September 4, 2015

Questions and answers about vegetation management for fire safety in the East Bay hills

Given the very serious drought conditions facing California, combined with longer and more serious wildfire seasons due to climate disruption, it’s more important than ever to prioritize fire prevention in our vegetation management strategies for the East Bay hills. For decades, the Sierra Club has worked closely with fire experts, public officials, fire fighters, and fellow environmental groups like the Audubon Society, the California Native Plant Society, and the Claremont Conservancy to design an ecologically- and fiscally-sustainable model for fire management that not only reduces the risk of fires, but also promotes diverse and healthy ecosystems. This strategy entails removing flammable, ember-generating species like eucalyptus in phases — and only in select areas considered most at risk for fire along the urban-wild interface — so that less flammable natives can reclaim those areas and allow a rebound of biodiversity.

The Sierra Club’s program for vegetation management can summarized as the “Three R’s”:

  1. Remove the most flammable non-native plant species in select areas considered most at risk for fire along the urban-wild interface of the East Bay hills;
  2. Restore those areas with more naturally fire-resistant native trees like bays, oaks, laurels, and native grasslands; and
  3. Re-establish greater biodiversity of flora and fauna, including endangered species like the Alameda whipsnake.

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about this preferred strategy for the care and management of vegetation in the East Bay hills. We hope this document can help correct these misunderstandings and help build support for an approach that would reduce fire risk, encourage healthy ecosystems, and reduce the financial burden on taxpayers.

How did non-natives like eucalyptus get here in the first place?

Non-native eucalyptus trees were introduced to the East Bay hills in the late 1800s by two Oakland businessmen who forested the hills with eucalyptus plantations for hardwood lumber production. The brittle wood proved unsuitable for lumber, however, and the plantations were abandoned and allowed to spread throughout the hills, overwhelming native species and changing the nature of the ecosystem. The result is groves of highly flammable invasives, which can become densely packed at 400 to 900 trees per acre, and can exceed 120 feet in height, with a tendency to dramatically explode when on fire.

What covered the hills before these non-natives were introduced?

Before the introduction of non-natives like eucalyptus and Monterey pines, the East Bay hills were a mix of chaparral grasslands and riparian vegetation along streams. Native plants adapted to the local climate over millennia to be drought tolerant and low consumers of water. Natives are also naturally more fire resistant.

Are eucalyptus and Monterey pines a greater hazard than native vegetation?

Yes! Eucalyptus and Monterey pines can leave up to 50 tons of flammable fuel on the ground per acre, as well as deep duff and dense eucalyptus- and pine-seedling growth within and around the grove. This compares with one to five tons of fuel per acre in grasslands, native live oak groves, and bay forest. A study conducted by the US Forest Service found that a mature eucalyptus forest in the Berkeley hills contains 8.23 tons per acre of litter while an oak-bay woodland contains a mere 1.71 tons per acre.

Eucalyptus branches, leaves, and bark slough off in long pieces that end up draped on one another, creating a near-optimal mixture of oxygen and fuel. The smooth, aerodynamic bark provides a way for fire to climb into the tree canopy and send burning material aloft. Dead debris can also become suspended between branches, creating a nearly continuous arrangement of fuels — horizontally and vertically.

In Australia, eucalyptus trees are sometimes referred to as “gasoline trees” for their tendency to quickly spread explosive fires. Eucalyptus leaves contain enough oil that it is sold as a product in some countries. The leaves have three times the energy of cellulose, so they burn hotter. Blue gum eucalyptus leaves release volatile chemical gases at relatively low temperatures and ignite easily.

What happens when a eucalyptus catches on fire?

Groves of eucalyptus trees create fuel ladders that spread rapidly into the canopy. When wind-driven wildfire reaches eucalyptus tree crowns, it can spur flames that reach over 150 feet into the air, with burning embers blowing downwind beyond a half mile. Eucalyptus embers also stay lit longer than embers from other vegetation. In contrast, native plants generally grow below 40 feet in height and are more easily controlled in the case of a wildfire.

Do climate disruption and changing weather patterns contribute to fire risk?

Yes. Unfortunately, climate disruption means that the conditions that lead to wildfires are much more common. Temperatures are rising and we’re getting less rain, which means that wildfires are more frequent and more damaging, and wildfire season is longer.

