Report: UCSF’s Public Hearing Strongly Favors Preserving Sutro Forest

This is a quick post reporting on UCSF’s Feb 25th hearing. We’ll update it as necessary from the transcript and notes. [Edited to Add: Post updated to put in actual numbers of speakers and add two themes.]

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Around 250 people came to the meeting, and 47 55 people actually spoke. Speakers were limited to 2 minutes each, but even so, the hearing ran from 7 p.m. to 9.15 p.m. Sentiment ran more than 2:1 against UCSF’s tree-felling plan.  The crowd clapped and cheered in support of the points the speakers made. Though UCSF held this public hearing as a legality, it clearly became a platform for people to express their opinions about the actual project. [Updated to correct number of people speaking. Over 70% favored preserving the forest.]

Lori Yamauchi was the Hearing Officer, and she needed to take comments about the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), but could not respond. (They would be addressed later, in writing.) Written comments have the same weight as oral ones, and if you would like to comment on the DEIR, please write before March 19th. (Details on how you can help are HERE.)

UCSF did take the opportunity to distribute flyers asserting that they had no plans to cut down 30,000 trees – essentially the same material we addressed in our last post, HERE.  We did the same, distributing our flyers to everyone in the room.

UCSF Public Hearing on Sutro Forest feb 2013

THEMES AND CONCERNS

Some of the themes addressed (we may update or expand this section later):

  • The appeal of Sutro Forest as an untamed forest. People love the forest, and the unexpected wildness in the heart of the city. These were comments that spoke to the sense of wonder and magic, even a sense of emotional and spiritual connection. They recalled childhood games in the forest, decades ago. Some spoke of the wildlife in the forest habitat. They were all dismayed at the thought that thousands of trees would be felled.
  • How many trees? Some commenters were concerned about the extent of the planned tree-cutting, though they wouldn’t have objected to removing a few selected trees as part of a management plan. UCSF’s statement about not having a plan to cut down 30,000 trees didn’t convince them because that’s what the DEIR implied. One person suggested that UCSF needed to supply its own number if it did not agree with this estimate. There were also concerns about the Demonstration Projects (which we estimate will cost 3,000 trees) and whether they were demonstrations at all or actual implementation.
  • Herbicides. People objected to UCSF changing its no-pesticides policy on Mount Sutro. They were unconvinced by the DEIR’s promise to use herbicides in small quantities; once it started, usage might expand. Some strongly preferred the zero-pesticide solution. One person mentioned the sense of threat to his young children and his pregnant wife.
  • Fire Hazard. There were mixed views on the reality of the fire hazard. Some felt that it was overstated, and that the Plan would actually raise the risk by drying the forest – which is currently damp year-round – and encouraging the growth of flammable fuels like grasses and shrubs. A statement from a professional ecologist who is familiar with the forest declared this to be true. [ETA: Read his whole statement HERE.] Others felt that there was indeed a fire hazard, though no one addressed the issue of how the Plan would reduce such a hazard.
  • Adverse effects. Some speakers addressed potential adverse effects of the planned felling, including the likelihood of rockslides as the root systems died, (as has happened at the Presidio) and the increased wind on all sides of the mountain. An additional concern was that the wind would not just be unpleasant for people, but would also cause “windthrow” and destroy even more trees.
  • Environmental impacts. Some speakers noted the effect of cutting down thousands of trees on carbon sequestration, especially in the context of global warming; and on pollution control. “Every tree counts,” said several speakers. [Updated.]
  • Does the Forest need management at all? Opinion was strongly divided on whether management is needed, and if so, how much. Some consider the forest self-regulating, and wanted it left alone. Others believe it needs aggressive management, and they support UCSF’s plan. A few thought it needed some management, but that the current plan was too drastic.
  • “Native” Plants. Many speakers noted that it’s not right to dismiss eucalyptus trees for being non-native; we are all non-native, as are the buildings. Some pointed out that Native Plant restorations don’t make successful gardens; most native plants die after they’re planted. Glen Canyon and the Presidio were noted as unfortunate examples. [Update]
  • Historical context? One speaker pointed out that Sutro Forest was a historic forest with landmark designation, and this would imply restoration – replanting the forest with the same species of tree as the ones removed. Another speaker said that it had been logged or thinned at various times, and this would be a similar activity.
  • Cumulative impacts. The DEIR doesn’t consider the cumulative actions of cutting down thousands of trees, when SF Recreation and Parks Dept is also felling thousands of trees, both as part of the Native Areas Program and tree-removal for other reasons, as is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This will result in very significant impacts that are not considered. [Update]
  • Genesis of the Plan and UCSF’s reasons.  Some speakers wanted to know who in UCSF initiated the plan and was driving it. Craig Dawson, Executive Director of the Sutro Stewards, held up a copy of the 2001 Plan, and said the whole DEIR grew out of that plan. He also noted the Stewards built trails in the forest. (Others said there always had been trails that they used well before the Stewards got involved; but it is true that the Stewards have improved many of the trails, and maintain all of them.) A couple of speakers questioned why UCSF was involved in this exercise at all, and implied there were financial incentives or real-estate possibilities.
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