UCSF’s Plans

I attended a Community Action Group (CAG) meeting of UCSF last evening, mainly about their Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), 2014-2035. (It was a follow-up to the previous meetings, one of which is reported HERE.) This meeting covered three broad areas: The Space Ceiling; Parnassus Avenue Streetscape and traffic; and UCSF Shuttle bus operations. But first, an announcement, important for anyone following the Mount Sutro forest battle:

DEIR notice Jan 2012The Sutro Forest Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) will be published on Jan 18th, 2013. Then UCSF will take comments for 45 days; respond to the comments; and then they plan to certify the EIR.  There’s a meeting on February 25th, at 7 p.m. during which people can give comments and feedback. (Clicking on the thumbnail picture here will take you to a larger – and hopefully readable version of the notice.)


demos plannedIn that last article, I noted that UCSF had set itself a 3.55 mn square foot “space ceiling” in response to neighborhood anger at their expansion strategies in the 1970s. However, it shot past this space ceiling early on, and currently exceeds it by 8.2%. For many neighbors – especially those in the Inner Sunset – space ceiling compliance  is one of the most important issues.  They hoped the new LRDP would bring UCSF into compliance.

No such luck. It looks like it will actually go to as high as 9% over the limit when the existing Moffat Hospital is demolished and rebuilt, perhaps 10-12 years from now.

UC Hall, an old and historic building, was originally slated for removal. That would have reduced the excess over limit. But now they plan to convert it to a mix of housing and other uses. Since housing doesn’t come under the space ceiling, this helps – but it doesn’t actually reduce congestion and related concerns. Later, UCSF may convert UC Hall completely to student housing, thus taking it out of the calculation. They also plan a similar housing conversion for Milberry Union towers, which also will be gone from the numbers (though not from the campus).

Other minor reductions in the space ceiling will come from demolishing a bunch of small buildings, including several in the forest, and three blocks of student housing in Aldea campus. I’m finding this counter-intuitive. The main congestion impact is down in the Inner Sunset, so UCSF is demolishing buildings in the lightly-trafficked Sutro Forest, and adding housing along Parnassus?

Anyway, by a combination of housing conversions and minor demolitions, they expect to end 2035 at only 5% over the space ceiling, compared with 8.2% now. The map above shows the actual demolitions in turquoise; the pink buildings will either be demolished and rebuilt, or converted to housing. One building, Proctor, is undecided; it could be made Open Space, or converted to housing.

UCSF are also considering giving up their Laurel Heights space and co-locating those functions at Parnassus or Mission Bay (or both).


The people numbers – which were originally supposed to be limited to 13,400 average daily population and then to 16,000 – is already at around 18,000. According to the forecast, it will rise to 18,500-18,900 in 2035. Members of the CAG were rather skeptical about this number.

In addition to construction and changes in use in the buildings along Parnassus, they plan to remodel the road itself to make it more pedestrian-friendly and give it a stronger sense of place. Better sidewalks and a huge cross-walk are in the plans. The tree plan involves removing some 60 trees that are hazardous or “poor quality” and planting around 70. They will also evaluate the redwood grove at Parnassus and 7th at some later date, if they haven’t removed it during their construction work first.

There was also a discussion of shuttle-bus operations, the upshot being that they may be better able to match demand (peak demand exceeds number of trips on some routes, but doesn’t match capacity on others) and supply.

If you want more details, UCSF has its website for the LRDP HERE.

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 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:


“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…

Night Walk with Fog and Dog

It was late for a walk last night, and the fog had wrapped our neighborhood in its soft blanket. Yet the night called me, and out I went.

It was magical. The fog softened and dispersed the light of the streetlamps. As I walked up by the forest, I could hear the rain… except it was dry where I stopped on the sidewalk. In the forest, the trees made their own rain from the fog, and it pattered onto the leaves of the understory like a heavy shower. This is the Cloud Forest effect. Under the eaves of the forest, the cloud-rain was heavy enough to flow down the street and into the gutter. Inside the forest, the undergrowth and the duff absorbed it all. (If you walk in the forest — be prepared for mud on some of the interesting trails.)

It was late enough that I shouldn’t have expected anyone to be out there. But I’d have been wrong. In 30 minutes, I encountered 4 people, all walking dogs. As I said once in a post, the dogs of Forest Knolls make us all safer. Paws on the street mean eyes on the street.

