Report: UCSF Oct 19th Meeting

We report on the UCSF October 19th meeting seeking community input into the “Fire Mitigation” project. [Italics in brackets are our comments.]

It was a well-run meeting, moderated by Daniel Iacafano of Moore Iacafano and Goltsman. Barbara French, UCSF’s Associate VC for Community Relations, opened by saying that UCSF made a mistake in rushing through the FEMA project without community involvement. They now intended to thoroughly listen to the community.

UC’s powerpoint presentation is here.

They noted that the major objections were:

(1) The “FEMA plan” was entirely different from the 2001 Plan. (This was a Plan for the management of the forest that had been developed over several years, and published in 2001. It is available on UCSF’s website here.)

(2) That the “FEMA plan” was not about fire hazard, but actually an native plant restoration plan. The proposed changes would actually increase the fire hazard.

Lori Yamauchi, Assistant VC of Campus Planning made a presentation laying out some of the key differences between the 2001 Plan for the Forest, and the FEMA plan. The key differences were (1) The 2001 plan had multiple objectives, but the FEMA plan was all about fire-hazard. She noted that the FEMA plan focused on fire-hazard because they wanted FEMA funds and that’s what it gives money for. (2) The 2001 plan called for a 2 acre demonstration plot in an inconspicuous area, while the FEMA plan is about 14 acres, a much larger area [and it’s not inconspicuous!]. (3) The 2001 plan calls for Adaptive Management, a gradual ten-year process, while the FEMA plan must be implemented within 3 years.

She also attempted to explain the fire-hazard maps submitted to FEMA that did not show a fire hazard in the project areas. [We address that separately.]

Maric Munn presented achievements to date, which included removal of all hazardous trees in areas close to housing or parking; clearing the building site for the new Stem Cell Research Building coming up behind Edgewood; and landscaping a mudslide area below Edgewood caused by a broken water pipe.

Some 200 people attended; over 40 people commented, with strong opinions on both sides of the issue, and some few in the middle. The applause indicated there were people on both sides who did not speak. The community present fell into roughly three groups: The neighbors; people representing various groups; and of course the Mt Sutro Stewards and their volunteers.

THEMES [and our comments in brackets]:

1. Everyone loves the trails. People on both sides complimented Mt Sutro Stewards on building and maintaining the trails.

2. If you love the trails, you should support the plan. This was implicit in the statements of many speakers, most notably from Nature in the City, the umbrella organization for the Mt Sutro Stewards. [Unless gutting 14 acres of forest is considered a quid pro quo for trail-building, we do not see a logical connection.]

3. A need for forest management. People who live on Stanyan, near the Interior Green Belt (which is actually not part of the Plan) felt this especially.

4. Fire-danger, pro. Some speakers did believe there was a fire hazard and were concerned about it. One had witnessed a fire some years ago, which was put out by the Fire Department.

5. Fire danger, con. Long-term residents noted they’d never seen “Hot Dry winds” in Sutro Forest (as the FEMA application suggests); that if UCSF really thought this was a fire mitigation project, they would be looking to rebuild Aldea housing with non-flammable materials, and clearing defensible spaces. They considered the fire hazard exaggerated to get FEMA money for native plant conversion. Some Plan supporters considered this justified, as a way for UCSF to get federal dollars to fund forest management even if fire danger was not an issue.

Others pointed out that a FEMA grant on these grounds would reclassify this entire area as a Very High Fire Risk instead of the Moderate risk it is now, affecting both insurance rates and home values as it would become a required disclosure.

6. The Native Garden. Many people were unimpressed by the Native Garden, dry and dead eight months of the year, and considered it a failed experiment. Some people actually like it, despite the dead plants, as an open and changing space. Someone noted that though the irrigation system is in place, it is no longer being watered. [Which may be why it appears dead 8 months of the year.]

