Miraloma Life Online – January 2012

  • MPIC Holiday Party and Pot-Luck and Cook-off: A Grand Time Had by All
  • From the MPIC Safety Committee
  • Summary of MPIC Board Meeting on December 1, 2011
  • Left Turn Lane from Portola to Fowler Reduced to One Lane
  • The SF School of the Arts Program
  • Mt. Davidson Forest and the Natural Areas Plan
  • From the Legal Files: Uphill/Downhill Neighbor Law

MPIC Holiday Party and Pot-Luck and Cook-off: A Grand Time Had by All

The 2011 MPIC Holiday Party was quite an affair: about 100 people attended and wined, dined, and laughed themselves into a fine frolic. Boswick the Clown entranced kids and entertained adults, leaving a forest of balloon hats in his wake, and Laura Lee Brown and Company provided Holiday songs that put everyone in the mood to celebrate. Following are the winners of the pot-luck cook-off contest, hotly contested as always. We thank all of our Miraloma neighbors who helped make this twentieth annual party a success with their culinary contributions and holiday zest, as well as the fine and generous merchants who donated the prizes for the contest.

From the MPIC Safety Committee

The MPIC Board and its Safety Committee believe that the more community crime information made available to our residents, the safer they are. Some members have questioned whether reporting this information puts Miraloma Park in a bad light. Do other neighborhoods provide similarly detailed crime reports to their residents? Do we look worse—i.e., crime-ridden—because of our reporting? We think not, because our level of serious crime is so low compared with many other neighborhoods. The thumbnail comparison below, covering a nearly 7 week period, indicates a high level of safety in Miraloma Park.

Safety Alert! The SFPD reports men in orange safety vests, wearing name badges and carrying clipboards, ringing doorbells and allegedly selling alarm systems. They do not have brochures or business cards and they ask residents for personal information. Police believe that these individuals may be “casing” residences for future home robberies. Please call the police at 553-0123 (non-emergency number) if you notice or experience individuals going door-to-door for any reason!

Summary of MPIC Board Meeting on December 1, 2011

by Dan Liberthson and Carl Schick

On-line Votes (all passed): 11/15—Reimbursement of Board members who volunteer to clean up after renter does not (T Sauvain) 11/16—R Gee moved to create a PayPal account to be used by MPIC members to pay monthly dues. 11/23—D Liberthson moved to give Miraloma Life layout artist a $75 holiday bonus. 11/27—T Sauvain moved to give Rental Manager a $100 holiday bonus. Other Vote: Up to $1500 approved for Holiday potluck.

Guests: Neil Pate, Community Planner, SF Bike Coalition and Mark Draeger, intern. Coalition wants input about bike issues; they want to improve bike safety by adding, and making more visible, bike lanes on City streets including Monterey and O’Shaughnessy. Board questioned whether bicyclists should be licensed, traffic impact studies be done where bike lanes are proposed, and the cost to SF residents.

Treasurer’s Report (T Sauvain): MPIC’s November net worth was $24,586.56, a slight increase from October. November was our busiest rental month in 3 years, doubling our income from October ($1707.50 ) to $3850.00. A task subcommittee (T Sauvain, C Mettling-Davis, and R Gee) designated an $18,500 reserve account, with $2600 added yearly, to cover big maintenance items, the set-aside to be accessed per Board vote. About $6,000 in operating funds remains in our regular account.

Committees: Safety (K Wood)—Please see “From the MPIC Safety Committee” in this issue. Zoning and Planning (ZAP, C Mettling Davis)—C Mettling-Davis reported on the 401 Myra re-application meeting. By a split vote, the Committee felt that event though the remodel would be wider than most Miraloma Park homes, and the Miraloma Park Residential Design Guidelines state that house width should be consonant
with existing homes, the special circumstance of the lot’s being at the end of the block with no neighbor on the side to be expanded justified an exception to the Guidelines. Karen Wood resigned from the ZAP committee; her dedication and expertise will be missed!

Membership—We currently have 605 members. R Gee suggested that the $1 transaction fee for PayPal payment of dues be absorbed by the Club. Events (S Chu) Three Holiday Potluck servers hired will be paid $25/hour.

Clubhouse Maintenance (C Mettling-Davis)—A contractor said the exterior front stairs are structurally sound and recommended pounding down the nails on the steps; sanding the overall porch and tread edges; and repainting. He proposed iron handrails on both sides of the stage steps and adding hinges on footlight barriers to keep renters from falling into the lights. and provide cost estimates. C Mettling-Davis suggested a sign requesting no wheeled items (e.g., dollies) on the exterior steps, to minimize wear. J Whitney and D Liberthson will monitor the gardener and complete a to-do list to prevent messy yard appearance.

