March 2, 2015

Bay Chapter forms Federal Parks Committee

Point Reyes Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Frank Schulenburg on Flickr Creative Commons.

Point Reyes Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Frank Schulenburg on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Bay Chapter has formed a Federal Parks Committee, which will be concerned with planning and other issues in our region’s national parks. The committee’s immediate focus will be parks currently engaged in planning processes, including Marin’s Muir Woods, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Bay Area is home to many spectacular sites of natural and historic interest that are managed by the National Park Service. In addition to the three parks listed above, examples include the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park, the John Muir National Historic Site, the Presidio, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Fort Point National Historic Site, and the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site.

The new committee will not deal with federal wildlife refuges in the Bay Chapter.

If you are interested in joining the Federal Parks Committee, please contact committee chair Alan Carlton at (510)769-3403 or

Health, environmental concerns about tire-crumb turf call S.F. plans into question

Construction on the Beach Chalet soccer fields as of January, 2015. Photo by Greg Miller.

Construction on the Beach Chalet soccer fields as of January, 2015. Photo by Greg Miller.

One of the most visible and vexing byproducts of our love affair with the car—besides climate change—is the used tire. Taking a cue from the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” cities including San Francisco are repurposing the leftover tires to pave sports fields and playgrounds. However, growing concerns about the health risks posed by toxins present in tires have the Sierra Club and many other environmental and consumer safety groups calling for their removal. San Francisco has in place a Precautionary Principle that should preclude the use of materials that could pose a risk to the health and safety of its citizens and the environment. So why is the city continuing with plans to install this potentially hazardous material at the Beach Chalet soccer fields?

In part, the city’s installation of tire-crumb—or styrene butadiene rubber — turf sports fields is a part of a nationwide undertaking, once encouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By 2003, Americans were generating about 290 million used tires annually. To keep waste tires out of landfills and from polluting the countryside, the EPA began to encourage their reuse. Several states, including California, followed suit and created grant programs that local governments could tap into to repurpose used tires.

Encouraged by such incentives, tire-crumb playgrounds and sports fields have begun to proliferate in San Francisco parks in recent years. In November, following the failure of a ballot measure that would have prevented the project, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department commenced construction on its largest-yet tire-crumb facility: the Beach Chalet soccer complex, located at the western end of Golden Gate Park. This project involves demolishing seven acres of natural grass fields and covering those seven acres with an estimated 3.5 million pounds of ground-up tires covered with plastic grass.

Because of projects like the Beach Chalet fields, there may be fewer heaps of used tires throughout the nation, but growing concerns about the safety of tire-crumb turf have raised questions about the wisdom of this tradeoff.

For several years, the Sierra Club has been litigating the Beach Chalet soccer fields project based on inadequacies in the project Environment Impact Report (EIR), including these safety concerns. For one thing, the EIR acknowledges that ingested toxins in the tire crumb exceed hazard levels for children by 220 percent, based on a report by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (you can find the full report at What are those substances that exceed the trigger levels?  Among others, they are arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc. Physiological impacts of overexposure to these toxins range from irritated eyes, rashes, and joint pain to developmental delays, cardiomyopathy, and cancer.

Other government agencies have likewise acknowledged safety issues with tire crumb. In 2013, in response to advocacy by the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the EPA retracted a 2009 statement that read, “The limited study, conducted in August through October 2008, found that the concentrations of materials that made up tire crumb were below levels considered harmful.” The EPA now admits that the information from its 2008 study is outdated.

In 2014, NBC News reporters aired a series of stories on the potential link between tire-crumb turf and cancer in soccer players, mostly goalies, a number of whom have developed lymphoma and leukemia, among other cancers. Soccer goalies spend a lot of time on the ground, diving into the crumb rubber. The NBC stories revealed that the EPA now admits that more studies need to be done before tire-crumb turf can be declared safe.