Why can’t we just thin the eucalyptus and other non-natives?

Thinned eucalyptus with understory cleared

Thinned eucalyptus with understory cleared

While thinning the eucalyptus and Monterey pine plantations seems like an appealing compromise, in reality it compounds the problem. Thinning actually denudes hillsides to an even greater extent than removing them altogether, because in order to keep the hills fire safe, it requires regular, wholesale clearing of the understory and hanging debris — including native vegetation. This has to happen on an ongoing basis for the life of the remaining eucalyptus. Then, as trees die, they must be cut down and removed to prevent accidents. Thinning means that the hills will end up being a monoculture with a bare understory — a situation that will not support diverse ecosystems including endangered species.

Won’t removing the non-natives leave a barren landscape?

Restored native vegetation in Redwood Park

Restored native grassland prairie and fuel break in Redwood Park

Quite the opposite. Hidden among the eucalyptus and Monterey pine plantations are native oaks, bays, and willows that are struggling to survive under the canopy. These native species cannot grow to full size beneath the canopy of eucalyptus and Monterey pines.

Oaks, bays, and other native trees present under eucalyptus or pine canopies should be saved during non-native removal. Once non-natives are removed, the natives can get the sunlight and water they need to grow and thrive.

Will every eucalyptus in the East Bay hills be removed?

Not at all. Only the eucalyptus in the areas most at-risk for fire and at the urban-wild interface would be removed. Thousands of acres of eucalyptus would remain under this model for vegetation management.

Has the restoration of native landscape been done successfully in our hills?

Restored native vegetation in Claremont Canyon

Restored native vegetation in Claremont Canyon

Yes! When the eucalyptus trees on the south side of Claremont Avenue were removed by the University of California, Berkeley and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, it did not take long for the native trees and shrubs to flourish and become a beautiful native landscape. Drive up Claremont Avenue to Signpost 29. To the right, looking south, is the restored native landscape that was once a eucalyptus forest. Turn and face the opposite direction and you will see the dense forest of eucalyptus suckers that sprouted after the 1972 freeze. Look closer and you will find native bays, oaks, and willows hidden in the eucalyptus shadows.

How do you prevent the eucalyptus from growing back?

Herbicide application on eucalyptus stump

Herbicide application on eucalyptus stump

Simply cutting down the eucalyptus trees doesn’t solve the problem. Unless the stumps are disabled, multiple stems or “suckers” will quickly sprout, producing several new trees where only one existed previously. There are various methods to prevent eucalyptus stumps from sprouting, and the Sierra Club does not endorse any particular method. The agencies that manage the land must weigh the costs and benefits of all options in order to find the most sustainable and responsible approach.

If an herbicide is used, a minimal amount would be hand applied by licensed professionals under strict controls. The Sierra Club expects herbicide application protocols to have undergone a full environmental review to restrict impacts on wildlife and habitat.

Read more about herbicide use here.

What happens to the eucalyptus and pine trees once they are felled?

The tree trunks and branches are ground into chips. The chips themselves decompose and disintegrate rapidly. Fire professionals agree that they do not impose anywhere near the fire hazard of the standing trees.

How does this approach measure up in terms of costs?

Costs of maintaining eucalyptus

Costs of maintaining eucalyptus

The approach endorsed by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups is the most cost-effective strategy in the long term. Merely thinning the non-native trees would burden taxpayers with hundreds of millions of dollars in future maintenance costs. Over a period of 20 to 40 years, the costs of regular thinning of non-natives and debris removal can be conservatively estimated at around $250 million. These long-term costs would force agencies like the City of Oakland and the East Bay Regional Park District to levy fire-maintenance taxes as high as $200 per household in the East Bay — or else defer maintenance and risk a deadly and destructive fire. On the other hand, once established, native plant communities are much cheaper to maintain.

Remains of the 1991 East Bay hills fire. Photo courtesy of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services Flickr account.

Remains of the 1991 East Bay hills fire. Photo courtesy of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Flickr account.

