Johnstone, right in front of the Chancellor’s House. (That’s the very elegant house opposite the lower intersection of Johnstone and Behr. Do stop to notice the stand of redwoods right there…) This trail is pretty dry, not too steep, and quite broad except where it goes between two rocks (the “Fairy Gates”). It used to be more wooded in feeling, but some trees have been removed on either side and it’s now very open except at the beginning. It offers views of the forest in the ravine below, and has nasturtiums blooming along parts of it. It ends on the road through the forest, Medical Center Way. Though that is open to traffic, it has sidewalks. Also, not much traffic goes that way, especially not now when the bottom end is closed for construction. [ETA: It’s reopened. Watch out for cars, but there’s still not much traffic.]

If you feel like checking out the forest a bit more, the bottom part of the Historic Trail is also relatively dry, though if you follow it to the top it takes you back into the clouds. The Edgewood Trail will take you down  into the Edgewood neighborhood. It’s steep but not very muddy. This area has some huge trees and interesting terrain.

3. [ETA June 2011:  There is a new trail now from Stanyan (just above 17th) that climbs up to Medical Center Way. Of course, you can also take it in the opposite direction. Though it’s a climb, it’s quite broad and easy to hike. Its bottom end starts with a wooden staircase between two houses; the top end connects to Medical Center Way.]


These are many other trails, of course.  Exploring the whole mountain probably wouldn’t take more than 3-4 hours. The rule of thumb is that in areas where the forest canopy is open and the undergrowth thinned, the trails tend to be dry (and sometimes slippery with dust and dry leaves). Where it’s closed, and the undergrowth remains, it’s usually damp or wet (and sometimes slippery with mud). Dress warm on foggy days, and expect it to be quite cool even on warmer ones. I always wear long sleeves, jeans, socks and walking shoes I can get muddy. (It also helps in case of poison oak… haven’t been hit by it yet, in all the time I’ve wandered around in there.) There’s a checklist here.

Despite all these warnings, this is a pretty accessible forest. To me, it’s completely worth it to be among those tall trees, their tops in the gray mist while inside the forest it’s fresh and green in the dimness. Birds don’t sing much in the fog, but there’ll be the odd tweet or rustle. Sounds get muffled. Usually, there are few people around. It’s the wild part of the woods. If it’s twilight, you might hear or see the Great Horned Owls.  For those who enjoy a little walk on the wild side, one of the best features of Forest Knolls is the forest.

Crestmont Clean-up: Not the trees?

It’s a bit like the Prop 8 thing: Hurry up and wait.

It looks like I jumped the gun when I posted that UCSF was doing something about the hazardous trees. I’d written to UCSF to ask if they’d pulled permits to deal with the hazardous trees on Crestmont — from Devonshire to the cul-de-sac, and especially around the area where the road turns from west to north.  (City permits are needed to remove any tree over 20 feet tall if it’s within ten feet of a public right-of-way.)

Nope. That may be happening later. Here’s the response from UCSF’s Damon Lew:

The work that is beginning this week will focus on overgrowth and removal of hazardous ground material and not the removal of hazardous trees.

The trees you mention may have been identified in a recent hazardous tree survey that was done for the Facilities Management (FM) Dept.   The work that will be done once the tree hazard survey is received by UCSF will not take place until later this year.

So I guess right now it’s precisely what they said: Mowing down vegetation for 2 feet from the roadway, including overhanging shrubs. (This may take care of some overhanging trees, actually; we’ll find out.)

If you are living on Christopher or Crestmont and have plants across the road you want to save, it may be a good idea to mark them in some way. Or be out there to talk to the crew.