Additionally, in December 2014, State Senator Jerry Hill, representing Peninsula district 13 and Chair of the Standing Committee on Environmental Quality, introduced legislation calling for a temporary moratorium on the installation of tire-crumb soccer fields pending the results of a state study on their safety. Senate Bill 47, The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015, would require the study to be completed by July 2017. Unfortunately, because the moratorium would not apply to any projects already underway before July 2016, the legislation would not stop installation of the Beach Chalet fields or remove the many acres of tire crumb-filled artificial turf already in use throughout San Francisco.

At a Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee meeting on January 6 of this year, Dawn Kamalanathan, the SFRPD director of Planning and Capital Management, said that as part of the department’s capital plans for 2015-16 and 2016-17 it is considering a proposal to replace tire-crumb turf fields at the Franklin, Youngblood Coleman, Garfield, and Silver Terrace playfields with “natural infill material.” Despite this positive development, Kamalanathan said that the department still plans to install tire crumb turf at the Beach Chalet fields.

San Francisco’s Precautionary Principle, adopted in 2003, requires policymakers to thoroughly vet projects and choose the option least harmful to human health and the city’s natural systems. Given all that we know—and still don’t know—about the toxins present in tire crumb, the Precautionary Principle would seem to preclude the Beach Chalet project right from the get go.

The Sierra Club’s fight to appeal the Beach Chalet project EIR is ongoing, with a ruling expected in early 2015. If the Club wins its appeal, the city will be forced to redo the project’s Environmental Impact Report. At that point, environmentalists and those concerned about the health of soccer players will have an opportunity to lobby for safer turf for the city’s children.

Read more about the environmental and health impacts of the Beach Chalet soccer fields project in the Yodeler online in “November election pits grassroots initiative to protect Golden Gate Park against Park Department power play” and “Sierra Club appeals Beach Chalet court decision that ignores critical safety hazards“.

— Sue Vaughan, chair of the San Francisco Group Executive Committee, and Kathleen McCowin, an attorney, geneticist, and soccer mom.

Feds continue court action over Crown Beach Park

Crab_Crown_TrailmapLast July, the Alameda City Council heeded the will of Alameda citizens (and the Sierra Club) by zoning federal surplus property near Crown Memorial State Beach as open space. As a result, a private housing developer recently defaulted on its contract to purchase the property from the federal General Services Administration (GSA), and walked away from a plan to build 48 houses on the property.

One might think this is great news for the East Bay Regional Park District—that the way is now cleared for the district to acquire the land for the purpose of expanding the park at Crab Cove, just as the voters intended back in 2008 when they passed Measure WW. But the United States Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the GSA, is continuing its action to take over title of McKay Avenue, the state-owned street leading to the Crab Cove Visitor Center. If the GSA were to take control of McKay Avenue, the GSA could transfer the right to a private developer to dig up the street in order to install the utilities necessary for its project. The state and park district are fighting to kill the eminent domain action so that the GSA—which currently only has utility easement rights for federal government agencies—is compelled to sell the empty lot to the park district.

The Department of Justice says it needs to seize McKay Avenue for the “continuing operations of the Alameda Federal Center,” which is located on the upper part of the street. (The 3.89 acres vacated by the Department of Agriculture—and now zoned open space—are located at the end of the road closest to the beach.) However, the state and the park district argue that the eminent domain action is actually intended to secure a more profitable sale of the vacant property.

On November 10, the court sided with the state and the park district on a motion to strike affirmative defenses. In his ruling, Judge William Alsup determined that the Department of Justice’s claim that it needs to take ownership of McKay Avenue for its “continuing operations” is disingenuous and “belied by the easement it already retains and the circumstances around the now defunct sale to the private developer.” The judge went on to write, “The only real reason the United States seeks to obtain title to McKay Avenue in fee simple is to secure easements for a prospective private development of the vacant federal parcel.”

This ruling was good news, but it is far from the last word on the matter. Judge Alsup ordered the United States to file a summary judgment motion, in which the judge decides the case based on undisputed facts without a trial, on or before February 16, 2015, and also urged the parties at the hearing to pursue immediate settlement negotiations.  If the case is neither settled nor resolved by summary judgment, it is scheduled for trial in October 2015.