Remember that wildfires are incredibly expensive, both in terms of lives and money. The 1991 East Bay hills fire destroyed over 3,450 homes, killed 25 people, and injured 150 others. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that the fire cost $3.9 billion in present-day dollars. Given these stakes, it’s critical to employ the most effective fire-management strategy, and that entails the removal of the highly flammable non-natives.

What about wildlife and endangered species?

The restoration of native vegetation creates healthier ecosystems and promotes greater biodiversity. As the California Native Plant Society wrote in its letter of support for the Sierra Club’s position on fuels management in the East Bay hills, “We recognize the importance of native plant communities and native plant habitats, in the intricate and complex web of life that is our natural world. Our locally evolved flora supports a rich palette of interconnected life, from the insect world to birds, amphibians and reptiles, mammals, fungi, etc.”

The endangered Alameda whipsnake. Photo courtesy the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Flickr account.

The endangered Alameda whipsnake. Photo courtesy the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Flickr account.

Restoration of native vegetation also provides an opportunity for the return of endangered species like the Alameda whipsnake. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion calls for the restoration of whipsnake habitat through the removal of the eucalyptus and restoration of native habitat. Eucalyptus and pine groves, even thinned, do not provide habitat for the endangered whipsnake, and the East Bay hills provide prime habitat areas for this endangered species — but only if the invasive non-natives are removed.

Have more questions?

Don’t hesitate to reach out! Call the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter office at 510-848-0800 or

Feds prevail on taking street in Alameda — Fight to expand park at Crab Cove continues in the courts

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

McKay Avenue, the street leading to the popular Crab Cove Visitors’ Center at Alameda’s Crown Memorial State Beach, used to house a roller coaster before it became a street.  It is living up to its legacy.  In recent years the battle over the street, and what will become of the surplus federal property at the end of it, has had its ups, downs, twists and turns.

The roller coaster ride began when the federal General Services Administration (GSA) held a public auction to obtain the highest price for the vacant surplus land at the end of McKay Avenue. Next the city zoned the parcel residential, which led to a lawsuit against the city by the East Bay Regional Park District. A citizens’ initiative then rezoned the parcel as open space, and the park district dropped its suit.

GSA meanwhile used eminent domain to seize the street from the state to gain utility access rights for its surplus property. The state and the park district cried foul and tried to reverse the taking in federal court.

The Sierra Club supported the successful citizens’ initiative and has voiced its opposition to the eminent domain action by lobbying federal officials for assistance.

In order to take the state-owned street, which is owned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, GSA had to prove that the taking qualifies as a “public use.” Gaining unfettered access to the utilities under the street would allow GSA to transfer that access to a nongovernmental entity in a possible future real estate sale.

The state Attorney General and the East Bay Regional Park District argue, among other things, that GSA should not be permitted to take property when no plan exists that lets the courts measure if the taking is related to a public purpose.

The district court judge suggested, and the parties agreed, to have him summarily decide the matter so that a panel of judges at the federal court of appeals could review it. The facts of this case are unprecedented.
On June 12, the judge issued his ruling, saying GSA has the right to take the street.

Making the federal land adjacent to McKay Avenue more valuable for sale serves a public purpose, according to District Court Judge William Alsup. “GSA’s authority to dispose of surplus property includes condemnation of property necessary or proper to secure marketable title in the property to be disposed,” he wrote. GSA has the right to “clear up the problem of access” before it seeks a buyer, his order said.

Upon learning at a court hearing that it would take a vote of the people to overturn the open space zoning, Judge Alsup inquired whether the entire issue was a “moot exercise.” He said it was the state’s best argument and noted that open-space zoning reduces the likelihood that a developer would ever want to purchase the property. He nonetheless ruled that GSA “is entitled to clear up this thicket of problems one at a time.”

Court documents, however, reveal that the taking of the street may be more than just a hypothetical exercise. While the taking was premised on the “continuing operation” of the remainder of the federal buildings located on McKay Avenue, the future of those buildings, and the lots on which they sit, is uncertain.

The current lessee on the remaining three acres of federal property along McKay Avenue — the U.S. Department of Agriculture — plans to move out of its offices in 2016 to property it owns in Albany. GSA has spent about $3 million to consolidate and upgrade the McKay Avenue offices and does not know if all the federal property on McKay will be sold, court documents show.