7. Toxic chemicals. The plan calls for Roundup and Garlon to be used. A lot of people on both sides were against the toxic chemicals, and urged UC to not use them. Someone urged everyone to go online and find the Material Safety Data Sheets for Garlon. Two volunteers said there are no toxic chemicals being used in the forest at present. [Which is excellent. Of course, they are being used in the Aldea campus, which is not so excellent, and indicates UCSF would be comfortable with the use of herbicides.]

8. Environmental Impact Report (EIR). UCSF sought an exemption from environmental review in the FEMA application. The Laurel Heights case (where the neighbors sued to get and comment on an EIR, and won in the Supreme Court) was mentioned. Many people on both sides of the issue felt UCSF’s attempt to get an exemption for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was mistaken, and it should definitely get one if it intends to proceed with this project. [ETA: Barbara French sent in a clarification about this. We posted it in Comments below.]

9. The 2001 Plan. People who were involved in the 2001 Plan process were dismayed that UCSF had chosen to throw all that out, and instead just start over with the FEMA plan.

10. Trusting UCSF. A number of people present had ties, current and former, to UCSF. Many suggested UCSF had not proved trustworthy, saying one thing and going back on it, ignoring community input, and attempting to bypass legitimate processes. Others like what has happened with the forest in the last ten years (primarily trail-building) and are willing to trust UCSF on that basis.

11. Loving eucalyptus. A surprising number of people (including people supporting felling them) claimed to love eucalyptus. Someone accused Save Sutro of loving just one kind of tree. [Actually, we love all kinds of trees.]

12. Global warming. Some people raised the issue of the value of urban trees in a number of ways, including the impact on global warming.

13. Wildlife. Some speakers noted that the forest is full of nocturnal wildlife, and these would be forced into a more limited space if a quarter of the forest is severely disturbed – and into the neighborhoods.

14. Gratitude to UCSF. Many speakers expressed gratitude to UCSF for making the forest accessible to the community; and for taking a step back from this controversial plan.

15. All the speakers clearly valued the forest, no matter which side they took on the “FEMA Plan.”

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14 Responses to Report: UCSF Oct 19th Meeting

  1. Pingback: UCSF calls two meetings « Save Mount Sutro Forest

  2. Steven says:

    Good balanced assessment. My favorite part was the person who admonished people for speaking past 3 minutes and then proceeded to dole out a rambling 5 minute stream of almost incoherent ideas. Also that dude screaming into the mic about UC’s ineptitude and deception let his personal anger get in the way of a few good points. It was brutal to listen to him shout down a room of reasonable people; anything he had to say was replaced by a perception of a bitter and angry man.

    I personally like the FEMA plan but I fall into the moderate camp. I hope you folks would be willing to give in on some things in return for UCSF altering the plan to let’s say, remove the use of herbicides entirely and cut fewer trees. If either side holds a hard line and refuses to budge, there will be a lot of hard feelings, wasted money and problems.

    Since you support the Stewards so much, how’s about coming out to the next work party? Don’t worry, we won’t spike your post-work beer with garlon. 🙂

  3. webmaster says:

    (I made a minor edit to your comment to avoid name-calling.)

    I understand about looking for a compromise. The thing is, it isn’t possible in this particular situation. If this were a discussion about the best way to manage the forest (as the 2001 plan was) it would be possible, and in fact, that’s what the 2001 plan and the 2-acre “demonstration” project in an inconspicuous place, was. That compromise got over-ridden with the potential of a FEMA grant.

    Now what exists is an application to mitigate a “very severe fire-risk” that doesn’t exist, with a plan that would actually increase the fire-risk. But if it becomes a compromise gardening project, then it becomes even clearer that that’s what it is, and why would they fund that?

    In fact, already built into the application are the words: “…the intent is not to substantially reduce the amount of vegetation to be removed based on public comments.” Take a look, it’s in attachment #14 of the Edgewood FEMA application appendices.

