Miraloma Life Online – June 2008

  • Garden Tour Redux
  • Miraloma Field Dog Policy
  • NERT News
  • Spring is Sprung
  • Legal Ease
  • Changes to the MPIC Board
  • From the President…
  • Summer Social and MPIC Election
  • Miraloma Park Residential Guidelines
  • Miraloma Park Clubhouse
  • Hunting for Treasure on Yerba Buena Island
  • Congratulations to Gary Noguera
  • MPIC Safety Alert
  • Summer Creative Writing Festival
  • Let’s Put a Stop to Graffiti!
  • Design Matters
  • Plant an apple tree – grow your community
  • Mt Davidson’s Grasslands: Don’t Miss Them!
  • Q & A: installing Solar on Your Home
  • Bella Vista Garden Work Days



MUNI plans a major change to the 36 line, which would eliminate service between Forest Hill Station and the Portola Drive business area, including Mollie Stones, and will curtail 36 service north of Reposa Way. This change will adversely impact the elderly and others who do not drive, as well as Downtown commuters.

Please call 311 to register your opposition to this non-neighborhood friendly change. 311 operators will forward community input to MUNI management. Other West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods— Forest Knolls and Midtown Terrace—will also lose their 36 service. In addition, please sign the petition which will be placed at check counters at Mollie Stone’s very shortly. Even if you are not directly affected by this route change, please support your neighbors in conserving this important neighborhood service.

Thank you! MPIC Board of Directors


Garden Tour Redux

by JoAnn Eastep

It was cold and windy and foggy (Miraloma Park Spring/Summer) on the day of the garden tour but the people who viewed the eight private and two public gardens were rewarded with great beauty and enough great ideas to make them forget the inclement weather. On view were large expansive gardens, small, very personal spaces, uphill gardens, downhill gardens and even gardens cut in the hill. What a wonderful variety! It showed that no matter what size or shape of space you have there is a design that will work just perfectly for you.

The MPIC would like to thank all the garden greeters who stood in the cold and wind to show visitors to the right entrances to the gardens. We are most grateful to the generous garden owners for being part of the tour and for coming to the reception afterwards in the clubhouse to discuss their gardens and to toast this fun event.

To relive the tour or if you weren’t able to make it, enjoy the pictures of the people and gardens in the printed version of this months Miraloma Life.


Miraloma Field Dog Policy

On May 14, District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd hosted a meeting at the MPIC Clubhouse to explain the City’s leash-law on the renovated Miraloma Field. The Supervisor noted that

1) Miraloma Field is classified by Rec/Park as a ball field, intended for athletic field use including baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and other sports. The City’s Municipal Code specifies a no-dogs-allowed (off-leash or on) on ball fields, primarily because dog urine and digging damage the turf.

2) Enforcement has been lax prior to renovating the field, partly because the field was in such poor condition that few teams wanted to use it for sports, but enforcement is now being stepped up in accordance with the policy. The signs posted on the field regarding dogs have been incorrect and are being replaced by corrected signs stating the policy.

3) Sean noted that he is looking into turning an unused stretch of green space along Portola across from the fire station into an off-leash dog area. However the property is under the aegis of DPW and is in the West Portal neighborhood, so he’ll have to work with those folks.

Points raised by those supporting some access to the playground for dogs:
1) Suggestions for a time-of-use schedule, so that dogs could use the field at underutilized times of day.
2) Dog owners pay taxes and deserve access to limited open space facilities, and the field will sit unused for most of the time.
3) Dog walkers in this neighborhood are a responsible and tight-knit community. They help with vigilance against vandalism and other crimes.

Points raised by those supporting a no-dogs (whatsoever) policy:
1) There are more than 25 off-leash dog areas in the city, including Stern Grove and Diamond Heights.
2) Reservations for use of athletic fields are very hard to get in this city. Ballfields are in great demand and are not under-utilized. In parks where ball-fields are shared with dogs, teams must clean dog feces and mark potholes before beginning play.
3) Even one irresponsible owner presents a potential hazard to children, especially small kids.
4) Fencing off part of the Field for a dog run is not feasible, as doing so would require re-classification of the park and would necessitate modification to the irrigation system.