The East Bay Regional Park District has repeatedly expressed interest in buying the vacant surplus property to expand the park at Crab Cove. It is unclear when, if ever, GSA will sell the open space parcel to the park district.

“We are disappointed that the United States [GSA] continues to prosecute this action in spite of the desire of the citizens of Alameda that this property be dedicated as parklands,” said Robert E. Doyle, the park district’s general manager. “We believe the taking of public parklands for private development is bad public policy.” The board of directors “is evaluating the court’s ruling,” said Doyle.

Hang tight. The roller coaster ride isn’t over. The state Attorney General and the regional park district have 60 days to file an appeal.

The issue of fair compensation for the taking of the street is scheduled to go to trial in the fall of this year. GSA has previously said McKay Avenue was worth $1.

— Irene Dieter

Update on efforts to limit parking and congestion in popular Muir Woods

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

On June 30, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Park Service to deal with parking and congestion problems at Muir Woods National Monument. The MOU provides that the County will limit parking along Muir Woods Road adjacent to the Monument to 80 spaces by June 1, 2016. The Park Service will implement a reservation system to limit visitors to the Park within two years, partner with Marin Public Transit to increase public transit to the Park, and provide additional parking enforcement. In addition, there will be interim storm-water-management measures to reduce potential impacts from roadside parking along Redwood Creek, which contains endangered salmonids.

The Sierra Club has expressed support for both the reduced parking and reservation system. It has also urged that a “carrying capacity” study should be undertaken for the Monument.

The Muir Woods MOU was drafted by the National Park Service and County Supervisors, along with a stakeholders group chaired by Congressman Jared Huffman. The County approved a categorical exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for its parking project. The National Park Service will still be subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.

On June 26, the Mount Tam Task Force (MTTF) sent Marin County a “notice of intent to sue” letter for violating the federal Endangered Species Act by failing to protect local coho and steelhead populations.  MTTF asks that mitigation be brought in line with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife recovery guidelines.

Muir Woods issues are being closely watched by the San Francisco Bay Chapter Federal Parks Committee. For further information on the Committee, contact Alan Carlton, Chair, at

— Alan Carlton

Sierra Club files suit to protect East Bay hills from fire risk

The Sierra Club and the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund (SPRAWLDEF) have filed suit over plans by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund a vegetation-management program in the East Bay hills that would increase fire hazards, threaten endangered species and native wildlife, and increase the financial burden on taxpayers.

“The best way forward is to promote native vegetation that is less flammable and encourages healthy ecosystems and greater biodiversity,” said Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter director Michelle Myers. “That’s a win-win for the environment and for homeowners who want to feel secure that they won’t lose their homes in another Great Fire like the one we lived through in 1991. Unfortunately, FEMA’s approach isn’t in line with the priorities of fire safety and habitat restoration.”

Native vegetation restoration in Berkeley's Garber Park. Photo courtesy Marilyn Goldhaber.

Native vegetation restoration in Berkeley’s Garber Park. Photo courtesy Marilyn Goldhaber.

FEMA has over $5.5 million in grant money to disburse for vegetation management in the East Bay Hills from Richmond to San Leandro. These areas contain thousands of acres of highly flammable eucalyptus and non-native pines, which choke out more fire-resistant natives like oaks, bays, and laurel. Flying in the face of the best science and land-management practice, FEMA has signaled its intention to fund a plan to thin flammable non-natives, rather than remove them entirely. The Sierra Club / SPRAWLDEF suit contents that this is the wrong approach.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups including the Claremont Conservancy, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, and the California Native Plant Society have all advocated for removing all of the flammable eucalyptus and pine trees over time so that less-flammable native habitat can reclaim those areas. In contrast to clearcutting, this approach calls for removing eucalyptus in phases, so that native trees — which cannot grow to full size underneath the eucalyptus canopy — are able to thrive. Mere thinning of eucalyptus and pine plantations in fact denudes hillsides to an even greater extent, as it requires the clearing of native plants in the understory.

Restoration of native habitat would provide an opportunity for the return of local endangered species like the Alameda whipsnake. FEMA’s plan fails to follow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion for protecting the whipsnake. Eucalyptus and pine groves, even thinned, do not provide habitat for this endangered species, and the areas that the FEMA plan covers are prime habitat areas for this endangered species.

