Mount Sutro Forest: The View From Cole Valley

Soon after we posted our impression of a deforested Mount Sutro viewed from the south, someone wrote to us about the views from the Eastern side, where Cole Valley and Mount Olympus and many other neighborhoods currently enjoy the view of the forest. They’d actually started a discussion with UCSF about how the forest would look after Demonstration Project # 4.

This was UCSF’s first response:

“I just wanted to briefly clarify one particular point regarding the view of the forest from private residences.  The impact on views from private residences not being considered a “significant impact” is actually one that falls under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) rather than a determination that is made by UCSF in this process.   This is the same approach that the City as well as other agencies take when approaching this issue.  We at UCSF do care about how the Open Space Reserve looks from your home, and the home of our other neighbors, but this is a CEQA requirement and not a UCSF requirement.”

So the questioner persisted, writing to UCSF as follows:

“I am wondering if the EIR [Environmental Impact Report] will include updated visuals of how the proposed changes to the Sutro Forest and/or the Interior Greenbelt will look.  To the best of my knowledge, the only visuals available are in the 2001 Mt Sutro Reserve Management Plan…”

They went on to ask:

“Does the UC systems have some sort of CEQA policy or procedures that were utilized, since a slide during the January 2011 scoping meeting mentioned a ‘UC CEQA handbook?’ If so, and if it’s public, it would interesting to explore the definition of ‘significant impact’ since it hard to envision that drastically altering a view from Tank Hill (which is under the jurisdiction of the SF Recreation and Park department and is rated as having ‘high levels of recreational use’) on Demonstration Project  #4 would not be considered as ‘significant’.”

Also, the Q&A text below is a bit difficult to understand and/or to envision – and in some ways it almost contradicts itself  (e.g., fewer trees equates to increased canopy?)  – so visuals would greatly help in making sense of this response.

Q&A response on UCSF website

After you implement the management actions, will Mount Sutro still look like a forest from my house? 

Mount Sutro will retain the look of a forested mountain because many trees will remain after thinning and the trees will become healthier. The canopy and number of leaves produced per tree will increase in those areas where the forest is thinned, thus creating areas that appear more dense. Further, on slopes in the project areas, the green covering will remain visually the same because of the healthier canopy and because the trees are staggered up the slopes, one above the other, like a step-ladder with a continuous visible canopy.

UCSF responded to say they were talking to their campus planners and would get back to him.

(The picture below shows an aerial view of Mount Sutro Cloud Forest, with the bare hills of Twin Peaks just beyond.)

This picture is to provide an easy reference. (The tall buildings at the lower edge are UCSF’s.)


Since UCSF haven’t been able to provide such an artist’s impression thus far, we thought we’d give it a try.

First, what is Demonstration Project #4?

The “East Bowl/ Corridor” is a particularly aggressive 2 acre project, high up on the mountain, in the watershed of the seasonal creek. They want to remove the understory and cut down thousands of trees for a spacing of 60 feet apart. (For reference: 60 feet is the width of a two-lane public road.) The visual objective is “More open canopy” and “small sunny meadows…” The plan is to put in native plants, so the look would presumably resemble the Native Garden on the summit.

So, will this look unchanged from Cole Valley as UCSF promises in its Q&A?

We don’t see how. The trees are large, relative to the mountain as it’s viewed from Cole Valley, so removing even a few will impact the look. And a sixty-foot spacing is wide enough for two trucks to drive through. Here’s our impression:

And for how the mountain would look if the eucalyptus-haters were to deforest the Open Space Reserve, we have an actual photograph to fall back on.


The photograph must be over 100 years old, because it shows the mountain without the trees. (Lest anyone feel we’ve overdone the brownness in the picture below: We used the actual colors of a nearby hilltop.)

What our impression doesn’t include are the UCSF buildings on the hillside: The Aldea student housing, the Chancellor’s house, a parking lot, and some low buildings used as offices now.


This picture doesn’t include any trees. If the trees in Mount Sutro Cloud Forest are thinned to a 30-60 foot spacing as planned, the entire mountain will have only 5% of the trees that are there now. Readers are invited to imagine this for themselves.

This entry was posted in deforestation, eucalyptus, Mount Sutro Stewards, nativism, Natural areas Program, UCSF and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mount Sutro Forest: The View From Cole Valley

  1. Dirk says:

    fantastic post- just what is needed for a rational assessment!

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