Copyright and Sutro Stewards

As some of you already know, I received a letter from a major law firm on behalf of Sutro Stewards whose  Executive Director  is Craig Dawson. (It was actually for San Francisco Parks Trust and Sutro Stewards.) It said two things: First, that I had defamed Craig Dawson and the Sutro Stewards; second, that I had violated copyright on two maps.  Most the of the allegations pertained to another website, www.sutroforest.com, which is a website fighting for Sutro Forest.

(Anyone who is interested can find my discussion of their allegations here.)

However, the copyright issue touches this website via a map I published in my post on hiking in the forest.  I believe the map I used was based on one that was non-copyright. Nevertheless, I have taken down the map. For now, I’ve provided a link to a trail map; later I’ll add back a map for readers of the post to reference. [ETA: I’d also used it to explain what UCSF plans to do with the forest. That’s also been removed for now and will be replaced later.]


The Letter said I had violated a Sutro Steward copyright.

This was confusing on several levels.

1.  The map I used was distributed at a meeting called by Rec & Park. Rec & Park circulated it as Exhibit B of a memo for an agenda item before the Parks Commission, cropped exactly as described above. It carried no copyright information or attribution. [ETA: This memo can be obtained from Rec & Park under the Sunshine law. Anyone can get a copy.]

Did Rec & Park steal the map without the Sutro Stewards’ knowledge? No. The minutes show that both Craig Dawson and Ben Pease were at the hearing and were thus fully aware of how it was being used. In fact, Craig Dawson is mentioned in the memo under “People to Contact.” (Maybe one of them actually provided the map to Rec & Park?)

In my understanding, this has the effect of making it non-copyright: It is part of a memo prepared by a Rec & Park employee, whose (official) work cannot generally be copyright; and it wasn’t attributed to any other source. That’s why I felt free to use and make derivative maps as the Letter described.

2. How was it ever owned by Sutro Stewards? The copyright of even the original map is owned by Ben Pease and Pease Press. (That’s what the Letter says, I don’t know because the map I’ve been using has no copyright info.) While I believe Ben is a member of the Sutro Stewards, he is an independent entity.  Did Ben Pease assign his copyright to Sutro Stewards? If so, shouldn’t the Letter mention it? If not, why isn’t it Ben Pease writing to me through his lawyer (or directly), instead of the Sutro Stewards through their lawyer?

3. So why did I take down the map? Well, I enjoy a discussion of copyright issues, but honestly, this is trivial. If it makes them happy, I’m okay with removing it. The map made the post easier to understand, and so I’ll look to replace it; but it wasn’t crucial to its value. The idea of that post was to share how to visit the forest, and I think it still does that.

And — I’d like to put in a plug for Pease Press Cartography.  The Sutro Trail map (a PDF file) isn’t the only map he has on his site. If you’re a hiker, check out his trail map of the whole city. It’s the kind of amazing, a local business based on one person’s cartographic skills. Even the name is cool, and he has a really delightful logo… look out for it.

[I’d welcome comments here — just bear in mind they’re moderated and won’t show for a few hours or even a day. Or of course by e-mail at fk94131 at yahoo dot com.]

Forest Knolls Postcards

One of our neighbors, Lulu Carpenter, sent me a bunch of photographs she took on a walk around Forest Knolls. I was struck by two things. First, how much they resembled picture postcards. Any casual view seems to have a scenic quality to it.  Second,  how much the forest determines the character of our area — the look and feel and scent and sound  — especially since, unlike Cole Valley or Forest Hill, we have hardly any street trees.










Medical Center Way closed 26 & 27 Nov 2010

UCSF has sent out a notice that the newly re-opened Medical Center Way (i.e. the pretty Sutro Forest short-cut from  Clarendon to Parnassus) will close for two days.  From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 26th and 27th November, the road will be blocked to traffic to allow heavy machinery through. They plan to re-open the road that Sunday morning. (In the map below, the green line indicates Medical Center Way.)

UCSF is removing 11 trees from the Western end of the new Regenerative Medicine Building (the “Stem Cell Research Building”). That’s the blue circle in the map above. The trees have been declared hazardous.









[Edited to Add Follow-up]

The trees have been removed; the road is open. Here are the Before and After pictures:

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.]