The supportive involvement of MPIC in maintenance and improvement of the Miraloma Playground and Field has included
1) Active and consistent graffiti abatement.
2) Successful advocacy for daily gardening services (curtailed for 18 months after the retirement of our long-time Rec/Park gardener).
3) Successful advocacy for increased police patrols and abatement of nuisance and illegal activity in the park/field at night.
4) Active participation in renovation planning process.
5) Educating neighbors in the immediate vicinity of the Park to call police about suspicious activity at that site.



by Jed Lane, Miraloma Park / Mt Davison NERT Coordinator

There are three opportunities to get NERT training coming up in our area. You can register on line at sfgov.org/site/sfnert. Locations are; Ingleside/City College at Lick Wilmerding High School 755 Ocean Ave., Tuesdays 6:30pm-9:30pm and runs May 27 to July 1. The next is Diamond Heights/Glen Park at the Shepherd of the Hill Church Hall at Addison/Diamond Heights Blvd. This session runs Mondays 6:30pm-9:30pm from June 2, to July 7. I’ve just been told by SFFD that they are working on scheduling another series in Miraloma Park at the Community Church on Arroyo and Teresita starting on July 21and running for six consecutive Mondays. For questions,call 425-9810 or e-mail Jed@JedLane.com


Spring is Sprung

by Sue Kirkham

Spring has arrived, and so have the grasses and weeds. Weeds in your front yard, in the pavement, and in the gutter give the appearance of neglect and gather trash. Weeds typically spread by seeds, so leaving weeds in front of your home spreads seeds to adjacent homes and make the problem worse. To remove those pesky weeds in the pavement and gutter use a trowel or pour boiling water on them. Boiling water kills the weed and the root and works particularly well when they are small. If you do not have the time or interest, hire a gardener to do periodic maintenance. A well cared for neighborhood maintains and enhances your property value.


Legal Ease

by Mary Catherine Wiederhold, Esq.

What can you do if you hired a contractor, were dissatisfied with her work and then you find out that she put a mechanic’s lien on your property? This column will discuss mechanic’s lien.

California law is very protective of contractors. Under the law, anyone, including subcontractors, who works on your property and who contributes to a “work of improvement” on your home, upon which they provided labor, furnished materials or appliances then they are entitled
to place a lien on your property if they are not fully paid. The lien must be for the reasonable value of the labor, services, equipment or materials furnished or for the price agreed upon by the contract, whichever is less. A mechanic’s lien prevents you from obtaining financing or from selling your property without first satisfying the amount of the lien.

A contractor has ninety days from the day she places a mechanic’s lien on your property to “foreclose” on it—in other words, sue on the lien. If the contractor does not take any action within ninety days, then the homeowner can file a legal action to remove the lien.

To foreclose on the lien, the contractor will file a notice of the pending lawsuit or “lis pendens” on your property. This notice alerts potential buyers of your property that there is a lawsuit under way. The contractor will then file a lawsuit against you to collect the amount of the lien. She may also seek attorney’s fees and court costs if the contract allows for it. You can attempt to settle the dispute by offering a sum that the contractor might accept. However, the contractor may ask you to sign a release in exchange for accepting a lower amount than the lien. This release should be examined by an attorney to see whether you would be giving up your right to sue the contractor in the event you find the work unsatisfactory. If you find out that the contractor did not do the work correctly, then you can sue the contractor for damages. You should consult with an attorney first. Because the law is so protective of contractors, it is important to do your homework before signing any home improvement contract. Make sure you understand it and it describes all work you want done. Also ask for and check the contractor’s references.

Readers who have ideas for future columns can send them to the author at mcw@mcwrealestatelaw.com.