Write to the Alameda City Council, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and ask them to help end the eminent domain action and make way for the expansion of the park at Crab Cove.

—Irene Dieter

Read more about Crab Cove in “Promising news for Alameda’s waterfront”.

East Bay wins major open-space victories in the 2014 elections

10295384_760409887357464_664081245092806404_oEnemies of suburban sprawl scored major victories for open space on Election Day, defeating two developer-backed initiatives in Southern Alameda County in what the Contra Costa Times called “a defining moment for slow growth advocates.” Here’s more on the two open-space victories:

Dublin voters reject Measure T by 4:1; protect Doolan Canyon from development

In a stunning endorsement of open space protection, 84% of voters in Dublin (in eastern Alameda County) rejected a developer-sponsored initiative to break their new urban growth boundary and authorize urban sprawl in rural Doolan Canyon without further voter approval (see “Fate of Doolan Canyon hangs on competing ballot initiatives” in the Aug-Sept 2014 Yodeler, Developer Pacific Union Land Company had spent over $160,000 to place Measure T on the ballot but failed miserably to find public support.

Earlier in the year, a coalition of local residents and environmental organizations including the Sierra Club wrote and qualified an open-space initiative to enact an urban-growth boundary on Dublin’s east side. In June, the City Council unanimously adopted the initiative, thereby thwarting Pacific Union’s strategy of running a confusion campaign with two similar-sounding land-use measures on the November ballot.

Measure T, formally titled the Let Dublin Decide Initiative, was billed as a way for Dublin to exert local control over unincorporated Doolan Canyon and prevent nearby Livermore from annexing and developing the area. But voters saw through that ploy. Measure T would have expanded Dublin’s new growth boundary by 2 ½ square miles, over the exact same area where Pacific Union had previously proposed a 1,990-unit housing development.

Doolan Canyon is a rural valley of rolling hills and grasslands now used for ranching, a dozen rural homesteads, and an equestrian center. It is habitat for numerous rare and special status species including the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, Golden eagle, Western burrowing owl, Congdon’s tarplant, and more.

With the overwhelming margin by which Dublin voters defended their urban-growth boundary, and with voter-approved urban-growth boundaries in place around Livermore, Pleasanton, and Alameda County, developers will think long and hard before proposing new sprawl developments in Alameda County’s Tri-Valley area.

Measure KK defeated in Union City

With the endorsement of the Sierra Club and other state and local environmental organizations, the Save Our Hills Committee in Union City earned a smashing victory on November 4 with the defeat of Measure KK, the Flatlands Development Initiative. The measure was soundly defeated, with voters casting 5,296 (65.14%) “no” votes to a meager 2,834 (34.68%) “yes” votes. This victory ensures that the 63 acres of flatlands to the northeast of Mission Blvd. and the undeveloped hills to the east of the flatlands will remain as open space.

In 1996, the Sierra Club-endorsed Measure II—which codified the Union City Hillside Area Plan and protected 6,100 acres of open space—passed with approximately 65% of the vote. That measure required that any changes to the Plan would have to go before the voters; Measure KK was the first attack on the 53 policies in Measure II.

The proponents of the Flatlands Development Initiative (the Masonic Homes of California) spent about $610,000 in their failed campaign. A major theme of their misleading messaging was a ruse to “Protect the Hills.” This disingenuous slogan was designed to get voters to cast a “yes” vote. The Save Our Hills Committee’s message was to “Save Our Hills.” Given the likelihood that many voters may in fact have been confused as to what a “yes” vote meant, the percentage of voters who do not want new development on the Union City hills and flatlands is probably even higher than the 65% who correctly cast a vote for open space.

——Dick Schneider and Bob Garfinkle

Op-Ed: Where have all of Tilden’s newts gone?


Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons,

Have you seen a California newt along Wildcat Creek or around Jewel Lake in the Tilden Nature Area (TNA) recently?  If so, I would like to know about it. I haven’t seen one for years (in spite of Park signs that say they still are there). When I first started studying certain species of birds in the TNA in the early 1980s, California newts were fairly common, and some (unfortunately) were invariably squashed in the parking lot every migratory season. However, the number of newts I saw steadily declined through the 1980s and, by the early 1990s, I saw none. At that time I also noted that I neither saw nor heard Pacific chorus frogs along Wildcat Creek or Jewel Lake, even though they generally are ubiquitous in California wetlands.

In subsequent years I mentioned these observations to East Bay Regional Park District personnel, naively assuming that my concerns would be passed up the chain of command, and that the situation would be investigated. After years without a response, I reached out to still more Park District staff and Board members, still to no avail.

I am told that both newts and chorus frogs still exist and breed in some small ponds to the east of Wildcat Creek in the TNA. However, from along the middle stretches of Wildcat Creek itself, and Jewell Lake, amphibians appear to have vanished. Additionally, I fear that what may be affecting the amphibians in the middle reaches of Wildcat Creek may be affecting the entire ecosystem. For example, some heron species which typically would feed on chorus frogs and small fish along and in Wildcat Creek and Jewel Lake seem uncharacteristically scarce. Over the decades I recall seeing just one each of green and black-crowned night herons, and one snowy egret (although great blue herons, which feed on gophers in picnic areas, are often seen). I also have concerns for aquatic insects, which seem scarce in that portion of the creek.

The Wildcat Creek watershed has been touted as an ecological success story. Its lower urban reaches, traversing Richmond and San Pablo, have been the focus of “remarkable community-based restoration efforts” which received a Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2003. In April of 2013 the Tilden Park Golf Course, through which the upper reaches of Wildcat Creek flow, was designated a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary,” and was commended for, among other things, “Chemical Use Reduction Safety (and) Water Quality Management.” With such accolades and awards, one might conclude that all is well in the Wildcat Creek watershed. This may not be the case. Where are the newts, chorus frogs, and herons? I can only think that the thousands of schoolchildren that visit the TNA and Environmental Education Center every year are being shortchanged in not seeing some of the animals that are supposed to be there.

A recent article in The Yodeler by Peter Rausch and a co-author (“Putting the environment first in East Bay parks”) suggested that the Park District does a good job in acquiring and preserving holdings in the East Bay, but is less proficient in caring for the biological resources in those acquisitions. While the article makes a good general point, an inability of the Park District to assign monetary and human resources to relatively undeveloped and little-visited new acquisitions is to some degree understandable, given their limited resources. Much less understandable, in my estimation, is the Park District’s ignoring a possible ecological problem in one of its oldest and most-visited regional parks—a problem that seemingly exists in the crown jewel of its environmental educational facilities.

William M. Gilbert, Ph.D.
Chair, Sierra Couples

November election pits grassroots initiative to protect Golden Gate Park against Park Department power play

Rendering of proposed SFRPD project at Beach Chalet fields.

Rendering of proposed SFRPD project at Beach Chalet fields.

After working around the clock to qualify the Golden Gate Park Recreational Fields Renovation Act for the November ballot, dedicated environmentalists and health-conscious parents submitted over 15,000 signatures to San Francisco’s Department of Elections in July.   If certified, the Fields Renovation Act would give San Franciscans the opportunity to cast a simple “yes” or “no” vote on installing artificial turf and stadium lighting in the western end of Golden Gate Park. The Act requires the City to maintain those same sports fields as grass.

The Fields Renovation Act was born from efforts to protect Golden Gate Park from the destructive Beach Chalet soccer fields project.  For over five years, the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Park (SFRPD) has pushed for demolishing the natural grass fields to make way for a seven-acre artificial-turf soccer field containing toxic tire waste and 150,000 watts of stadium lighting on 60 foot poles.  The SFRPD project would bulldoze grassy and forest habitat as well as bringing in more car traffic, more concrete, and extensive night-lighting, right next to Ocean Beach.