Delegate Reports: West of Twin Peaks Central Council (K Breslin)— District 7 will be affected by the City’s redistricting plan. Save the Forest—Much interest in the tree-cutting issue.

Old Business: Proposed opening of new CVS in July 2012. Some Board members met with the CVS attorney and COO about the design. They were amenable to including key art deco motifs removed per Commission request. The ZAP Committee will continue to advocate for these design improvements.

New Business: The Board agreed to allow non-Miraloma Park residents at the Holiday Potluck. C Mettling-Davis moved a $65 Christmas bonus for Miraloma Life delivery people (motion passed).

Left Turn Lane from Portola to Fowler Reduced to One Lane

by Robert Gee

Last month, the left turn lane from Portola Drive onto Fowler was reduced from two lanes to one lane and an added left-turn bicycle lane. At the same time, new bike lanes were painted on both sides of Portola Drive. The left turn lane change and the new bike lanes are the result of the San Francisco Bicycle Plan, which is part of San Francisco’s Transit First policy. The Transit First policy supports pedestrians and bicycles as important non-automobile components of a balanced transportation system. Learn more about the San Francisco bicycle plan at http://www.sfmta.com/bikeplan.

Back in 2009, the MPIC was monitoring the Bicycle Plan as it went through the process, looking at its potential impact on our neighborhood. The proposals that affected us were for bike lanes on Portola Drive. Two options were proposed for those lanes. Option 1 was for dedicated bike lanes. We wrote to the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Agency (SFMTA) stating our preference for Option 2, which called for “sharrows” to be painted from Miraloma to O’Shaughnessy. A “sharrows” is a bike/rider and arrow emblem painted on the street surface to show that the lane is shared. (Share & Arrow = Sharrows). You’ll notice that SFMTA implemented option 1 and painted a dedicated bike lane.

Just before the Environment Impact Report (EIR) was accepted by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors back in 2009, we noticed that the SFMTA had come up with a “Revised Option 2,” in which bikes would have a dedicated lane on Portola from O’Shaughnessy to Sydney, the street across Portola from Fowler. To provide the dedicated bike lane, they planned to remove one of the left-turn lanes from Portola onto Fowler. At that time, we believed this strategy would cause many problems. The two lanes divide left-turning vehicles into two lines: one to go left into the parking lot and the other to go straight on Fowler or right into the parking lot. Although the SFMTA traffic study supposedly showed no significant impact on the level of service at the intersection if there were only one lane, many residents who make the turn daily know that the two most common situations causing back-ups are when cars entering the parking lot on either side must wait for a car to pull out of a space in the lot, or when the 36-Teresita is making a turn.

Thus, we believed that reducing the left turn to one lane would cause back-ups onto Portola Drive. The time allotted for a left turn on each green arrow would not be sufficient to empty the lane, so that in order to turn left drivers would have to wait through multiple cycles of the traffic light. Drivers would opt to go around vehicles going into the lot and approach the crosswalk with reduced visibility, increasing danger for pedestrians, especially high-schoolers, as they cross in the crosswalk. This was the situation before the Department of Parking and Traffic decided years ago, for reasons of safety, to have two left turn lanes.

In response to concerns about reducing the two left turn lanes to one, Damon R. Curtis, the Acting Implementation Manager of the Bicycle Program, at SFMTA responded:

“ . . .We appreciate your concerns about removing one of the westbound left-turn lanes from Portola at Fowler; however, based on our analysis of the intersection, one lane is sufficient to accommodate the left-turn demand. This does not mean that there will never be a back-up, but it does mean that the next reasonable step is to implement the proposal and observe it under real-world conditions. Subsequently, we
will make any modifications we think are necessary based on those observations. Incidentally, this particular project was approved by the MTA Board this past June (2009); however, based on our current implementation schedule, it will not be implemented for another 1 to 2 years.”

Now that the single left-turn lane from Portola onto Fowler has been in effect for over a month, the MPIC wants to know what you think about its impact on traffic and safety. Please send us an email, leave a voice message, or post your opinion to our message board. You can also write to the SFMTA at 1 South Van Ness Avenue, 7th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103, or submit comments to the SFMTA board at MTAboard@SFMTA.com. If you do this, please send the MPIC a copy of your comment.