Changes to the MPIC Board

by Phil Laird

I am pleased to welcome two new members of the Board of Directors—new to the Board, but not new to the community, for both Jim Ilardo and Jed Lane have been active in Miraloma Park for many years. Jim has lived in Miraloma Park for nearly twenty years. He is a member of the City Club of San Francisco, has worked with the Family Services Foundation, and serves on the Safety Committee of the MPIC. Among other activities, he was the principal organizer for our successful Safety Event in April.

Jed is a local, having attended the St. Brendan and St. Ignatius schools and lived in Miraloma Park since 1994. Besides his work in real estate, on the Bella Vista garden, and as a coordinator of NERT for Mt. Davidson/Miraloma Park, he is on the Board of Directors of SF SAFE, the Lowell High School Site Council, and the Surplus Property Citizens Advisory Committee to the Board of Supervisors. He also represents the Miraloma Park Improvement Club at the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods.

Finally, I am sorry to announce the departure of Peter Renteria from the Board but pleased that Peter will continue to work with us as he has for the past four years. Among other things, Peter is our principal liaison with local businesses and is MPIC’s official Minister of Hawaiian Culture. Mahalo, Peter!


From the President…

by Phil Laird

This is my last column as president of the MPIC Board, as my two-year term ends this month. After reviewing all the verbiage I have inflicted upon these pages, I note that the recurring theme has been the sense of community that we
enjoy in Miraloma Park. I would therefore like to conclude my column with a list of people and organizations who have given so much of their time and talent to our community over the past year.

Unfortunately, our editor tells me that we don’t have enough room in the newsletter to include the list of over 70 names I sent her. So I’ll place the list of names on the website, www.miralomapark.org, and encourage everyone to view them here.

Most are Miraloma Park residents, but many are not. All have stepped forward to help build and improve the neighborhood. On behalf of the members of the MPIC Board of Directors, who helped me compile this list, thank you all.

I can be sure that the day after this list goes online, I will remember a dozen more names I should have included. If your name is one of these, we thank you for your contribution to the community.


Summer Social and MPIC Election

The MPIC invites our friends and neighbors to join us at 7:30 pm, on Thursday, June 19, at the Clubhouse. Light refreshments will be served, and we will hold our annual election, voting on the slate presented in May. Standing for a 2-year term as Director will be Phil Laird, Mike Naughton, Joanne Whitney, JoAnn Eastep, Gary Isaacson, Cassandra Mettling-Davis, Karen Wood, Jim O’Donnell, Robert Gee, Jim Ilardo, Jed Lane, and Pam Dickey. Standing for a 2-year term as officer will be Mike Naughton for President, Gary Noguera for Vice President, Phil Laird for Treasurer, and Joanne Whitney for Sergeant at Arms. All members in good standing (homeowners, renters, property owners, or business owners in Miraloma Park who have paid their 2008 dues by May 19), please come, vote, and spend some time with your neighbors.


Miraloma Park Residential Guidelines

The Miraloma Park Residential Guidelines were adopted in 1999 by the City Planning Commission to promote preservation of neighborhood character by encouraging residential design compatible with neighborhood setting. Residential Design Guidelines can facilitate the complex and often frustrating process of permit application and design review and can prevent costly and time-consuming Discretionary Review proceedings. Guidelines at www.miralomapark.org.


Miraloma Park Clubhouse

There is a clean gas burning fireplace to add that extra bit of cheer to your special event. Colorful curtains grace the stage and there is a new piano for your enjoyment.. Modern, lightweight tables and new really comfortable chairs are available. Free parking is in the adjacent parking lot. Members get a discount. Trash and recycling available. Call 415-281-0892 for rates/availability.


Hunting for Treasure on Yerba Buena Island

by Geoffrey Coffey
Distant rumblings from city hall portend a boom on Treasure Island, the former Navy base now on the brink of becoming San Francisco’s newest residential neighborhood. This exercise in urban planning will be a closely watched experiment. Early drafts of the master plan have called for sustainable design and green building development, including an open space and landscaping component that emphasizes the use of locally native plants.