[ETA: Today Damon Lew sent out a notice that they actually will be removing two hazardous trees:

I’m writing to inform you that on either Monday, August 23rd, or Tuesday, August 24th, Bartlett Tree Experts will be performing the following hazardous tree work along Crestmont Drive:

· Cutting down 1 Monterey Pine located across from 171 Crestmont Dr.
· Cutting down 1 Monterey Pine located across from 90 Crestmont Dr.
· Time permitting – cut down branches overhanging the street within the area

The stumps of the trees will be cut down to 2-4” above grade and debris from the project will be removed from the site. These trees were recently identified as part of a hazardous tree survey performed by Hortscience and were also brought to our attention by several of our neighbors. No noisy work will be performed by 9:00 a.m. but staging of the area may begin earlier.]

Crestmont Christopher Clarendon Cleanup

Some time ago I wrote about the problems Crestmont residents in particular were having with hazardous trees on the edge of Sutro Forest, and in getting either the city or UCSF to do something about them. They eventually complained to the Fire Department. UCSF said they’d do something about it, and it looks like they will. [Edited to Add: Not quite…see followup post.]

It’s scheduled for August 18-27. There will be parking restrictions in some areas of Christopher and Crestmont while they work.

Here’s a letter we got from UCSF’s Damon Lew today:

Dear Neighbor:

I am writing to inform you that in response to both neighborhood concerns and a Notice of Corrective Action we have received from the San Francisco Fire Department, the UCSF Facilities Management Department has arranged to have grounds maintenance work done along Crestmont, Christopher, and Clarendon Drives. This work is scheduled to begin on August 18, 2010 and will be completed by August 27, 2010.  The nature of this work will include the following actions:

·         High weed mowing

·         Brushes and shrubs overhanging the street curbs will be trimmed back up to a distance of 24” from the curb

·         Dead and dying vegetation to be removed

This work is scheduled to take place between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.  During this time parking along certain areas of Christopher and Crestmont Drives will be prohibited in order to allow access to the site.

Please feel free to contact me at dlew@cgr.ucsf.edu if you have any questions about this project or if you would like to be added to our listserv to receive updates about other projects pertaining to our Parnassus campus.

If you have questions or concerns during the operating hours of this project please contact the UCSF Customer Service Center at (415) 476-2021.



Hope it goes well.

Just as a PS: Some neighbors have mentioned there are areas along Clarendon where our gardens, tamed or untamed, are spilling over the sidewalk and making it difficult to pass – especially in rainy weather. So this is a heads-up to anyone whose home backs onto Clarendon: Please check whether your plants are seeking world dominance by way of Clarendon Avenue, and if so, restrain them…

Landmark Tree Tour

Last Saturday, SF’s Department of the Environment had a 3-hour bus tour of Landmark Trees and I went.

It wasn’t what I expected. I thought we’d see maybe the city’s most spectacular trees, on a cold foggy day. What we got was a bus ride through parts of the city I don’t usually see, a visit to a few trees, some fascinating local history, and the Quesada Street community garden. And really nice weather.

The same trees, late 1920s

We started with six old eucalyptus trees planted by Mary Ellen (“Don’t call me Mammy”) Pleasant, an amazing character who was active in the underground railroad. A little research indicates the trees are probably around 120-125 years old, about as old as Sutro Forest. They were gnarled and large – much wider and more branched than our Sutro trees, though not as tall. I think this is all about light: forest trees have to grow tall quickly to get sunlight before nearby trees block it;  street trees in a sunny area need to grow bushy to take advantage of the available light, and develop thick trunks to support their heavily-branched structures.

The Canary Island Palms in the center of Dolores, about 175 of them, are landmark trees. Among them are four small endangered Guadalupe palm trees.

We saw a Moreton Bay Fig planted by Bancroft (of Bancroft Library fame); it has lost half its size owing to storms. It dropped a huge branch 2 weeks ago, making us wonder if it’s nearing the end of its life. [Edited to Add on Sept 16, 2010: Apparently it just dropped another branch, on top of a car. This site “Burrito Justice”  has pictures.]

Then we saw an ancient Brazilian Pepper Tree, growing on a traffic island. It had also lost branches after storms.