    Thanks for the invitation to the work party. Not all the forest’s supporters are in physical shape to come out on work-parties or even drink beer (with or without Garlon), but some might take you up on it. For all you know, some may have done so already. You may have Forest-Lovers in your midst.

  4. NatureLover says:

    Steven, Garlon is used only because it is the only effective means of preventing the resprouting of the eucalyptus. Eucalypts will regenerate after removal, after fire, after die back caused by freezes because they have an underground lignotuber that is not killed. This lignotuber will live in the ground for many years (I’ve heard as many as 9 years, but I don’t have personal experience or a reliable reference, so I won’t make a claim).

    It will not be physically possible for an army of volunteers to cut back the resprouts of 3,000 trees at least once a year. If the resprouts are NOT cut back, fire hazard is increased because immature eucalypts are much more flammable than mature eucalypts, for the following reasons:

    1) The young leaves are more flammable than the mature leaves because they do not have a hard surface that protects the leaf.
    2) The young trees are more susceptible to freezes than the mature trees. Freezes cause die back that is more flammable than living plant material.
    3) The young trees have lower fire ladders, meaning that any fire on the forest floor can be carried from the floor into the tree canopy. Once the fire is in the tree canopy, it is more likely to send embers further distances, spreading the fire further and more rapidly.

    And in answer to your earlier questions about whether or not there is “fire science,” yes, there is a great deal of fire science. You can start with the CAL fire website. It’s a good resource. You can also read the letter to savesutro from David Maloney, a retired fire professional in the East Bay who has been struggling for nearly 20 years to convince people that the eucalyptus is no more flammable than most other trees and less flammable than some.

    Finally, if you have a sincere interest in learning about the properties of the eucalypts to which I refer, I suggest Doughty’s book about eucalyptus. It’s recent, comprehensive, and global.

    • Steven says:

      I don’t agree with you regarding the physical impossibility of keeping up with resprouts. Euc sprouts are much slower to grow than blackberry. We (Stewards) are doing it already on several miles of new trails and, in fact, making increasing headway against even the berry and ivy.

      So according to your argument that the smaller sprouts and trees are more fire prone, I conclude that we should be removing these smaller trees. Which incidently is consistent with the fema plan: remove the smaller trees, leave the bigger ones.

      This brings me back to the compromise issue. Instead of trees less than 12 inches in dia, let’s find middle ground and change it to, say 6-8 inches. This would keep more trees, keep in line with fema and as you said, take away the more fire prone immature trees that can cause fire ladders.

      I’m offering a realistic middle ground here that could keep in line with fema grant:
      — don’t use herbicide
      — reduce the diameter of the cuttings
      — take fewer trees overall

      That’s a major concession that would keep more fog drip, keep more moisture, keep more trees than the current fema plan. There is room for compromise, don’t shrug it off. Are you saying the UC’s meetings are simply a side-show?

      Only hardliners whose true motives are hidden wouldn’t look for an alternative that we can all live with and still get fema grant. And I mean that on both sides. I agree that nativists are covertly using this as a native plant project. Unless you’ve got a big bankroll to fight this in court (and maybe you do), we need to find the solution together. The meeting was a great start for this. This dialogue is good.

  5. NatureLover says:

    Steven,
    If UCSF were to make a written commitment not to use Garlon you might find room for compromise here. UCSF’s commitment would have to be accompanied by an understanding that they will provide the paid labor to prevent resprouting if there is not adequate volunteer labor to keep up with the task.

    And you would have to demonstrate buy-in from the nativist stewards who have a long history of using herbicides and are very committed to continuing to using them. Such buy-in would be needed to prevent “midnight” herbicide applications.

    The fact is, volunteer labor cannot be counted upon for the long term. People come and go. They move on. They lose interest. They start a new project elsewhere. The hard slog of cutting back the same vegetation repeatedly is not very appealing and it isn’t directly related to clearing trails which is the primary interest of most of the volunteers. Sorta like housework…never done.