No plant is native to Treasure Island – this 400-acre landmass was built of quarried rock and bay-dredged landfill in the late 1930s. But the first seawalls for that project were raised from the northern shoals of Yerba Buena Island, the natural island now joined with man-made Treasure Island like a siamese twin. And the steep slopes of Yerba Buena Island, though radically altered by invasive weeds and the hand of man, still harbor remnants of the original native flora, a population from which the landscape planners may wish to draw their inspiration.

Consider the coast red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), enthusiastic seeder of moist forest margins, a proven survivor even in the deepening shadows of eucalyptus and monterey pine. This robust deciduous shrub can reach tree-like heights of 20 feet, filling the middle space beneath a taller canopy with a cheerful bloom of frothy white blossoms from March through July. Just now the fruit has begun to form: dramatic clusters of scarlet berries adored by birds. After the leaves drop in late fall, the bare elderberry still holds interest for its branches, which have a large pith and are easily hollowed out. The Ohlone used these twigs for flutes, whistles, and clapper sticks (a drum alternative); indeed, the genus name “Sambucus” pays homage to the Greek sambuke, a musical instrument made from elder wood. Excellent as a specimen plant in the garden or focal point in an urban park, and a tasteful alternative to cotoneaster, the coast red elderberry should rank high on anybody’s landscaping wish list.

For a fast filler in sun or shade, look to the bee plant (Scrophularia californica), which still thrives on Yerba Buena despite stiff competition from ivy, broom, blackberry, and other nasty customers. The common name gives away this coarse 3-foot perennial as an important wildlife plant, though hummingbirds appear to be the more frequent visitors to its inconspicuous flowers. Use bee plant in the garden as a background for showier flowers, or deploy it to cover unsightly or weed-prone areas, particularly on north-facing slopes or in other deep shade.

The island was named Yerba Buena (Spanish for “good herb”) after the creeping wild mint, Satureja douglasii, that once covered these shores. Ivy, broom, and poison hemlock have now overrun much of the understory, to the detriment of this plant which grows no more than a few inches tall — but dedicated seekers may still discover patches of yerba buena in the shaded woods. Keep an eye out for for the slender, purplish prostrate stems rooting at the nodes, with pairs of delicate light-green oval-shaped leaves that smell delicious when crushed between the fingers. Yerba buena looks lovely in the garden when trailing over a stone retaining wall or other hardscaping, and can soften the spaces between paving stones or beside paths. Tea made from yerba buena is also widely hailed for its curative properties.

Perhaps this medicinal influence has kept the island of Yerba Buena so healthy so long in the face of mankind’s meddling. Throughout the late 19th century, for example, herds of goats raised here for meat (the island was officially called “Goat Island” from 1895-1931) proved a steady and strong disturbance to the original flora. The efficiency of the goat as eating machine was amply demonstrated last March, when a herd of 250 goats were brought here as “organic weed abatement” in a project to reduce fire hazard.

The good news is that the goats succesfully removed the problem plants from the target area; the bad news is that the goats removed every plant from the target area. A goat does not distinguish between native plants and weeds. Any habitat thus grazed to the ground will not simply revert to its native state, but rather becomes more vulnerable to invasion by exotics. Alas, the goat as weed control mechanism is only a short-term solution.

But even the destructive capacity of goats cannot match the record of the U.S. military. The list of environmental cleanup projects currently under Navy responsibility here covers more than 30 sites, including the wastewater sludge disposal area on Yerba Buena’s eastern point and the gasoline tank farm on its northwestern flank, with a potent cocktail of pollutants now on the island including lead and other heavy metals, pesticides, asbestos, petroleum hydrocarbons, and “volatile organic compounds” (a plausible nickname for goats). The survival of any native plants here at all under such adverse conditions testifies to their remarkable powers of endurance.