The SF School of the Arts Program

by Sandra Halladey

Founded in 1982 by acclaimed American artist Ruth Asawa, as well as local renowned artists, educators, and parents, the San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA) thrives as a stand-out public high school that provides a world-class academics and arts education. To commemorate Ruth Asawa’s vision and dedication in offering public school students exceptional arts education from professional artists and celebrated teachers, SOTA proudly embraces a new moniker as it enters into its thirtieth year as an award-winning school: the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. Among the many accolades garnered over the years, SOTA was recently honored with a 2011 California Distinguished School Award. SOTA was the only high school in San Francisco to receive this award in 2011.

We at the Ruth Asawa School for the Arts would like share the celebrations and events with the Miraloma neighborhood and invites the community to attend and help celebrate thirty years of arts excellence in public education. All events are listed on the school website at www.sfsota.org. The mainstage musical this year is The Producers, brought to you by the same department that in previous years gave you Seussical, Ragtime, and Fiddler on the Roof. Our production of The Producers features students from a variety of disciplines. Shows usually sell out, so we advise online advance ticket purchase at www.sfsota.org Here’s a special offer for Miraloma Life readers through February 1st: Get $2.00 off each online ticket for The Producers when you use the coupon code Miraloma. The Producers will open on February 23.

Other shows in January will include Media Night on Jan. 12 and 13, Shakespeare Night on Jan. 14, Poetry Café on Jan. 27, and Playwrighting on Jan. 28.

The Ruth Asawa School for the Arts is located at 555 Portola Drive in SF, at the corner of Portola and O’Shaunessy. Shows are performed at the Main Stage Theater, accessible from O’Shaughnessy.

Mt. Davidson Forest and the Natural Areas Plan

by Dan Liberthson

In the October Miraloma Life an article by Jacquie Proctor discussed the draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the SF Natural Areas Plan (NAP), regarding which input from the public was requested by the Planning Department and Parks and Recreation. Ms. Proctor has education and professional experience in urban planning, is a 32-year resident of Miraloma Park, and is an SF historian who leads tours of Mt. Davidson. She studied the lengthy and occasionally obscure and confusing DEIR and found several proposals that could dramatically decrease the historic recreational and aesthetic value of Mt. Davidson Park for neighborhood and City residents as well as visitors. Ms. Proctor submitted the October article summarizing her concerns to the Miraloma Life (providing a link to the DEIR so that people could read it and form their own opinions) and spoke to the MPIC Board, which agreed with her concerns and consequently wrote to the Environmental Review Officer detailing the issues and requesting further study and amelioration.

The MPIC Board stated in this letter our overriding concern that the NAP plan places disproportionally greater value on native plant habitat restoration than recreational use and that any of several alternatives for Mt. Davidson Park in the DEIR would deter public recreational use of this Park and attempt to make large portions of it into an oak and prairie landscape with restricted public access. This would unacceptable to the neighborhood of Miraloma Park, for which this forest is a major recreational resource and therefore a mainstay of our quality of life and property values. This goal is also inconsistent with the forested state of the hill when the City bought the land and designated it a public Park, and is also incompatible with historic Park recreational uses. We pointed out that we opposed the more radical alternatives in the EIR to remove 1600 or more trees from Mt. Davidson Park and if forced to choose could consider only the least invasive plan proposed (1200 trees removed) possibly acceptable—but that even this proposal was profoundly worrisome in terms of its potential impact on recreational use. We noted that the impact of any of the plans would be greater than anticipated because more trees under 15 feet high would be (or already have been) cut than specified in any DEIR (e.g., for an SF-PUC water tank near the summit and for other utility projects, storm damage, and tree death due to age and/or lack of maintenance).

Further, we noted that The Historic Resource Evaluation Response for the NAP confirms that the Mount Davidson forest area is a historic natural resource and potentially eligible for listing under the CA Register as an ethnographic landscape. The NAP project alternatives described in the DEIR would significantly negatively impact this historic natural area because (1) the DEIR proposes that replacement trees can be planted anywhere in San Francisco, rather than in the Park in the location of trees removed; (2) it specifies replacement of trees removed with oaks (which take a generation to grow) rather than faster growing historic forest species (e.g., cypress or pine); and (3) it lacks any plan for replanting the remaining trees (i.e., those trees not subject to planned removal) as the existing historic species reach the end of their lifespan; (4) it proposes removal of 3000 feet of trail on Mt. Davidson in order to protect native plants from people and dogs; and (5) it does not address global warming concerns, which argue against large-scale destruction of mature healthy trees for whose oxygen content replanted seedlings cannot compensate.