The tour ended at Quesada and 3rd street in Bayview Hunter’s Point, where the community saved a line of 13 Canary Island Palms in the median, planted around 1932. The city apparently wanted to fell them in the 1970s, because they needed too much maintenance.  A few years later, neighbors started Quesada Gardens along the length of the median, and then added a mural at a cul-de-sac at the street’s end.

The houses in the picture are just across the street

It was really inspiring, especially since one of the leaders explained that the median had been a trash dump before, and the cul-de-sac a place where people stripped down stolen cars. Overhead, squawking parrots flew in to feast on the palm fruit. It was sunny and pretty, and despite being in problem neighborhood, quite a few people on the tour thought they’d like to live there.


Mei Ling Hui, the cheery Urban Forests Coordinator who led the tour, remarked that most San Fran street trees were not native, and were similar species to street trees in Melbourne, Australia.  She commented that eucalyptus were planted (1) because people liked eucalyptus and palm trees back then, and (2) developers planted them to drain marshes and furnish lumber for building, but it turned out eucalyptus makes crappy timber. She specifically mentioned Sutro Forest.

We pointed out that Sutro is on record as saying they were for the enjoyment of people who walked among them; it was only after his death that his heirs tried to start a lumber operation.

“…people… will wander through the majestic groves rising from the trees we are now planting, reverencing the memory of those whose foresight clothed the earth with emerald robes and made nature beautiful to look upon.”

She kindly made the correction.

She said  non-native trees were planted because they did really well as street trees, and provided the benefits of urban forest trees,  unlike trees from nearer here that required much more care and herbicides. Two authorities in the city plant trees: the Department of Public Works, and the non-profit Friends of the Urban Forest.

On the tour, I saw a lot of newly planted trees. Most were doing well, though a few were leaning over despite the cage of wooden posts intended to hold them upright. It was encouraging.


Total trees visited: 6 eucalyptus; many Canary Island Palms; 4 Guadalupe palms; a fig and a pepper tree.  I’d expected to learn more about trees; instead I learned about local history, community gardens, and the Landmark tree program.

The Landmarking process is lengthy, and complicated, with an uncertain payoff. The result is that many truly spectacular trees are not landmarked. Some trees are landmarked because of a historical connection rather than because the tree itself is extraordinary. Some of the Presidio eucs are  larger and more impressive than the ones we saw. Many of the Sutro Forest eucs are taller. I’ve seen some glorious araucarias in the western part of the city. Even the city’s Christmas tree (in front of McLaren Lodge) isn’t landmarked because Rec&Park doesn’t want to.

Here’s the current list of landmark trees, updated March 2009:

  • California buckeye (Aesculus californica) at 730 28th Avenue
  • Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) at 20-28 Rosemont Place
  • Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) at 4124 23rd Street
  • New Zealand Christmas Tree (Metrosiderous excelsus) at 1221 Stanyan Street
  • Six Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus) adjacent to 1801 Bush Street
  • All Canary Island Date Palms (Phoenix canariensis) in the center island on Dolores Street
  • Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) at Third St. and Yosemite Street in the median triangle
  • Flaxleaf paperbark (Melaleuca linariifolia)at 1701 Franklin Street
  • Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis) at 555 Battery Street
  • Thirteen Canary Island Date Palms (Phoenix canariensis) located throughout the Quesada Street median West of Third St. to the dead end.
  • Two Cliff Date Palms (Phoenix rupicola) in the Dolores Street median, one across from 730 Dolores Street and the second across from 1546 Dolores Street
  • The grove of Guadalupe Palm (Brahea edulis) in the Dolores St. median, across from 1608-1650 Dolores Street.
  • Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) at 3555 Cesar Chavez Street
  • Two Flowering Ash (Fraxinus ornus) at the Bernal Height Library at 500 Cortland Street
  • Blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) in the Bernal Height Natural Area near the intersection of Folsom and Bernal Height Boulevard
  • Manzanita (Arctostaphylos hispidule) 115 Parker Avenue
  • Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) 2626 Vallejo Street
  • California Buckeye tree (Aesculus Californica) located behind 757 Pennsylvania Street.