Indeed, native plants compose a special identity of place, and give a sense of belonging to a greater order. A redeveloped Treasure Island, if landscaped with selections from the local native flora, will reconnect its residents to the past while pursuing a sustainable future, bridging the natural and the urban. Such healthy intersections of wildland and city are perhaps the greatest treasures of all.
Find more by author Geoffrey Coffey at www.geoffreycoffey.com


Congratulations to Gary Noguera

by Joanne Whitney

The Miraloma Park Improvement Club would like to congratulate Gary Noguera, one of our Board Directors and the Miraloma Park traffic guru, on his election to the presidency of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods.

The Coalition is a assembly of 41 neighborhood organizations representing neighborhoods throughout the city. Focus of the Coalition is on grass roots issues and preservation of the quality of life in our neighborhoods. The Coalition debates city propositions and submits ballot arguments on selected issues which are published in the Voter’s handbook.

Before being elected President, Gary represented our interests by being a delegate from MPIC for three years and then by being first vice president. We wish him the greatest success in this important position.


MPIC Safety Alert:

Please notify police (553-0123) about illegal curb-painters in our area. They can and do intimidate seniors and could be casing houses—ringing doorbells to find out who is at home is a common prelude to burglaries. Unauthorized painting of curbs is illegal in SF.


Summer Creative Writing Festival

Down the Peninsula and in the East Bay, summer means pool parties and drinks on the veranda. In Miraloma Park, it means a comfortable seat by the fire in the clubhouse while the fog swirls outside, attending the MPIC’s Creative Writing Festival. All writers of fiction, poetry, and essays from Miraloma Park and surrounding neighborhoods are invited to read their work and (if any be published), to offer it for sale on Sunday, June 29 from 2-4 PM, at the Clubhouse.Dan Liberthson, writer and poet, will be the event coordinator. He will bring his newest book, The Pitch is on the Way: Poems About Baseball and Life, with 50 poems about the game of summer, its players, staff, and fans, as well as 21 drawings by a professional artist (see http://Liberthson.com for more information). Peter Magowan, the owner of the San Francisco Giants, thought so highly of this book that he wrote a glowing Foreword and is featuring it in Giant’s Dugout stores, and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig recommends it. Please bring 10 to 15 minutes of your own creation to read to an audience dedicated to enjoying itself whatever the weather. See you there, writers, and listeners too. Some rather delicious light refreshments are planned, but nothing crunchy (too hard to hear the readers).


Let’s Put a Stop to Graffiti!

by Sue Kirkham
333-9840 info@SueKirkham.com

It is not just good fortune that Miraloma Park is almost always graffiti free. Over 15 years ago I called for volunteers to assist me in eradicating graffiti in Miraloma Park and the thoroughfares bordering our neighborhood. A small group of Miraloma Park residents signed up and have made it their mission to protect our neighborhood from this urban blight.

Graffiti is a serious problem in San Francisco. If left unabated and unchallenged, it spreads and attracts other forms of urban blight and criminal behavior, and promotes a perception that the laws protecting the community’s public and private property can be disregarded with impunity. Property values erode in neighborhoods where graffiti is allowed to flourish. Graffiti tagging is criminal vandalism, punishable by jail time and/or community service, victim restitution, and fines. Graffiti damage up to $400 is a misdemeanor; above $400 can bump it up to a felony charge, with the penal code calling for more severe consequences.

After years of community outrage over the pervasiveness of the problem and the city’s historically anemic response to it, the District Attorney’s Office has finally begun adopting a more aggressive policy in prosecuting these crimes. In 2007, the DA’s Office filed over 200 such cases, nearly double the 2006 figure. The vast majority of cases are settled out of court: only 5 to 10%—the national average—ever go to trial, and of those, only a handful of offenders face actual jail time or formal probation. Unfortunately, the weak link in the graffiti justice chain is the judicial branch of government: judges rarely give graffiti cases before them the attention they deserve. In San Francisco it is extremely rare for offenders to get felony probation or do any jail time. Most simply do community service cleaning up graffiti, often multiple times.