The City of Oakland and the University of California, Berkeley applied for FEMA grants to fund the removal of non-natives and the restoration of native habitat. Only the East Bay Regional Park District plans would allow non-natives to remain. By directing funds to a misguided program, FEMA would force Oakland and UC Berkeley to forgo their sensible plans.

Native vegetation restoration in Berkeley's Garber Park. Photo courtesy Shelagh Brodersen.

Native vegetation restoration in Berkeley’s Garber Park. Photo courtesy Shelagh Brodersen.

The approach FEMA has endorsed would burden taxpayers with hundreds of millions of dollars in future maintenance costs. Over a period of 20 to 30 years, the costs of regular thinning of non-natives and debris removal would be at least $250 million. Long-term maintenance costs would force agencies like the East Bay Regional Park District to levy fire-maintenance taxes as high as $200 per household in the East Bay — or else defer maintenance and risk a deadly and destructive fire.

“It’s time for us to be economically smart and environmentally conscious,” said Norman La Force, chair of the Sierra Club’s East Bay Public Lands Committee and president of SPRAWLDEF. “I’ve served in government and I know that when a public agency runs out of money it defers maintenance. Letting flammable material build up on our hillsides is an accident waiting to happen. We know that’s what caused the Great Fire of 1991, so why would we go back to the same failed approach? The restoration of native habitat will make our hills much safer and will be far less costly to maintain.”

Chapter sets priorities for park-funding measure

district_map_NWMeasure CC is the East Bay Regional Park District measure that was passed by the voters in 2004. It taxes the area from San Leandro north to Pinole and west of the Hills at around $10 per parcel to provide funding for Park District operations. Sierra Club leaders played a key role in drafting the measure and in identifying the items on which the tax revenues would be spent, including vegetation management, habitat restoration, and wildlife-protection projects. The Club was also instrumental in getting it passed.

Measure CC expires in 2020 unless renewed. The Park District is contemplating going to the voters in 2016 for a reauthorization. The Bay Chapter is again working to shape the reauthorization measure and ensure its passage. As with the original measure, we will insist that the projects slated to receive Measure CC funding are identified with great specificity to ensure that taxpayers know exactly how their money would be spent.

As we work to draft a final reauthorization measure to send to the voters, the Sierra Club identifies the following as critical funding targets. All are considered equally important.

  1. Funding for vegetation management should be increased from the amount designated in the original Measure CC. In addition, all vegetation-management funding should be allocated for the removal of non-native vegetation such as eucalyptus and its replacement with restored native habitat. Any funding for the mere thinning of non-natives must come from other sources. Over a period of 20 to 30 years, the costs of thinning with debris removal would be around $250 million, or $200 a year for each homeowner.
  2. Second, Measure CC renewal should increase the funding for stewardship programs and positions in the Park District. This aspect of the Park District’s mission still remains underfunded. In particular, the Park District needs more staff directly involved with conservation, restoration, and habitat-enhancement programs. How we manage parklands is just as important as acquiring more lands. In this time of climate change, the premier park and open-space land agency in the United States must have the scientists and skilled stewards who can meet that challenge.
  3. Third, funding for the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park should be increased to provide for the operation and maintenance of the Albany Bulb, the Brickyard, and other underfunded portions of the park. In addition, funding should provide the flexibility to pay for some of the costs of potential acquisitions such as the Golden Gate Fields race track site in Albany.
  4. Fourth, the renewal should include funding in Alameda for the Triangle Park at Alameda Point, the Northwest Territories at Alameda Point, conservation work at the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, and operational funds for when the Crab Cove property becomes part of Crown Beach.
  5. Fifth, Measure CC renewal should provide funding for the operations and maintenance of a nature preserve park at Point Molate. Richmond residents have demonstrated over and over that they want this important open-space resource protected as a public park.
  6. Sixth, we oppose further taxpayer subsidy of the Oakland Zoo as it has demonstrated that it can fund its own operations from private sources. The original Measure CC provides $100,000 a year for the Oakland Zoo.
  7. Seventh, no money should be allocated to fund any of the needed noise or lead mitigation at the Chabot Gun Range if the lease is extended for its operation. The range users and operators are the responsible parties and should bear those costs — not the taxpayers.