(Three others have been nominated: A Norfolk Island Pine and two Canary Island Date palms at 2040 Sutter Street, and a Redwood Tree at 46 Stillings Ave.)

But I didn’t get to see the city’s most spectacular trees. I might start blogging about those. There are certainly some really wonderful trees in San Francisco. I’ll be looking out for them. The only problem is how to photograph really huge trees. Meanwhile, ‘BurritoJustice’ carried a great tree post on their blog. With photographs.

Sutro Forest Planned Actions

As many of you know, UCSF is planning some major changes in Sutro Forest, the dense eucalyptus forest behind our homes – the “Forest” in Forest Knolls. Many of these will affect our neighborhood directly. Details are on the SaveSutro website. A few people from our neighborhood – including Walter Caplan and Kristine Zaback from the Forest Knolls Neighborhood Organization – have been attending these meetings.

1) On South Ridge (the forest area above the junction of Christopher and Crestmont) UCSF plans to cut down around 2000 trees on 3 acres to space them an average 30 feet apart,  mow down all the plants growing under the trees, and use Roundup/ Garlon on a 1-acre test site to prevent it from coming back.

Our concerns are the use of herbicides upslope from our neighborhood, potential for displaced wildlife (including rodents) to move into our area, micro-climate changes and how it will look.  Drying out the forest by thinning the trees may also create a fire hazard similar to the forest in 1934, when it was being logged.

No other demonstration area lies directly above a residential neighborhood, and we had hoped UCSF would consider a different area. It hasn’t.

2) The trail leading straight up from Christopher into the forest will be re-routed into a hairpin trail that lies above Christopher. Houses below this route may lose some privacy as trail users will be able look down into them.

3) A new trail will be cut from Clarendon behind the new pump station and through the curtain of trees between the Aldea student housing and Christopher. This screen of trees has already been thinned considerably because of the PUC water project.

In the map above: 1 is the Gash cut into the forest for the water-line; 2 the concrete pad that was supposed to be returned to the forest but has instead been enclosed with a chain-link fence; 3 the area of the old pump station where the thinned trees make the buildings on the Aldea campus quite visible; and 4 the new pump station, with very few trees behind it. The blue lines are the planned new trails, and the pink one the existing trail. (Edited to Add: The aqua line shows the boundary of UCSF’s Aldea Student Housing.)

Residents nearby had hoped the screen would be regrown, not further thinned. In fact, there is no hope of a screen of trees between the new pump station and the Aldea campus; there’s no space. The pump station grounds extend nearly all the way to the Aldea campus boundary.

Pump Station on poster
New Pump Station in reality

The issue of hazardous trees along Crestmont was also raised. UCSF says they are the City’s responsibility; apparently the City, after staging the area (see the picture) has said they are UCSF’s problem and didn’t remove them. UCSF said they would discuss the matter with the city.

Edited to Add 1: Crestmont does not appear to be on the list of streets with City-maintained trees.

Edited to Add 2: We understand neighbors complained to the SF Fire Department. UCSF’s Barbara Bagot-Lopez sent out a message saying: San Francisco Fire Department had recently issued a “Notice of Corrective Action Required” stating that an area of the Reserve above Crestmont Avenue contains an “accumulation of combustible material”; UCSF will be resolving this issue.

We hope the corrective action will deal with the hazardous trees rather than merely further implementation of the predetermined plan.

Edited to Add 3:  Kathleen asked for contact information. Here it is:

Whom to contact:

For UCSF, there are whole bunch of people. The Chancellor, Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellman, is at 3333 California Street, Suite 103, San Francisco, CA 94143. Here’s a link to others involved.

For SF PUC: Not sure, try Suzanne Gautier(SGautier@sfwater.org). Here’s a link to the meetings schedule of the SFPUC Commission. (If anyone has other contacts/ resources, please note them here.)