Fighting graffiti vandalism effectively requires equal parts law enforcement AND quick removal. With this in mind, the Board of Supervisors recently passed the Graffiti Removal and Abatement Ordinance, requiring property owners to remove graffiti from their property. The ordinance allows 30 days for removal. Miraloma Park Graffiti volunteers do not find 30 days to be an acceptable period for removal. Removal needs to be immediate to send a clear message that graffiti vandalism will not be tolerated in Miraloma Park.

What we can all do to make a big dent in graffiti vandalism:

1. Report graffiti elsewhere in the city by calling 311 or e-mailing 28Clean@sfdpw.org.

2. Join Graffiti Watch, a citywide volunteer effort to prevent and remove graffiti from public property such as utility and light poles, mail, and traffic signal boxes. The goal is to keep our streets and sidewalks graffiti-free through community involvement and enforcement. Graffiti Watch was created to empower residents and merchants to take ownership of their neighborhood by removing graffiti immediately. DPW supplies training, paint, and tools. For more information, call Merle Goldstone at (415) 641-2625.

3. Support Fiona Ma’s AB 1767 legislation. Arrested vandals often get away with their crime by civilly compromising their way out of prosecution. AB 1767, introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, would do away with this practice. Please show your support by writing a letter to Fiona Ma at 455 Golden Gate Ave., Suite 14600,SF CA 94102. Or e-mail her aide at nick.hardeman@asm.ca.gov.

4. Call me to sign up to be a Miraloma Park graffiti volunteer. I will provide instruction and deliver the necessary supplies to your home or business.Thank you to all of the volunteers who have worked tirelessly on graffiti abatement. You all have very busy lives and have sacrificed much personal time to protect our neighborhood.


Design Matters

Peter A. Zepponi, AIA – Architect

This is a monthly column addressing basic residential design and home improvement topics of interest to Miraloma Park residents. If you have a question or topic you’d like considered for a future article please send an email to: pazdesignmatters@aol.com or call 415.334.2868. www.zepponi-architects.com

Q: How large of a shed can you build in your back yard?

A: Less than 8 feet high, and not more than 100 sq. ft.

Tired of dragging your garden tools out from under the crawl space of your house or carrying your lawn mower up or down stairs? Maybe consider a small garden shed. With many of the houses in Miraloma Park being on a hillside, most people are faced with the issue of getting their gardening tools out to the place they need to use them. If you were inspired by the recent Miraloma Garden Tour and have decided to finally make your open space an extension of your living space by landscaping your yard, a small shed can help keep your tools accessible and your plants healthy.

The San Francisco Planning Code allows certain small structures in the rear yard.

Section 136 (c)(22): “Garden structures enclosed by walls on no more than 50 percent of their perimeter, such as gazebos and sunshades, if no more than eight feet in height above grade and covering no more than 60 square feet of land”

Section 136 (c)(22): “Other structures commonly used in gardening activities, such as greenhouses and sheds for storage of garden tools, if no more than eight feet in height above grade and covering no more than 100 square feet of land.”

A garden shed doesn’t need to be the metal storage unit that might come to mind. It can be a really well designed piece of architecture that compliments your overall landscape design. I visited several garden shops on a recent trip to Pacific Grove and was inspired by some lovely garden sheds and cottages I saw there. You can do a quick internet search for ‘garden sheds’ or flip through Sunset Magazine for ideas. A well thought out shed can be more than a great way to get needed storage. If designed to be visibly appealing it can be a focal point in your yard. Besides being a potting shed, or tool shed, it could be a cool playhouse for your kids, or a place to store their outdoor toys and shoes. Or it might be a cozy shelter that has exposed beams and plant trellis that you can sit under and read a book. Maybe it’s a place to keep all your pet supplies, or a green house to grow the rare Miraloma tomato. Once you start letting your mind wander it’s easy come up with ways to utilize an extra 60 to 100 square feet of space. However, one thing you might want to keep in mind is security. A little cottage built out of recycled beams, weathered board and battens, and old salvaged divided light windows might look really quaint, but may not be that secure. It’s something to consider if your yard is easily accessible or visible from a public way. A simple solution to keep your tools from walking away might be to add some operating window shutters. Visiting one of the several architectural salvage yards might be another place to find inspiration or something with authentic character. If you haven’t considered it before, perhaps a little shed is a relatively simple solution to increase the function and livability of your home.