Furthermore, the DEIR project map indicates that areas where tree removal would be concentrated are the most visible areas within the Park, a major scenic and historic resource for Park visitors as well as residents of surrounding communities. Clear-cutting these highly visible areas along major trails and sightlines within the Park would be detrimental to enjoyment of the Park by its users. Looking west toward the cross at the summit, all the trees to the right and down the hill between the two stone stairways would be cut down, and across the road and down the hill a wider swath would be cleared. This center of what is now the forest area would be cleared and replanted to replicate the open look of the east side of the park. Of crucial concern is not the impact on views of the forest from outside of the park, which the DEIR does appear to consider, or the impact on distant views to and from the Park, but the view and experience of the historic forest up close from within the Park: along the trails, roads, and historic monuments within the areas where substantial tree removal is proposed. Even more alarming, the DEIR does not clearly define the planned scope and specific impact of the extensive tree removal planned for the area containing most park trails.

As part of the work on the EIR, the MPIC Board asked for revisions to detail the scale of proposed cutting along trails, and requested that that all healthy cypress and pine trees in the areas near trails remain uncut, to better preserve the recreational value of hiking in the woods. Unlike eucalyptus, these species from the original historic forest are not invasive and add greatly to the pleasure of viewing within the Park, as well as hosting a varied bird population that would be lost with their removal. The MPIC further required that all trees removed from Mt. Davidson as part of the NAP be replaced one-for-one within the Park in the locations vacated by the removed trees using cypress, cedar, or pine species in order to restore as fully as possible the historic visual character of the Sutro forest. The historic cypress and pine species and cedar as well are neither exotic nor invasive, grow much faster than oaks, and are more suited than oaks to survive the soil and windy/damp climate conditions in Mt. Davidson Park. In fact, oaks never existed on Mt. Davidson, so no valid argument can be made for replacement of removed trees with oaks. Note that none of the stipulations in this paragraph are currently in the DEIR, which is accordingly incomplete and deficient.

Because previous tree removal and native plant restoration projects in the Park have left unsightly stumps and debris along the most accessible and visible areas, the MPIC Board requested that any trees culled for the NAP (and any non-native brush cleared) be totally removed so that no stumps or remnants are left to negatively impact the aesthetic view from within the park. We further noted that although the DEIR addresses the noise-pollution impact to adjacent residents anticipated from the actual tree clearing, it does not address the fact that tree removal could result in a substantial permanent increase in ambient noise levels heard within the park—noise from the 280 freeway, BART, and Portola Drive now mitigated by trees slated for removal. The final EIR should study this impact, as well as the effect on quality of life of the increase in wind levels in and around the Park that will occur when trees that currently serve as a windscreen are removed. In addition, we reported that where trees have been removed thus far poison oak (an invasive native plant) growth has considerably increased, often along hiking trails, and we believe this proliferation will become dramatic as more trees are removed. Thus, we asked for a policy to keep poison oak at least 10 feet away from all trails at all times.

DEIR proposals also prohibit benches in scenic view areas near the Mt. Davidson summit in order to deter off-leash dogs, which might harm native plant restorations. However, the DEIR does not assess how leash rules could be effectively enforced or that, instead of pursuing such enforcement, City staff are choosing to remove recreational amenities such as benches in sensitive plant areas. This policy significantly negatively impacts recreational experience of one of the best views in San Francisco, to the extent that there is now only one bench in the Park. The MPIC has requested more benches throughout the forest.

Last, we pointed out that the DEIR lacks any cost estimate or means of funding for implementing the NAP program, nor does it address the potential impact of shifting resources such as park bond funds away from recreation and park maintenance/improvements to complete the NAP projects. The substantial cost of removing the trees from Mt. Davidson will divert significant resources from providing what the MPIC considers a higher priority for resource use: basic maintenance of Mt. Davidson Park, including litter and graffiti removal, forest and trail maintenance, and installation of benches and trail direction signage. We concluded our letter with the statement that unless the above-described inadequacies in the NAP project for Mt. Davidson are addressed, we would need to request withdrawal of Mt. Davidson from the NAP plan.