    You say that you “don’t agree with the physical impossibility of keeping up with the euc resprouts.” This is not speculation on my part. It is based on experience with other “restorations.” Both the City’s Natural Areas Program and the East Bay Regional Parks District are engaged in large-scale restorations that have required eucalyptus removal. They both use a lot of herbicides. The City’s NAP program claims 50,000 volunteer hours annually. I can quantify the EBRPD herbicide use because they recently reported that they used 154 gallons and 20 lbs of herbicide in 2007. At the time they had removed eucs from less than 300 acres. Now they have announced that they will destroy about 900,000 eucs on 1,000 additional acres. They intend to use Garlon to prevent resprouts. Can you imagine how much Garlon that’s going to take?

    So, why don’t you ask UCSF to make a written commitment not to use Garlon and to provide paid labor if volunteer labor is not up to the task? And ask the nativist stewards to endorse UCSF’s commitment. Such a written commitment might interest the neighbors of Sutro, but I won’t presume to speak for them here. I am only a single voice, but I do appreciate any effort to find common ground.

  6. savesutro says:

    I’d like to see UCSF (and for that matter, the city) stop using Roundup and Garlon anywhere on the hills. But herbicides really aren’t the only issue. As is apparent elsewhere, this plan is full of problems: Fire risk, reality; fire-risk, perceptions and thus insurance and disclosure; fire-risk, 10-15% mitigation or x% increase; landslide risk; micro-climate and windbreak effects. And I may have missed a few.

    But quite independent of this plan, I would love to see a commitment from UCSF not to use toxic chemicals anywhere on their property. It’s used in the student housing on Aldea.

  7. Steven says:

    After seeing your response to my offer for compromise, I have begun to believe that your demands are intractable. Getting a written offer from UC to stop using herbicide on Sutro would be a reasonable concession in a compromise, as would the idea to provide paid labor if volunteer labor were not enough. (I hope that UC does pledge to stop using herbicide period; we don’t need it.)

    But then, without addressing my idea to reduce the size and number of cuttings, savesutro wrote, “But herbicides really aren’t the only issue. As is apparent elsewhere, this plan is full of problems: Fire risk, reality; fire-risk, perceptions and thus insurance and disclosure; fire-risk, 10-15% mitigation or x% increase; landslide risk; micro-climate and windbreak effects.” The reason you danced around that idea, I believe, is because your real goal is no cutting. If that’s your real goal, then there is no way you would compromise under any circumstance.

    As for getting “nativist stewards to endorse UCSF’s commitment” [to stop using herbicide], I’m not sure how this would be done logistically. There’s no organized group of nativists. Yes, there’s the Nature in City group of which a handful of stewards are members and which is loosely tied to the stewards (hosting of the steward’s website for example) but there’s no organizing body that speaks for the nativists, makes decisions for them or gives any kind of instructions or directions.

    Nativism is an ideology on an individual level with various levels of adherence. Some take an extreme viewpoint, others a more realistic viewpoint. I, for example, would want to see an overall mixture of plants, native and non-native, at Sutro within the understory of the eucalyptus. I can’t speak for anyone but myself in that regard. The Sutro Stewards contains a broad mixture of people, some of whom only care about the trails, some of whom want to both make trails and learn about and protect the native plants that do exist already, some of whom want to introduce more native plants along the trails and among the eucs (I fall into this camp), and some of whom would prefer to remove eucs for replacement with natives entirely. It’s a broad spectrum of individual viewpoint.

    Now if you want everyone who participates in the Stewards to sign a document pledging to not use herbicide, that may be possible but trying to identify who is a nativist and who isn’t, is just not possible. Suggesting that stewards would be so lacking in integrity as to perform “midnight herbicide applications,” is quite inflammatory.