The Sierra Club looks forward to working with the Park District on the Measure CC renewal. You can help by writing the Park District Board of Directors to show your support for these key issues and insist that the Sierra Club be part of a working group that writes the renewal measure.

— Norman La Force, Chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee

Gun club on park land should pay for lead cleanup

Photo courtesy gritphilm on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy gritphilm on Flickr Creative Commons.

Gunfire is the last thing you might expect to hear as they stroll through the groves and grasslands of the East Bay hills. But for over 50 years the Chabot Gun Club has operated on East Bay Regional Park Distict land inside the Anthony Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley. Now the Gun Club’s lease is up for renewal, and it’s a good opportunity to look at the environmental implications of having a gun range on public parkland.

Lead from bullets used at the gun range can permeate the soil and is likely to have leached into nearby Lake Chabot, where fishing is allowed (the Sierra Club has filed a public records request to learn about lead levels in the lake). The range is also adjacent to the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. Noise from the gun range can be heard from miles away by hikers in the Lamorinda hills.

Whether the range should continue on a lease renewal is open to debate. What is not in doubt is that the Gun Club should pay a lease and rental fee that will cover the costs of lead remediation and mitigation of noise impacts. The lead remediation will be costly. Lead remediation and cleanup for the Pacific Rod and Gun Club at Lake Merced, which closed this April after 80 years, will cost an estimated $22 million — and that site banned lead bullets in 1994. Lead bullets are still in use at the Chabot Gun Club.


Contact the Park District Board and tell them that our taxpayer dollars should be not used to clean up the mess at the Chabot gun range. Tell the Park District that the lessee and users should pay a lease and rental fee to pay for the lead remediation and noise mitigation. Visit to find the email addresses for the Board members.

— Norman La Force, Chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee

Submit your comments to help save Tesla Park by June 29 deadline

Hillside destruction at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area. Photo taken January 2015 by Celeste Garamendi.

Hillside destruction at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area. Photo taken January 2015 by Celeste Garamendi.

The California State Parks Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Division has finally released the Preliminary General Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area and its proposed expansion into Tesla Park land. We urgently need your help to save this biologically unique and culturally important natural area in eastern Alameda County from the damaging impacts of off-highway vehicles.

Incredibly, the Draft EIR concludes that there are no significant impacts either from ongoing operation at Carnegie or from opening 3,100-plus additional acres to all types of off-highway vehicle recreation. The Draft EIR further found that no mitigation is required beyond General Plan guidelines and best management practices.

What about erosion, destruction of vegetation and wildlife habitat, noise, and water sedimentation, to name just a few of the known impacts of off-highway vehicles?


Tesla Park combines many important resources — natural, historic, and cultural — in one place. Help us preserve these resources for current and future generations: submit your comments by the June 29th deadline! The relevant documents may be viewed online at Written comments should be submitted no later than June 29.

Comments can be submitted by email to, with a copy to, or by mail to:

California Department of Parks and Rec OHMVR Division, c/o AECOM
Attn: Carnegie SVRA General Plan
2020 L Street, Suite 400 Sacramento, CA 95811

Feel free to use the following language in your comments:

  • I am opposed to the destruction of Tesla Valley’s natural and cultural resources.
  • The proposed project and DEIR should be revised so that no off-highway vehicle use is allowed in Tesla Park.

Read more about efforts to protect Tesla Park here.

State bill to study health impacts of tire-crumb fields moves forward — Your support needed!

Cancer survivor, soccer player, and soccer coach Casey Sullivan testifies at the March 18, 2015, hearing on SB47.

Cancer survivor, soccer player, and soccer coach Casey Sullivan testifies at the March 18, 2015, hearing on SB47.

Update 4/9/15: Senate Bill 47 (The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015) will be heard at the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday, April 13th, at 10 am in Capitol Room 4203.

