Dr Singer’s letter to the Chancellor UCSF

This letter was received from Dr Morley Singer.


Chancellor Michael Bishop, UCSF, July, 2009

Dear Chancellor Bishop,

I am writing you at the suggestion of your associates, Barbara French and Deborah Brennan, following phone conversations with them expressing the concerns of the neighborhoods around UCSF about the attempt to cut down many of the large healthy trees in 14 acres of Sutro Forest. This large-scale destruction is to be funded by a FEMA grant application and also by UCSF directly. Ms. Brennan and French have assured me this letter will come to your attention.

I will briefly introduce myself as a friend of UCSF, having taken my Residency training in Anesthesia there, and serving as a Research Fellow in the CVRI under Dr. John Severinghaus (who also suggested I write you.)

I was on the UCSF Faculty for 10 years and created and directed the first Intensive Care Unit for Moffitt Hospital. I write this as one of the many neighbors strongly opposed to the tree removal project and as an alumnus with serious concern for the potential adverse publicity for UCSF.

1. The UCSF Grant Application is a thinly disguised effort by native plant advocates (who regard eucalyptus trees as ‘foreign weeds’) to destroy the trees and replace them with ‘native‘ plants— shrubs and grasses. They use the threat of fire as a justification for FEMA funding. (Note that UCSF’s 72-page 2001 Management Plan for Mt. Sutro barely mentions fire as a concern.)

The grant application contains much incorrect and misleading information. We have carefully reviewed the application and would be happy to provide you with detailed evidence of inaccuracies.

2. Major concerns expressed by the neighborhood include:

  • Extensive tree cutting is likely to actually increase the fire danger.
  • The trees act as a windbreak protecting the homes east of the forest from wind driven fires.
  • The trees pull down the fog and keep the forest damp, decreasing the threat of fire.
  • The native grasses that would be planted are highly flammable.
  • The area is not rated as a high-risk fire zone.
  • There has not been a serious fire on Mt. Sutro in the last 100 years.
  • The literature of fire protection agencies does not even mention destroying forests. There are simpler methods to decrease the fuel load.

These methods are widely practiced and endorsed by State agencies.

  • In order to prevent re-growth of the eucalyptus trees, the plan calls for repeated applications of “Roundup”, a herbicide whose toxicity is gaining increased attention.
  • Large- scale tree removal adversely effects water drainage and soil stability.
  • Large -scale tree removal may cause catastrophic failure of the remaining trees.
  • The native plants previously introduced on the summit of Mt. Sutro have required an extensive and expensive irrigation system. There is no plan to pay for another such system, its maintenance, and the extensive water consumed.
  • Fewer trees means less absorption of carbon dioxide, directly counter to the entire country’s approach to global warming.
  • The loss of trees would adversely affect birds and other wildlife.
  • The forest is a unique physical and aesthetic asset contributing to the quality of life of many. Most environmental organizations favor having more trees in urban environments, not removing them..

We would be happy to present supporting detail on each of these items. This is not necessarily a complete list.

  1. Most unfortunately, UCSF Communications with the neighborhood have been devious, biased, misleading and lacking in truth and candor. At a public meeting in May UCSF’s Orlando Elizondo’s statement of intending to listen to the community was met with jeers and laughter. Non UCSF native plant advocates were invited to make formal presentations. A totally biased presentation by UCSF was set up to make it appear the plan was approved and fait accompli and the work would start shortly. This was seen as an attempt to discourage opposition. The Grant has not yet been awarded.

So, in addition to having opposing views, the neighborhoods are emotionally hostile and have lost confidence and trust in UCSF communications and future actions.

4: Current Activities of the neighborhood to oppose the plan include:

  • Organizing the various neighborhoods around UCSF to coordinate actions. We have a mailing list and a website.
  • Contact with city-wide media to inform the general population.
  • Contact with California legislators. Assembly-person Fiona Ma is already actively assisting us.
  • State Senator Leland Yee has criticized the basic concepts of the native plant program quite harshly in the past.
  • Contact with city Supervisors and the Mayor’s office.
  • We are in communication with FEMA officials expressing our strong concerns.

We have no objection to planting native plants. But the destruction of 14 acres of Sutro Forest would remove 25% of the forest, with multiple adverse effects and no benefits. It is an experiment that would not get past the ethics committee at UCSF if humans were involved. It would be an environmental and aesthetic disaster for the surrounding neighborhoods and the city. It would be a public-relations disaster for UCSF.

We would be pleased to meet with you in person to discuss this further and to answer any questions. I understand your imminent stepping away from your position as Chancellor, and I imagine a happy return to the laboratory. I plead with you in all sincerity to address this issue. It is not too late to head off its potentially adverse effects. In the Chancellor’s residence you have undoubtedly appreciated the unique environment of Sutro forest. It would be a fine legacy to preserve it.

Morley M. Singer, M.D.

177 Belgrave Ave., San Francisco, CA 94117

Tel: 566-1371 or 209-753-2115

Email: mzinger1@comcast.net

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