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.”