On March 18th, members of the State Senate Environmental Quality Committee voted unanimously to support a state-mandated study on the health impacts of the synthetic crumb rubber infill made from tire waste (also known as SBR) that is used on artificial turf playing fields and playgrounds. The study is part of Senate Bill (SB) 47, The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015, introduced by Bay Area State Senator Jerry Hill. The legislation also includes a statewide moratorium on the use of tire crumb in new projects until the completion of the study, unless certain conditions are met. Having secured the approval of the Environmental Quality Committee, SB 47 now goes to the Appropriations Committee, where it will be heard in April.

The Sierra Club strongly supports SB 47. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment have identified long lists of toxins in the tire crumb, including carcinogens. However, the legislation will continue to be fought by the artificial-turf manufacturers and tire-waste recyclers. SB47 needs widespread support from individuals and organizations all over California.  See below for what you can do to support this important legislation!

Senator Hill (D-San Mateo) introduced the legislation after becoming aware of the growing list of athletes who have played on the tire waste fields and subsequently developed cancer. In NBC investigative news reports that aired in October 2014, soccer coach Amy Griffin described taking one of her players in for cancer treatments. The attending nurse said to the ill player, “Don’t tell me you are a goalkeeper. You’re the fourth goalkeeper I’ve hooked up this week.”

“I’ve coached for 26, 27 years,” Coach Griffin has said. “My first 15 years, I never heard anything about this. All of a sudden it seems to be a stream of kids.”

At the March 18th hearing, Senator Hill said that coach Griffin has identified 126 athletes who had contracted cancer, 109 of whom were soccer players. Griffin’s list includes 51 players with lymphomas and 19 with leukemia. Ten players contracted brain cancer, and others developed a variety of other cancers including sarcoma, testicular, and thyroid. Goalies, who spend a lot of their playing time diving into the rubber-crumb-filled turf, seem more prone to developing cancer.

A star witness at the hearing was cancer survivor, soccer player, and soccer coach Casey Sullivan. Sullivan testified that he had been diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he was a 21-year-old college goalkeeper. “I had a tumor in my chest, the size of a soccer ball in diameter,” he said.

Many Bay Area supporters traveled to Sacramento to speak at the March 18th hearing. Testimony in favor of SB47 included soccer moms, soccer grandmothers, coaches, and representatives of environmental and neighborhood groups. Over 35 organizations have come out in support of SB47, including the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, with 44 member organizations.

Opposition to this common-sense legislation will be stiff! SB47 needs widespread support from organizations and individuals all over California.  Ask your family and friends to write in and attend the hearings!


1. Call the following members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and tell them you support SB 47. If anyone in your family plays on tire-crumb fields or playgrounds, let the Senators know about your personal concern:

Ricardo Lara (Chair): 916-651-4033
Jim Beall: 916-651-4015
Connie Leyva: 916-651-4020
Tony Mendoza: 916-651-4032

2. If you are a member of ANY organization, ask them to write a letter of support today! The legislation has the support of environmental groups; what is needed is support from other types of organizations throughout the state.

3. Write a personal letter of support today. If you or anyone in your family plays soccer or other sports, talk about it! Address letters to:

Senator Jerry Hill
Attn: Nate Solov
1303 10th Street, Room 5035
Sacramento, CA 95814

Email your letters to

4. Attend the next hearing! SB 47 will be heard at the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday, April 13th, at 10 am in Capitol Room 4203. Join us! With questions, email or call 916-651-4238. To read the amended legislation, click here.

Unfortunately, SB 47 will not stop the Beach Chalet soccer-fields, as construction has already begun on that project; however, it the legislation is bringing attention to the artificial-turf controversy that will help in the battle not only for grass fields and habitat in Golden Gate Park but also for the health of everyone who plays on artificial turf fields.

More background information on this issue:

— Katherine Howard, ASLA,; Susan Vaughan, chairwoman of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter’s San Francisco Group

Farewell to Frank Dean — Head of Golden Gate National Recreation Area moving on after productive tenure

Frank Dean.

Frank Dean.

Frank Dean, who served as General Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) since 2009, is leaving the National Park Service to join the Yosemite Conservancy as its new President and CEO.

“Frank Dean came to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area after the sudden death of our much-loved superintendent, Brian O’Neill,” recalls Becky Evans, longtime GGNRA activist. “O’Neill had been deeply involved in the communities surrounding the park for more than 25 years. It was a hard position to inherit, but over his tenure Frank has succeeded in improving the park in many ways.”