The outpouring of grassroots support for the Fields Renovation Act has prompted SFRPD to file a competing initiative through the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. The SFRPD initiative would amend the Park Code to “authorize renovation of children’s playgrounds, walking trails and athletic fields where a certified environmental impact report documents at least doubling in anticipated usage.”

The SFRPD initiative is both too vague and too broad, presenting a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen consequences for the entire park system—not just for Golden Gate Park. While it claims to satisfy the need for more recreation areas, what the SFRPD initiative would actually accomplish is unclear.  SFRPD already possesses the authority to renovate city parks, and the initiative does not provide any new funding to accomplish its stated goal of future renovations. Moreover, the SFRPD initiative is vague as to the meaning of “usage,” opening the door for the department to use its own data to decide unilaterally which activities should take precedence in all of San Francisco’s parks.

The SFRPD initiative would take control of the park system away from the public in other ways. First, the impact of the proposed legislation on the public’s right to appeal under the California Environmental Quality Act or at the Board of Appeals is uncertain. Second, the initiative states that it shall be “liberally construed,” potentially opening the parks to privatization and commercial “usage.” And third, the initiative states that it can be amended by the Board of Supervisors. Control of the parks was taken away from the Supervisors years ago, because they could not be trusted to look beyond the next election. Is this legislation the first step to placing power over our parks back in the hands of the Supervisors?

The SFRPD initiative is actually a thinly veiled power grab, disguised as a measure that will somehow benefit children. By contrast, the grassroots Fields Renovation Act would save Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach from irrevocable environmental damage, while promoting maintenance of the existing playing fields. The Sierra Club urges you to support the Recreational Fields Renovation Act and reject the SFRPD’s competing initiative when you go to the ballot box in November.

For more information about the ballot initiative to protect Golden Gate Park, visit For background information on the Beach Chalet soccer fields, visit

—Katherine Howard, ASLA

Oakland Zoo’s proposed expansion into Knowland Park goes from bad to worse

10272777_228030487396164_7927941693625751956_oThe Sierra Club has grown increasingly concerned about the California Trails exhibit that the Oakland Zoo proposes to build on the ridge line of Knowland Park. The City of Oakland approved the fifty-six-acre project in 2011 on a fifteen-year-old Mitigated Negative Declaration. Since then, however, the permitting agencies have provided significant pushback to the zoo’s claim that the project would have no significant environmental impacts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommended that the project be built within the zoo’s existing footprint to avoid significant impacts to rare plant communities and to the threatened Alameda whipsnake. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), meanwhile, sent the zoo’s application back to the drawing board, noting that the project is at best conceptual.

Two-and-a-half years later, after much heated negotiation, both CDFW and USFWS find that the zoo and the city have each grossly underestimated impacts to Alameda whipsnake habitat, and now require fifty-two acres be set aside for mitigation. In order to fulfill this requirement, the zoo is now proposing that an additional twenty-one acres of Knowland Park land be set aside. In addition to the fact that taking park land for mitigation is double-dipping, this proposal would require the loss of public access to that land.

The parcel in question is closed-canopy oak bay woodland, not the high-quality Alameda whipsnake habitat that the project would destroy. And, because the Deed of Transfer that conveyed the park from the state to the city required that it always remain a public park, removing acreage from public access could potentially trigger the “reverter clause” that would re-convey the land to the state. The zoo and the city are once again offering a ludicrous solution to a self-imposed problem: they propose to keep the appearance of public access by allowing the public to view the twenty-one acres under mitigation from the project’s aerial gondola or a viewing station.

It is clear that the city failed in its fundamental duty as Lead Agency to require a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Such a process would have included the critical alternatives analysis, which would have uncovered the major problems with the project and proposed better alternatives. In fact, early in the process the Sierra Club requested that the City conduct a full EIR. The California Native Plant Society’s East Bay Chapter, the California Native Grasslands Association, and Friends of Knowland Park all concurred. As of this writing, not a single East Bay environmental organization endorses this project.

