Laguna Honda Reservoir: Good News for Now

We’ve been following the situation of the Laguna Honda Reservoir over the past months. The issue in summary: The Reservoir, situated at the intersection of Clarendon Avenue and Laguna Honda Boulevard, belongs to the Water Department. They had used a corner of it below Clarendon during the renovation project, assuring the neighbors that they would restore it to greenery afterward. Instead, last year, they decided to make it into a gravel yard and headquarter their dive team there. (The details are here and here.)

The neighbors — particularly at The Woods, which is right next to the spot and overlooks it — were very upset and have been in discussion with the SFPUC about it.

But it wasn’t over; and the neighbors have been following up with SFPUC.

We blogged about it here and here and here.

Another issue is that a beekeeper has been permitted to place a number of beehives in this area (which is otherwise inaccessible to the public. Some neighbors are concerned about how it looks, and also about how the bees might behave.

It seems that there’s been some kind of a resolution, at least for now. This is a letter from Judith Clarke, President of the Woods Home-Owners Association. (It’s published here with permission and added emphasis.)

I wanted to give you an update on what is happening at the Laguna Honda Reservoir. On August 24, 2011, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) cleaned up the piles of gravel and dirt that had been stored on the Laguna Honda site for about a year. They also removed the pipes that were stored there and raked the loose gravel to allow the plants to grow.

The SFPUC will be working up the street at the Sutro Reservoir to do seismic retrofitting. This work will begin in either November or January. The SFPUC will not use the Laguna Honda Reservoir area for that work.

At this time, there is no movement by the SFPUC to move a trailer and/or shed onto the Laguna Honda Reservoir site for their Dive Team, as had been discussed previously. I spoke with Suzanne Gautier of the SFPUC and she told me that she does not know of any movement in that direction at this time.

This is good news and thank you to all who donated money and participated in the efforts to prevent the installment of the trailer. We must still be vigilant in watching that area in case something changes in the future. Please continue to report any activity. We are still discussing the issue with Sean Elsbernd, District 7 Supervisor, and other members of the Board of Supervisors. Our attorney is not doing any work for us at this time, but she is available to us to provide legal advice and work in the future.

The tarps that covered the beehives on the far side of the reservoir were damaged by the storms we had this year. Currently, there are no tarps covering the fence to hide the beehives. Some homeowners had indicated that they did not like the tarps. Others have said they want the beehives hidden. Please let me know what your preference is for having the tarps on the fence. We have an opportunity to influence whether they are put back or not. Thank you.

Judy Clarke
President, The Woods of San Francisco

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in comments and I’ll send them on. [ETA: This post has been edited to remove personal/ non-public information as requested.]

Laguna Honda Reservoir: SFPUC note, Exemption Notice

The SFPUC has apparently decided to stop using the area next to the reservoir as a gravel yard, and use it mainly as a Dive Team HQ. We received a note (reproduced below) from the SFPUC regarding the Laguna Honda Reservoir, following the neighborhood meeting on Feb 9th, 2011.

The SFPUC is asking for an exemption from the Planning Commission that would permit them to operate a Dive Team office. This would involve having two structures, one a trailer 20 x 40 and ten feet in height (the office and prep site); and the other, a shed 10 x 20 feet and eight feet high (for storage). Electricity has already been connected.

They have already filed for the exemption, on 18 February 2011. If anyone has comments, this would be the time to send them in. The person to contact appears to be Bill Wycko.   [ETA: No, he’s the SFPUC person. I guess the SF Office of Planning and Research would be the place to send comments. And the County Clerk. Addresses in the notice at the bottom.]


Here’s the note (emphasis added):

The SFPUC and Laguna Honda

February 2011

In June 2010 the SFPUC provided information about the planned use of an area at the Laguna Honda Reservoir, here are some updates from our Feb. 2011 community meeting.

Prior purchase and placement of a trailer at the Laguna Honda site, the SFPUC applied for and was granted:

1. A Categorical Exemption from the Planning Department – the Planning Department determined that the proposed project was exempt from environmental review – Pending Filing of the Notice of Exemption, see below.
2. General Plan Conformity Determination – for the placement of the Dive Headquarters at Lake Honda – “with consideration of removal of structures and improvements and site restoration if the proposed PUC Dive Headquarters Facility is relocated in the future, as described further in this case.”