Frank’s first job was to bring together his deeply-saddened staff, which he did most effectively. Many projects in the park were left partly-finished upon O’Neill’s death, and had relied on his community connections. Frank approached this unfinished business with a strong background and deep knowledge base that enabled him to bring the projects to a successful conclusion.

“This park, embedded in an urban area where so many people care vociferously about its attributes, is one of the most complex to administer in the national park system,” said GGNRA advocate Amy Meyer. “Frank’s stalwart support of national park principles and his personal warmth won the admiration and affection of park advocates.”

A park superintendent is frequently under the radar except to those working on specific issues — which in an urban area can be many and diverse. Frank worked hand-in-hand with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the Presidio Trust to conserve and improve the GGNRA. Among his numerous accomplishments as Superintendent of the GGNRA, he:

  • Fostered an innovative partnership with the Golden Gate Bridge District and Parks Conservancy to provide modern visitor facilities at the iconic bridge;
  • Initiated a new partnership to protect the Mt. Tamalpais ecosystem;
  • Established a major capital campaign to preserve facilities on Alcatraz;
  • Worked out a win-win arrangement with the Veterans Administration Medical Center under which their temporary need for extended parking as they undergo construction is helping pay for restoration and eventual repurposing of the octagon house at Lands End.
  • Continued the Ocean Beach project begun by his predecessor in coordination with the urban planning nonprofit SPUR and seven agencies. The project is designed to beautify the beach and adjacent areas and help the southern part, in particular, become more resistant to the effects of climate change.
  • Defended the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, which helped lead to the defeat of the George Lucas Museum proposed to be erected adjacent to the Presidio’s Crissy Field.
  • Participated effectively in a multi-agency effort to deal with the difficult traffic, parking, and natural resource problems at Muir Woods, a project now approaching resolution.

Prior to serving at GGNRA, Frank was superintendent of Saratoga National Historical Park and assistant superintendent at Point Reyes National Seashore. His position at the Yosemite Conservancy marks a return to his roots; a trip to Yosemite as a college student triggered Frank’s passion for the outdoors and conservation, and inspired a career working in our national parks.

Frank went on to serve in Yosemite as a park ranger, and from 1990 to 1995 was management assistant to the superintendent and the primary National Park Service contact on Yosemite Conservancy projects. Working with the Conservancy, he helped establish project review guidelines for work with the National Park Service (NPS), and he led the NPS team on the dramatic improvements and restoration of Glacier Point overlook. Frank also was a park ranger in Sequoia and Grand Canyon national parks.

Frank will be missed, but we look forward to seeing more of his good work in action at Yosemite!

— Becky Evans

Decision coming soon on “wreck-reation” in Tesla Park

Trails-only area at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area; photo by Celeste Garamendi

Damage to the hills in the trails-only area at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area; photo by Celeste Garamendi.

We are still fighting to save the biologically unique and culturally important Tesla Park in eastern Alameda County from the damaging impacts of off-highway vehicle (OHV) “wreck-reation”.

The California State Parks Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division has delayed at least three times the release of the Draft General Plan update and Environmental Impact Report EIR for the existing Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) and its proposed expansion into Tesla Park land. This effort to complete a plan to guide future management and operation of Carnegie SVRA, begun in 2012, is the OHMVR Division’s third attempt to create such a plan. Other attempts from 2000 and 2004 were aborted without explanation. The Sierra Club continues to work with the Friends of Tesla Park alliance to press for State Parks to change their plans and permanently preserve Tesla Park, and to prepare for review of the Draft General Plan and EIR once it is finally released.

One troubling issue with regard to natural resource management in this sensitive area is the failure of Carnegie SVRA to issue statutorily required annual habitat monitoring systems reports. With no annual reports there can be no meaningful or timely adaptive management. While this is just one of many significant issues with Carnegie SVRA management, we are concerned that the failure to conduct credible natural-resource assessments is occurring throughout the State Park OHMVR system.

When the Draft General Plan and EIR are released we will need as many people as possible to submit comments. To receive our notification, make sure you are on the Bay Chapter’s email list. You can sign up for our East Bay Bulletin and “General” lists.

— Celeste Garamendi