The Sierra Club believes that the public’s right to full and complete access to land in Knowland Park is unequivocal. Furthermore, building on ridge lines, in protected park land, and in listed-species habitat is an affront to conservation principles—especially when there’s more than adequate unused land to accommodate this project within and immediately adjacent to the zoo footprint. The City has dragged the public down a long, twisted path in its quest to accommodate the zoo’s desire to build in the wrong place. The Sierra Club recommends that the City acknowledge that it has gotten in over its head and hit the re-set button.


Contact Oakland City Council members, the Director of City Planning, and the Office of Parks and Recreation to let them know that you oppose developing high-quality park land.

—Norman La Force, Chair East Bay Public Lands Committee

Fate of Doolan Canyon hangs on competing ballot initiatives

Photo by Scott Hein,

Photo by Scott Hein,

In November, Dublin’s voters will have the opportunity to preserve a beautiful swath of land that separates the city from neighboring Livermore. This past winter and spring, Dublin voters qualified—and on June 3 the Dublin City Council unanimously adopted—an open space initiative that establishes an urban limit line along the eastern city limits and removes the sunset provision for the western urban limit line. The new eastern urban limit line protects rural Doolan Canyon from urban sprawl.

Doolan Canyon is a scenic and biologically-rich area north of I-580 currently used for ranching and a few rural homesteads. The area contains critical habitat for the California red-legged frog and the California tiger salamander, both designated as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Numerous other Special Status animal species live or forage in Doolan Canyon, including golden eagles, western burrowing owls, American badgers, San Joaquin kit foxes, tricolored blackbirds, and Callippe Silverspot butterflies. Special Status plant species found in Doolan Canyon include Congdon’s tarplant and San Joaquin spearscale. Doolan Canyon is a California Native Plant Society Biological Priority Protection Area, and the Tri-Valley Conservancy rates most of its parcels as high priority for the protection of biological resources, wildlife migration corridors, trail corridors, and agriculture.

The protection provided by the urban limit line was a long time in coming. For decades, Doolan Canyon served in effect as a “demilitarized zone” between Dublin and Livermore; each city concerned that the other would annex and develop the unincorporated area that serves as a greenbelt buffer between them. With the passage of Alameda County Measure D in 2000—which established a county urban growth boundary—the only remaining risk was from city-approved development. Livermore adopted an urban growth boundary in 2002, but none existed on Dublin’s east side until now.

But a threat still remains. During the last weeks of the Open Space Initiative signature drive, Pacific Union Land Company—a developer seeking to build in Doolan Canyon—began circulating its own initiative to allow urban development in the canyon. Cleverly written to give the false impression that Dublin voters would retain control over development, the developer’s initiative sets an urban limit line on the far side of Doolan Canyon; this would, in effect, remove the requirement of voter approval for a huge, 2,000-unit residential subdivision within Doolan Canyon, as proposed by Pacific Union in 2010.

Using paid signature-gatherers receiving up to $7.50 per signature and deceitful collecting tactics (some paid collectors claimed to be collecting signatures for the open space petiton), the developer’s initiative also qualified for the November ballot. If the developer’s initiative passes, it would nullify the Open Space Initiative and authorize urban development in Doolan Canyon.

Fortunately, the city council voted unanimously to oppose the developer’s initiative and to write the ballot argument against it. Nevertheless, we must mount a large and effective grassroots campaign to defend Dublin’s new urban limit line and the natural values of Doolan Canyon. Pacific Union stands to lose $150 million in estimated profit if their ballot measure fails, so we can expect an expensive and distortion-filled campaign designed to confuse voters into approving the misleadingly-titled “Let Dublin Decide Initiative.”


