Report on Urban Forestry Council Meeting

Summary: The Urban Forestry Council was unaware of the UCSF plan until it received a letter from concerned neighbors. This meeting was to find out more. Five members of the public spoke: Three residents of the Forest Knolls neighborhood; one member of the Mt Sutro Stewards organization that has been opening up trails to make the mountain more accessible; and a resident of the Cole Valley neighborhood. The steward was in favor of the plan; the neighbors stated their objections.

Council members were disturbed that UCSF had not kept them informed, and wondered about the ecological ramifications. The Council Chair, noting that the Council was an advisory body, invited detailed comments, and then said they would take this up again later when UCSF could make a presentation.

Detailed report below.

A group of Forest supporters attended the San Francisco Urban Forestry Council meeting on June 23rd ’09. The Chair, Terry Milne, moved Mt Sutro plan to the first discussion item on the agenda. The Council knew nothing of the UCSF Plan until they got the letter of objection from the neighborhood group. This meeting was to gather information.

A council member had contacted UCSF, which could not make a presentation at short notice but gave her the following information. (1) UCSF does not yet have a defined plan, so the numbers and areas mentioned in the UCSFpublic meeting are not necessarily accurate. (2) UCSF is very concerned about the feedback from its neighbors. (3) UCSF wishes to create a contact list of people to keep informed.

Another council member pointed out that it was absurd that UCSF did not approach the Council prior to this over such a major action, when a much less important matter – art in the pollarded trees outside City Hall – generated so much debate. The Chair then invited public comments.

Speaker #1, a resident of Forest Knolls neighborhood (FKN) , outlined the Plan as described in the UCSF letter to neighbors and in the UCSF May 09 meeting at St John’s Armenian Church. She then pointed out that as a cloud forest, the Sutro Forest was damp year-round, with deep impenetrable undergrowth – in contrast to the dryness of areas like Twin Peaks. The Plan would raise fire danger, making the forest more open, drier, and with a high fuel load of wood chips and logs. She also mentioned environmental impacts, including threats to wildlife, which had not been studied.

Speaker #2, also a FKN resident, pointed out that this is a historic forest and a city treasure. Destroying it would be like, say, knocking down Coit Tower. The debate should involve not just the immediate neighborhood but the whole city. He also said that if there was indeed a fire-danger, then there were less expensive and less damaging ways to mitigate it . However, he thought that the fire danger was overstated.

Speaker #3 said he had been a Mt Sutro Steward for three years and was involved in opening up trails on the mountain, giving wider access to hikers, dog-walkers, and mountain-bikers. He felt that the fire danger was real because he had seen deep dry duff on the west side of the mountain where he was removing blackberry undergrowth. He said UCSF had come to realize that not managing the forest was not tenable because of liability issues.

Speaker #4 said she lived below the forest and it was a beautiful and wonderful sight. She was concerned not only with the esthetic impacts of the “plan” but also the chemical component of it. Roundup or other herbicides would be required in quantity to prevent resprouting of felled eucalyptus, and this would inevitably be washed down the mountain into the watershed and the neighborhoods. She pointed out that most of the plan’s proponents seemed to be supporters of native plants. The plan seemed to be to replace the felled trees with some native ones, but that native trees had failed to take hold anywhere this had been tried in the city, and invasive weeds took over instead.

Speaker #5 lives on the eastern side of the forest. He emphasized that what the neighbors want there is a forest, not a native plant garden, not a park, but a forest. He considered the fire danger to be greatly overstated. He has lived in the neighborhood since 1974, and there has never been a significant fire. Cal Fire lists the fire danger as moderate, their lowest rating. The fire mitigation plan was a ruse to remove the trees and introduce native plants. He compared this to the effort some years ago on Tank Hill, where a lot of eucalyptus trees were chopped down; the few that remain were protected by concerted community action. Since then, they have tried to plant oaks. Of the 40 or so planted, only 6 remain in uncertain condition.

A Council member asked if this project was about fire mitigation or other issues like native plants.

Speaker #3 said it was only about fire mitigation.

Speaker #1 said at the May meeting she attended, the meeting kicked off with a presentation from a native plants supporter with slides from the Native Garden on the summit. The UCSF officials present sometimes deferred questions to the native plant supporters. This left her with a distinct impression that the two issues were inter-related.

Speaker #3 said she was wrong, it’s only about fire mitigation.

A council member said she was concerned, if this was a cloud forest with deep duff, there may be a whole complex ecosystem in there that has not been studied.

The Chair wrapped up by saying the next step would be for UCSF to make a presentation about this to the Council, and then for the discussions to continue. He expected this to happen in the next month or the month following, and then the Council would bring its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor. He considered that this was an issue affecting the whole city, and not just the district in which the forest is located.

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One Response to Report on Urban Forestry Council Meeting

  1. Neff Rotter says:

    Excellent summary of the meeting. You might also add that the Chair made it clear that the council was only advisory, having no real sway over the Board of Supervisors.

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