I have provided the above level of detail partly in order to answer a critical communication from one reader (the only one who communicated to us any objection) in response to Ms. Proctor’s article on the NAP and Mt. Davidson in October’s Miraloma Life. Following in italics is a substantial excerpt from letter submitted in November by a concerned resident:

“I see no reason to why the MPIC through its newsletter should try to shape opinion by misinforming the public about restoration projects … Why not present information about these restoration plans in a non-biased and more truthful way? The goal is to reduce non-native and evasive plant species from a public property to better protect what little is left of undeveloped San Francisco. Take it back to a time that pre-dates manipulation and intervention by man—and preserve that. Create healthy ecosystems for native and endangered plants and animals. Increase the opportunity for the natural views once afforded to the west, north and south (now obscured by those non-native trees) … I have said this before—the MPIC does NOT speak for us all, and they should stop pretending to do so, to our elected officials in matters like this.”

Editor’s Note: The MPIC Board carefully studies and evaluates all issues before taking a position, and we volunteer many hours per month to this effort. We do not claim—and never have claimed—to represent the views of all Miraloma Park residents (nor can any party or organization make that claim for all of its members). The goal of the MPIC Board has consistently been to act, to the best of our
understanding, in the best interests of the community in enhancing and preserving quality of life our neighborhood. It is in this spirit that we participate in the public debate over governmental projects for which, as in the case of the NAP DEIR, our views are solicited: so that flaws in proposed legislation that could degrade quality of life in Miraloma Park are noticed and, hopefully, corrected.

The MPIC warmly supports native plant habitat restoration. In fact, the MPIC Clubhouse hosts and supports one of the most noted and best maintained native plant gardens in the City. Our opposition is to the extreme measure of culling exotics so much as to drastically impact recreational use. In other words, we advocate for a balanced approach that respects the Mountain’s natural and cultural history while also taking into account the present context and uses. As noted above, we believe that the present DEIR does not achieve this balance, and have suggested solutions at the invitation of our government. Furthermore, many naturalists propose that once an environment is altered by introducing new species, pursuing its restoration to a “time that predates manipulation and intervention by man” is impossible; the affected lands must therefore be managed within their present context and uses. And certainly, the view that an oak prairie represents the “natural” state of Mt. Davidson is incorrect with respect to the original state of the land, as the notion of abolishing trails and restricting access to Park land and views is incompatible with established recreational uses.

From the Legal Files: Uphill/Downhill Neighbor Law

by Mary Catherine Wiederhold, Esq.

With Miraloma Park’s many homes on hills, leaves from trees and other debris impact uphill and downhill neighbors differently. What can be done when an uphill neighbor’s debris threatens a downhill neighbor’s property or fence? Downhill neighbors have some options.

First, they should talk with the uphill neighbor about cleaning out the debris. Gutters and roofs should be inspected and cleaned before the rainy season. A back fence area should also be checked for leaves and other debris. This is especially important if debris accumulates along a back fence and causes damage.

If there is a dispute about accumulated debris that neighbors can’t resolve, they might try mediation by Community Boards. Community Boards in San Francisco offers free or low-fee mediation. They bring parties together in an effort to resolve the immediate issue that is causing conflict and put in place a strategy for resolving future disputes.

If all else fails, the downhill neighbor might consider litigation. The goal of litigation can be to obtain an injunction. The uphill neighbor could be found liable for nuisance, trespass, and negligence. Nuisance “is a civil wrong based on disturbance of right in land.” Trespass “might result from physical intrusion . . . or failure to remove foreign material.” Remedies for nuisance and trespass include giving reasonable notice and entering the uphill neighbor’s property to remove the debris. Another remedy could be an order by a Superior Court judge for the uphill neighbor to clean up the accumulated debris.

Another remedy is for the downhill neighbor to seek a monetary judgment against the uphill neighbor. Damages would include the cost of downhill neighbor’s replacement fence or repair, or any money that would make the downhill neighbor whole. Alternatively, the downhill neighbor could seek damages for the decreased value to the property so long as that does not exceed the cost to repair. Damages might also be sought for the emotional distress caused by the uphill neighbor’s actions.

If you live downhill and have issues with your uphill neighbor, before taking legal action I would recommend that you seriously reflect on how long you are going to live in Miraloma Park. Suing your neighbor will likely permanently damage your relationship. Seeking mediation is a preferable first step.

Thanks to real estate broker Sue Kirkham for her suggestion regarding this column’s topic. If readers have suggestions for future columns, please send an e-mail to: mcw@mcwrealestatelaw.com.