Defense of the Dublin urban limit line will require people and money. It will take volunteers to walk precincts in the fall, knock on doors, and explain the situation to voters. There is no more effective method to cutting through the developer’s lies and distortions than direct, person-to-person contact. Success will also require funds to print and mail campaign literature, produce yard signs, and rent a campaign headquarters. No amount of time is too little and no contribution is too small. To volunteer, please visit or contact Dick Schneider at (510) 926-0010 or richs59354 at

—Dick Schneider

Francisco Park proposal moves forward

Conceptual design for Francisco Park, Richard Parker, 450 architects, inc.

Conceptual design for Francisco Park, Richard Parker, 450 architects, inc.

UPDATE: On July 22 the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Francisco Park proposal. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will transfer the Reservoir to the Recreation and Park Department, which will work with the Francisco Park Project Working Group to proceed with park planning. Construction is expected to begin in spring of 2015.

The Francisco Reservoir was built on San Francisco’s Russian Hill in 1861 to provide water to the densest part of a rapidly-growing city. It was replaced in 1940, and despite numerous development proposals over the years, the site remains zoned “P” for Public Open Space—this in large part thanks to the efforts of neighbors and former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier.

In 2011, four neighborhood associations—Aquatic Park Neighbors, North Beach Neighbors, Russian Hill Improvement Association, and Russian Hill Neighbors—came together to form the Francisco Reservoir Working Group. The alliance produced a proposal to transform the defunct reservoir site into a new public city park.

With the assistance of Supervisor Mark Farrell, the Francisco Park proposal has passed through the city’s Recreation and Park and Public Utilities (PUC) Commissions. The Recreation and Park Department has authorized expending $9.9 million from the City’s Open Space Acquisition and Park Renovation Fund for transfer of the property from the PUC. Meanwhile, the Francisco Reservoir Working Group has received pledges of $9 million against the $11 million target for planning, constructing the park, and endowing future maintenance.

Although to the casual observer the city’s northern waterfront area appears to have a lot of green space, there is an unmet need for recreational opportunities for children in Chinatown, Russian Hill, and nearby neighborhoods. It is expected that Francisco Park would primarily serve seniors, schools, and children from Chinatown, North Beach, Russian Hill, and the booming Polk Street neighborhoods on the east side of Van Ness, where green open space is sparse. The Sierra Club, the Parks Alliance, and other green groups support the park’s creation.

Francisco Reservoir today

Francisco Reservoir today

There has been token opposition to the Francisco Park proposal from housing advocates who want this site with its splendid views used for housing. But the adjacent Fontana Towers, built in the 1960s are a constant reminder of inappropriate development in view corridors.

The proposal goes to the Board of Supervisors for final approval on July 22. Look to the Yodeler’s web edition for updates on this issue. Those interested in learning more about the Reservoir are encouraged to go to and sign up for the newsletter.

—Becky Evans

Keep development off John Muir’s hill

A curved oak tree 700 feet above sea level at the top of the 2,600-acre ranch that John Muir and his family used to own, overlooking the entire city and Bay. Photo by David H. Collier.

A curved oak tree 700 feet above sea level at the top of the 2,600-acre ranch that John Muir and his family used to own, overlooking the entire city and Bay. Photo by David H. Collier.

John Muir may roll over in his grave. At least his grave will be close enough to hear the bulldozers if the Alhambra Hills development goes ahead–on land once part of Muir’s farm in Martinez (only two months ago, I found a map proving the prominent ridgeline was owned by Muir himself), and on hills filled with rare ridgeline oak trees shaped by the wind, where Muir used to wander.

For over 30 years this land has hung in the balance. In 2011 the city approved construction of 109 homes here, but Richfield Investment Corp. (based in Houston TX) agreed to delay grading for two years to give preservationists time to find money to purchase the land. In April the time ran out. We must act now to save this ridgeline.

Our hope is that the city of Martinez will join forces with others to find financing to save the site.


Sign the petition at We received over 2,500 signatures in our first two weeks, thanks to the involvement of the Muir family and a small group of concerned residents.

While you’re at the web site, please click to join our e-mail list if you have ideas or resources to help.

Jamie Fox, Alhambra Hills Open Space Committee