A Notice of Exemption will be filed with the County Clerk/Recorder, confirming that this project has been granted a Categorical Exemption by the Planning Department. Once filed, anyone objecting to this Exemption will have a period of 35 days to file suit challenging the Planning Department exemption determination under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The Categorical Exemption and General Plan Conformity Determination can be found at the link below:

Community representatives and neighbors expressed deep concern regarding the lack of communication from the SFPUC, in particular because of the filing of the Categorical Exemption request and issuance of the exemption determination by the Planning Department. The community members felt that the SFPUC was not honoring its commitment to communicate throughout the process.

The SFPUC will notify the community and neighborhood stakeholders when the Notice of Exemption is filed at the Office of the County Clerk.

Community members indicated a willingness to pursue any and all options to prevent the SFPUC from using any of the space within the fence along Clarendon Ave. for any maintenance, staging or other operations, including but not limited to activities of the Dive Team.

Several questions were asked about other potential locations throughout the City. Suggestions included use of a portion of the Laguna Honda Hospital Parking Lot, as well as an area adjacent to the Summit Pump Station below Sutro Reservoir.

The valley below the Sutro Reservoir is not suitable because the area will be used for a project to seismically upgrade the reservoir will begin sometime later this calendar year.
There were questions about the P – Public zoning district and the Open Space height and bulk district designation of the reservoir parcel. The Categorical Exemption and General Plan Conformity address this designation and the proposed land use.
The trailer/Dive Team Headquarters would be in operation under the guidelines below:
Although the Categorical Exemption document says normal work hours are 7:00am – 5:00pm, activities at the site would be limited to the hours of 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, although emergencies and operational needs may require off-hour operations. These events are infrequent, usually no more than a few times per year. The Divers are working at dive sites throughout the city. The Dive Team has three passenger trucks, and it is anticipated that only these vehicles would be parking on-site on a regular basis.
The trailer will provide office space for dive team staff and a small workshop to repair and maintain items such as air stations, helmets, dry suits, ROVs , cameras, power and light units, and filling air cylinders.

Additional installation activities at the trailer site will be limited to placement of lattice screens/fences to obscure the structure from view and additional landscaping.

Access to the area via the Clarendon Avenue gate will continue to be limited to members of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association and authorized SFPUC City Distribution Division personnel.

SFPUC is pursuing landscape and property improvements at Lake Honda/Laguna Honda:

  • Plant and maintain vines and other greenery to soften the appearance of fencing as much as possible, including both the fence along Clarendon and the interior fence. Attach green fabric to the interior fence gate because planting near the fence is not feasible. Also, since the fabric would be attached to the interior fence, graffiti tagging should not be a issue.
  • The SFPUC is working to identify plants that will thrive along the interior fence.
  • The bee boxes have all been painted and relocated along the walkway/fire access road adjacent to the reservoir.
  • There was some concern expressed about the possibility of bees swarming away from the reservoir and the risk to people and animals if they are allergic to bee stings. Paul Koski, one of the beekeepers can be reached at if there are questions about the bees.
  • The City Distribution Division Landscape Supervisor is investigating the feasibility of planting more native plants inside the fence lines.
  • The sand and gravel piles and other construction materials will be moved off-site as soon as possible and should be completed in coordination with the Dive Team Headquarters installation.

In addition to the area adjacent to Clarendon Avenue, other landscape and vegetation management projects are underway at Laguna Honda:

  • A draft tree health and hazard report has been received and is currently being reviewed by SFPUC staff. Based on the report findings the SFPUC will draft a plan of action to trim and remove diseased, dying and dead trees within the watershed to reduce the fire hazard, thin the forest for sustainability, and remove invasive plants and possible replanting with native species. The scope of the project has not yet been determined.
  •  Removal of invasive species in the Franciscan Scrub above the reservoir should occur within the next two to three months. The SFPUC has initiated discussion with representatives of Nature in the City, the California Native Plant Society and the Golden Gate Audubon Society regarding the proposed invasive species removal effort.
  • Unauthorized use of the site as a homeless encampment is being regularly monitored and has been significantly reduced.