Useful Resources: www.ohmegasalvage.com
www.creativereuse.org.; Gilman Trading Company

* This column and its content are intended to be a source of general information. Applicability to your specific project should be verified.


Plant an apple tree – grow your community

Joan van Rijn and Sky Charlesworth

The Los Palmos Community Garden welcomed “Anna-bella” our new “four-on-four” grafted apple tree. The tree has four varieties and one of the apples is the Anna. Joan van Rijn and Sky Charlesworth, members of the garden, planted the tree as their City College Environmental Horticulture class project. Like Tom Sawyer though, when painting his fence, we had many friends and neighbors who seeing us work, wanted to give us advice and help The Project involved the entire neighborhood and on Sunday, May 18, we celebrated and toasted “Anna-Bella” with some sparkling apple cider and other apple goodies. This spring, a retaining wall has been constructed to add a new vegetable garden. Seeds from last Halloween’s sugar pie pumpkin were saved and planted, zucchini plants were started from seed and sunflower seed heads were saved from last year’s crop; those seeds have produced viable sunflower plants. A potato patch will also be put in. Sugar snap peas, lettuce, swiss chard and green onions have their own bed and are learning to share the space with some very vigorous sweet peas.

A farm in Miraloma Park? No, but adding vegetables is a great way to share the bounty and keep the community healthy and involved.


Mt Davidson’s Grasslands: Don’t Miss Them!

by Stan Kaufman and Tom Annese

The eastern flank of Mt Davidson reveals a glimpse of what all of San Francisco’s hills once looked like, back when Mt D was known as “Blue Mountain” because of its prolific grassland wildflowers each spring. Thanks to Leland Stanford’s decision not to plant his part of the hill with eucalyptus, Monterey cypress and Monterey pine the way his neighbor Adolph Sutro did, we can explore this remnant of Mt D’s complex grassland and scrub communities.

What we see today has been significantly altered, however — just not as cataclysmically as Sutro’s tree farm next door. For one thing, there are considerably more shrubs now than when grazing elk and later cows kept the coyote bush, huckleberry, and poison oak nibbled down. More importantly, Mt D’s grasslands now are inundated by introduced weedy annual European grasses that have nearly choked out our indigenous species.

The most robust of the native grass populations on Mt D are the large stands of Pacific reed grass (Calamagrostis nutkaensis) and California fescue (Festuca californica). Both are now flowering spectacularly along the northwest margin of the grasslands, with the California fescue particularly noticeable paired with the reddish-leaved huckleberry all along the northern flank of the grasslands. This part of Mt D is the best preserved location on the hill, and in fact is one of the most pristine of the Significant Natural Resource Areas anywhere in San Francisco.

The eastern and southern portions of Mt D’s grasslands are significantly more challenged. Small pockets of our official state grasspurple needle grass (Nasella pulchra), red fescue (Festuca rubra), blue wild rye (Elymus glaucus), June grass (Koeleria macrantha), onion grass (Melica californica and M. torreyana), California oatgrass (Danthonia califonica) and bluegrass (Poa secunda) are apparent to the discerning eye.

Much more obvious, though, are the dense swaths of weed grasses: ripgut brome (Bromus diandrus), Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), rattlesnake grass (Briza major), rattail fescue (Vulpia myuros), and wild oat (Avena barbata). These annual weeds grow extremely rapidly, dump tons of seed, and then die. Unlike the native bunch grasses that put down roots 6-10 feet into the soil and live for decades to hundreds of years, these annual weeds provide no slope stabilization benefit nor sustenance for the local food chain. Native bunch grasses build soils; annual weedy grasses deplete them.