    I actually think that the chances of the FEMA plan being scuttled are good. Your argument that the FEMA plan isn’t necessary because current fire risk doesn’t warrant it is probably strong enough to prevent it. Whether through public pressure or lawsuit, the opposition to FEMA plan will likely prevail in my opinion. If we revert to the original 2001 plan, I guess it’s fine with me and then UC can proceed on its original track. Reverting to the original plan will put to rest the concerns about insurance reclassification, EIR, etc. I don’t agree with your argument that managing the forest in general is unnecessary and that doing so would increase fire and landslide risks. There’s nothing further you can tell me to convince me otherwise on that point.

    As I learn more about what you want, I’ve come to believe that your claimed admiration for the Stewards is only a front to generate a perception that you support them so that they won’t oppose you. Savesutro’s tacit agreement of Dirk’s comment is telling in that regard, along with other backhanded praises posted on your site. I believe that you’d rather the Stewards didn’t exist so that they would stop changing an environment that you wish to be unchanged. I believe you fear them because they operate outside of your control, making decisions on the ground as needed. I think you view Mt. Sutro as an extension of your own property, on which you have an absolute right to determine how it will be used.

    NatureLover laid out that viewpoint quite clearly in the first comment of the Help Save Mt. Sutro Trails posting, calling for oversight of the Stewards. Saying that since the real owners of Mt. Sutro are the taxpayers, giving you a right of oversight, is really just another means of trying to gain control to get people to do what you want. If such taxpayer oversight were to exist, it would have to be democratic with each person getting an equal vote in the supervision. I assume that your permutation of such an oversight committee would not be democratic; otherwise you wouldn’t get the control that you seek.
    Note that this is my last posting on this site.

    You can rebut this post, but I won’t be back to read it or respond. I would expect you to rebut everything I just wrote because that’s what this site is for: to disseminate your viewpoint and to vigorously defend it. I personally find your information and comments to be condescending. You are never wrong, you know everything and everyone else who differs in your opinion is wrong on every point, every count, every argument. For me this is the overriding perception that turns me against you, despite the many good arguments and well thought out opinions that do exist here. It gets tiresome debating with someone who concedes nothing. I personally have no sway or influence on UC’s plan or policy so what does it matter anyway what I think? Good luck and I’ll see you on the hill.

    • webmaster says:

      Steven, I’m sorry you feel that way. Of course this website is about putting forth our viewpoint. It doesn’t conceal that. And we argue the points because we believe in them. We’ve done a lot of research.

      On your other points – just as there’s a range or opinion among the Stewards, there is among those who want to save the forest. Some love the trails; others – don’t. (Yes, I know the report on the meeting says everyone loves them. No one spoke against them there, and many spoke in favor.) As webmaster, I accept all legitimate comments. When I comment, I do so as Webmaster or Savesutro. Other comments are from other people.

      And finally, on a compromise: You don’t speak for UCSF or the Stewards; I don’t speak for the others who want to save the forest. So where’s the beef?

  8. webmaster says:

    From Barbara French, UCSF:

    In your list of THEMES from Monday’s meeting, you — under #8 — say that UCSF sought an exemption from environmental review in the FEMA application. That is not exactly right. We did not seek an exemption from environmental review, but we stated in the grant application that we thought that our CEQA documentation would likely claim exemption due to the type of project. Specifically, the grant application states that prior to grant award, UCSF will conduct environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), likely concluding that the proposed project would be Categorically Exempt under Class 4, Minor Alterations to Land. As you know, FEMA is currently conducting an environmental review of the projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After FEMA completes its environmental review, and UCSF has completed its community process, UCSF will determine the appropriate type of environmental review documentation for the projects to prepare under the California Environmental Quality Act.

    Barb

  9. NatureLover says:

    Steven says he won’t read or respond to any replies, so this is just for the record.

    Steven says, “Suggesting that stewards would be so lacking in integrity as to perform ‘midnight herbicide applications’ is inflammatory.”