For more information e-mail Suzanne Gautier, SFPUC Communications at


Here’s a picture of the Exemption filing notice.

(Click on image for a larger version.)

UCSF Parnassus Updates

UCSF’s Parnassus campus lies just on the other side of the hill. We were not aware of the existence of the “Parnassus CAG Action Team” – a sub-committee of the UCSF Community Advisory Group (CAG) – until now. On Nov 8th evening, there was a meeting to update people on several matters.

The Agenda items that were directly of interest to Forest Knolls/ Sutro Forest:

1. Clarendon Connector Trail. There is still a plan to punch a trail to Clarendon through the screen of trees that lies between Christopher and the Aldea campus. (The blue line above Christopher Drive in the map below.) We protested that the screen had already been thinned by the actions of SFWD:  A Gash for the pipeline had been cut through the trees  to the water tank; and all the trees removed behind the new Pump Station. Putting a trail through this already tattered screen of trees would be counterproductive.

[ETA: The map here is being removed, but will be replaced later … see here for the reason why.]

The justifications used were confusing.

  • The first reason was to route trails away from the UCSF campus. But the alternative is for hikers to just walk along Christopher Drive for a few yards, it doesn’t go into the campus. Second, two trails already originate on the campus: The Fairy Gates trail starts right outside the Chancellor’s House; and the East Ridge trail opposite the new Community Center. There’s no plan to close off those.
  • The second justification is that it brings hikers closer to the highest point of Clarendon Avenue, where it’s safest to cross the street to the trails on the other side because hikers can see cars coming up the hill in both directions. (It’s marked “Safe” in red on the map. ETA: Correction – the “Safe” point is not the highest point, but the place where the road narrows to half its width). But it doesn’t do that either. It only brings hikers to the same place they’d get to from Christopher.

Craig Dawson (of Mount Sutro Stewards) said they would plant the sides of the trail to conceal it from the houses along the road. We are unsure about this; the “screen plantings” meant to screen the Aldea campus from Clarendon have not been very successful, and the chain link fence remains visible there. He also said the perception of thinning — apart from the area around the pump station, and the pipeline Gash — was because ivy had been removed from all the eucalyptus trees.

2. The Community Center (to be called The Aldea Center) on the campus is expected to be ready by this summer. It will be used by Aldea tenants, the University Community, the Mount Sutro Stewards, and to a lesser extent by Neighborhood groups. A few parking spaces will be associated with it; but the main access is expected to be by Shuttle bus or hiking in.

3. The Native Plant Nursery (now called the Aldea Seed Propagation area) is planned to go ahead; the idea is to grow plants for the Native Plant Garden at the summit, and maybe for other locations. This is the pad surrounded by chainlink on the Aldea campus. It was supposed to be “planted to blend in with the forest” as promised in an agreement with the community in January 2000 and reiterated in August 2009. UCSF’s Maric Munn said there are no plans at present to do that, but use as a nursery doesn’t prevent it in the future. Apparently UCSF’s  legal department has said that since no permanent structure is planned, it can be made part of the Open Space Reserve.

4. Bulletin Boards. Two bulletin boards, with maps and rules, are to be posted somewhere in the forest (not on the campus as originally discussed at the Agenda Planning meeting). One may be at the summit; another possibly on the historic trail.

5. Bike cage. A new bike cage is to be built on Parnassus Avenue outside Milberry Union, to provide bike commuters with safe storage. Three trees in the area will be preserved. UCSF has a $50K grant for this from SFMTA, and will match it with $50K of its own; vines will be grown over the front to improve its appearance.

6. The 68,500 square foot Regenerative Medicine Building (Stem Cell Research building) at the bottom of Medical Center Way is nearly ready; move-in could be in a week. It has a green roof, currently grass, but may be landscaped with other plants later. This building will have 250 people working there. UCSF has a 3.55 million square foot space ceiling for Parnassus; it was already 4% over this and planned to reduce that excess to 2%. Instead, it’s 6% over. This will have to be resolved in the new Long Range Development Plan, which will run to 2030.