For the City, the Urban Forester is at (415) 641-2674.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd are at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Mayor Newsom: Telephone: (415) 554-6141;  Fax: (415) 554-6160;  Email:  gavin.newsom@sfgov.org

Supervisor Elsbernd:
(415) 554-6516; Fax (415) 554-6546 – fax; Email:  Sean.Elsbernd@sfgov.org

Sutro Forest – by Pissarro?

The De Young Museum has a brilliant display of Impressionist artwork right now. (The museum’s website is here.)

While the Musee d’Orsay is closed for renovations, we’re getting to see a hundred of its masterpieces in two exhibitions. Yesterday, I was there with friends. They’re marvelous – amazing pictures, beautifully displayed, and arranged. Some of them are so well-known that they’ve become part of the idiom of popular culture. Whistler’s Mother. Manet’s Fife Player. Degas’s Dancing Lesson.

But what I especially noticed was a quiet Pissarro, called Path Through the Woods in Summer. It reminded me so much of our own Sutro Forest, it could almost have been painted there. Except for the horse, of course (or maybe it’s a mule).

Actually, when the Legion of Honor had its 2006 Monet exhibition, I noticed how the landscapes resembled the Bay Area – so much so I felt I could have replicated some scenes with photographs from around San Francisco.

This is the first time, though, that the resemblance has been so close to home.

Sutro Forest Update: We’re below the Demo Site

As some of you may know, I’ve been attending the Sutro Forest Community meetings. After the withdrawal of the FEMA application, UCSF has decided to return to a plan originally drawn up in 2001, after conducting its own Environmental Review. This calls for “thinning” the trees and removing the understory on a small area as a demonstration.

They are now talking of potentially three demonstration sites, of which the largest – 2 acres – would be on the South Ridge (above Christopher and Crestmont). They are considering thinning the trees to an average of 30 feet apart, and removing all the shrubs and plants that grow under them. They may use herbicides to prevent regrowth. This is planned for Fall 2011.

We’re concerned about the risk to other trees (because it’s windy on top of South Ridge, and thinning the trees may expose others to the wind); to wildlife that uses the understory as habitat; and to the forest, which is likely to become drier in the exposed areas. We’re also concerned about herbicides coming off the steep hillside into our community.

Further details are at the Sutro Forest website, along with a great deal of information about the forest. I’ll post an update from time to time, since it seems that our community will be most directly impacted by the new plan.

[Edited to Add: The area has been expanded to 3 acres, the largest single “demonstration area.” There’s a follow-up post at Sutro Forest Planned Actions.]

Every Tree in San Francisco

It’s an ambitious project: a database listing every tree in San Francisco.

The new wiki in town is an Urban Forest Map that relies on crowd-sourced information, rather like Wikipedia. The project is live now (in beta), and anyone can play. You can go in and enter information on any tree you are familiar with – on the street, near your home, near your office or school.

The software will allow all the different organizations that track San Francisco’s trees to share information. According to an article on KQED’s website, developer Amber Blieg says 17 different entities in the city manage and track trees, but had no easy way to share information. The software will also allow citizen scientists to add trees to the database. There’s even a software to help identify tree species: The Urban Tree Key.

CAL FIRE funded the project, and Blieg developed it in co-operation with Friends of the Urban Forest, and the City of San Francisco. If they can pull this off, it will yield information about tree species, sizes, and allow users of the database to derive information about tree-cover, risk from pest infestations, and climate change effects. Trees help cities by mitigating urban heat islands, reducing and purifying storm water run-off, as well as providing habitat for birds, animals, and insects. And making the urban landscape lovelier and raising property values.

There are good reports on the project on the KQED website, (“An Earth Day Natural: San Francisco’s Tree Census“) and in the Science section of the major online magazine, Wired, (“The Plan to Map Every Tree in San Francisco“).