    Perhaps it is, but the accusation is based on extensive experience, not speculation. The native plant advocates in San Francisco have a lengthy history of unauthorized activities, such as girdling trees (girdling is a method of killing a tree slowly) all over town. One of the most well known native plant advocates was prosecuted for girdling trees some time ago and his punishment was community service. This was documented by the Sacramento Bee. Early in this decade the public became so outraged about hundreds of these unauthorzed tree murders that the native plant advocates have stopped doing that, as far as I know. More recently they have tried to restrict bicycles to paved roads in McLaren Park although there is no park code that authorizes them to do so. They tried to close the trail into the Sutro forest from Belvedere by posting a sign on the trail, “No Public Access.” I could go on, but since I’m talking to the wall I won’t bother. Let’s just say that Steven is quite right that I do not trust the native plant advocates in San Francisco.

    Steven says, “…your claimed admiration for the Stewards…”

    Actually I have never claimed to admire the Stewards and I have not done so here on savesutro. Perhaps others do. I don’t presume to speak for them, just as Steven does not presume to speak for all stewards. As he says of the stewards, those who prefer trees to dry grassland are a diverse group with a wide range of opinions. I do not admire the Stewards because I believe that their belief in the inherent superiority of native plants is entirely mistaken, especially scientifically. I believe that their preference has been destructive and restrictive in San Francisco, particularly since they control about 25% of all city parkland in San Francisco, so the impact that they have had has been devastating to some parks.

    Steven says, “…you fear them [the stewards] because they operate outside your control, making decisions on the ground….”

    I fear them because they have been GIVEN control by people like UCSF and the City and County of San Francisco who SHOULD BE IN CONTROL, but have abrogated that control to the native plant advocates because they have demanded it. I do not expect or want control. I expect the people who are paid with my tax money to EXERCISE THAT CONTROL WITH THE NEEDS OF ALL TAXPAYERS IN MIND, not just one small group of people who have demanded it.

    Steven says, “If such taxpayer oversight were to exist, it would have to be democratic…”

    Yes, of course it would have to be democratic and if you will revisit my original post you will see that that is exactly what I suggested. At the moment, only the wishes of the stewards are being granted by UCSF. That is unacceptable to me, but it does not suggest that I expect UCSF to listen ONLY to those who are opposed to the destruction of the forest.

    Steven says, “You are never wrong, you know everything and everyone else who differs in your opinion is wrong on every count.”

    There is not one WHIT of difference between what Steven accuses us of and what he is doing himself.

    I agree with Steven about ONE THING: We WILL be successful in preventing the FEMA grant from being awarded because it is a fraudulent grant application. This project has nothing to do with fire mitigation and FEMA is capable of figuring that out, just as they did in the East Bay when UC Berkeley tried the same trick. FEMA did not award the grant to UC Berkeley. It seems very unlikely that they would make a different decision for the same project at UCSF.

    There is nothing about the existing forest that will prevent Steven from clearing trails and riding his bike in peace, without that FEMA grant. He would be wise to do so, rather than harbor resentments against those who are looking for precisely the same peace on their walks in the forest.

  10. NatureLover says:

    Barbara French, representing UCSF, says, “We did not seek an exemption from environmental review…:

    Here is a verbatim quote from UCSF’s grant application: “Prior to grant award, the University will conduct environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, likely concluding that the proposed project would be Categorically Exempt…”

    I suppose one could say this is not “seeking” a categorical exemption. Perhaps it is more of an “assumption” of a categorical exemption. This is a distinction without a difference. In any case, UCSF made it perfectly clear in their grant application that it had no intention of conducting an environmental review.

    Ms. French’s futile attempt to convince us that UCSF intended to conduct an environmental review is an example of the obfuscation that has so enraged many of the neighbors of Mr. Sutro. Such fancy footwork is just more of the same.

  11. Pingback: Herbicide Moratorium on Mt Sutro « Save Mount Sutro Forest

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