Other neighbors’ concerns:

Traffic and congestion on Parnassus. Despite meetings and discussions and decisions, nothing had been implemented. Someone pointed out that unresolved issues remained from all the previous discussions and should not just be rolled over into the new Long Range Development Plan (to run to 2030).

Tree felling on Stanyan in connection with the Historic Trail opening. A number of trees have been cut down on the side of the forest behind Stanyan. Craig Dawson pointed out this was Rec and Park responsibility, and thought it might be in response to neighbors’ concerns about hazardous trees, expressed at meetings about the Historic Trail.

UCSF, plans, and the Long Range Development Plan. This is about to start now; the next meeting of the Community Advisory Group is on November 29th at 6.30 p.m. at Milberry Union.

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…]

On the street and at our feet

The pink paint marking the drains, and the broken water main a few months ago, drew attention to all the stuff that’s happening below our streets. So the other day, we wandered around with our cameras pointing at all the circles and rectangles on the sidewalk. There were a lot of them: a wealth of services beneath our feet, representing civilization, urban comfort, and the conveniences of Forest Knolls. It’s strange to think we’re only a couple of generations away from fetching water from wells, using outhouses, and lighting our nights with candles and our streets with gas.


It was an interesting mix of covers. This grating was like a piece of modern art, with the ladder reaching down to a reflective circle of water below. At first, it appeared to be a drain of some sort… but it’s got the words  PG&E and “High Voltage.”

High Voltage

Another “High Voltage” cover was more prosaic, a simple concrete rectangle.

PG&E high voltage


In fact, quite a few covers on the street were from PG&E. This manhole cover with a nice geometric design seems to be, though it’s difficult to know which cover does what. (If anyone knows, leave a comment! Or email us at


Another whole bunch were from the Water Department. (The sewer cover’s included here, though it’s actually labeled SFDPW.)

SFWD, Two covers

SFDPW sewer

The little square with holes in it is most probably a drain cover.

Scott Co (drain cover?)

But the handsomest cover on the street is a cast iron oval with the Golden Gate Bridge on it, labeled San Francisco Water Department Meter Box. Wonder when it was made? Some time in the 1950s, when Forest Knolls was built?

SFWD meter box


And then there’s the Telephones.  And the TV Cable. And  the Survey Monument, which doesn’t represent a utility but instead helps put us on the map and define the lots on which our homes are built.  And the Street Lights. And “Electrical” again, but it’s not clear what and why, though it may be connected with the Street Lights since the covers are together and next to a lamp post.

Survey Monument
Telephone (with graffiti?)
TV Cable


Street Lighting

And then there was this odd-looking pair of covers labeled PT-T. Anyone know what they are?

Pacific Telephones and Telegraph

.Edited to Add: PT-T probably stands for Pacific Telephones and Telegraphs… (see the comment to this post – Thanks, Laura).

Or why X marks the spot on this sewer-cover?

X marked sewer

Edited to Add: Just saw this — the moss has picked out “Bell System” on this cover.

After the rain, moss picks out BELL SYSTEM


Broken Water Main

SF Water Department Workers

What we first noticed was muddy water flowing in the gutter. We followed it up to a truck at the dead end of Woodhaven. It was the SF Water Department, and a water main was broken.

They had a powerful pump, attached to a hose, to suck water out of the hole they had dug in the road. It looked like it was having a hard time keeping up with the water-flow, and Woodhaven looked a bit like a stream…

pumping the water out

But they got the level down, and used a jack-hammer to expand the hole enough to reach the pipe.

It was dark by the time they found the break, but they had a powerful light to illuminate the problem. The next step would be to turn off the water and fix the leak.

One of the men explained the situation.

“See that copper pipe down there?” [You can see it in the last picture, behind the hose.] “That leads to the houses, and it’s flexible. But the mains are cast iron. They’re old. What breaks them is the cold.” Cast iron is notoriously brittle.

“The Water Department is gradually replacing them with ductile iron pipes,” he said. “It’s a good thing this happened before the rains started. If it had been raining, people would have assumed it was water from a spring, and not caught the leak.”

They continued working in the cold and drizzle.