Unfortunately, measures that control these annual weedy grasses — periodic fire and grazing — are now not possible on Mt D. Native grasslands evolved with and require both for optimal health, and Mt D demonstrates what happens when human intervention interrupts the natural forces: weeds predominate. The closest approximation to fire and grazing is strategically-timed mowing when the weed grasses have flowered but before they set seed. However, this is also not feasible on Mt D because the Natural Areas Program  of the Rec&Park Department is so poorly staffed and funded that they simply cannot perform this crucial task.

Nevertheless, when you next walk through Mt D’s grasslands, take time to locate the patches of native bunch grasses and note how many more insects and birds you see where the indigenous communities are relatively intact compared to where there is merely a weedy lawn. Observe how Mt D’s twenty species of wildflowers grow in association with the native grasses and are choked out and missing from annual grass areas. And then write Supervisor Elsbernd, the Mayor, the Rec&Park Dept General Manager, and the Rec&Park Commission and demand that the Natural Areas Program get the funding it needs to preserve Mt D’s grasslands, our most-threatened biological communities in the City.

And of course, come help out during the monthly “first Saturday” habitat restoration workparties with the Natural Areas Program from 9am-12noon, and join the online community for volunteers in the Mt Davidson section of www.sfnaturalareas.org !


Q & A: installing Solar on Your Home

(continued from May, 2008)

How long will it take for a typical solar installation to “pay for itself,” and what are the assumptions underlying that estimate?
The payback (net cost after rebates and tax credits divided by current year savings) may be on the order of 12 to 15 years.
However, investing in a known but admittedly costly solar system is a hedge against future costs for electricity. Proposers may show you attractive returns over the lifetime (25 to 30 years) of the solar system. Whether these returns can be realized depends very much on the projection of electricity prices, your income tax bracket over the entire projection period, and how long you plan to live in your house. However, investing in solar reduces greenhouse gases because the electricity replaced by a solar system would likely have been generated by a fossil fuel power plant.

If you are considering a solar system, get several bids. Bidders may use different solar radiation records to estimate the amount of power that a system on your roof will produce, have different design approaches, and recommend different installation techniques.
Is it reasonable to expect that rising demand for solar installations and the advent of new technologies will combine to reduce the future cost of solar? What about waiting a few years to see what happens?

From 2000 to 2007, the average annual growth rate of solar has been 40% or more. This rapid growth rate has strained the availability of silicon, the basic building block for solar cells. There is considerable debate when silicon production capacity will catch up with demand. Since silicon comprises 30% of crystalline solar cells, the cost of silicon is critical. The demand for solar has brought new competitors into the industry, and existing competitors have been furiously expanding capacity. Improvements in cell technology are reducing the amount of silicon and improving the efficiency of converting sunlight to electricity. Thin film technology is projected to significantly reduce the cost of cells. These factors should lower the cost of solar panels as it did through the year 2004, once the supply of silicon catches up with the demand. But we don’t know how quickly the price of solar installations might decline or whether, as some experts predict, solar will become competitive with conventional sources of electricity.
Without installing any equipment, we can certainly save by reducing usage. What are some ways to do so, and what can we reasonably expect to save in the process?

No surprises here. You have probably heard them all: turn off lights when not needed; replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs; disconnect unused electronics to eliminate even the small amount of residual energy; turn off your computer when not in use. If you are replacing appliances, check out the energy use label and shop accordingly. And purchase “energy-star” rated appliances when available.
If your electricity usage is high, you might consider buying a watt meter ($40 at a bed-and-bath shop) to measure the actual power used by each appliance. PG&E has recently replaced some of their electric meters in our neighborhood by Smart Meters. Within five years all meters will be Smart Meters. With them you will be able to monitor your electricity use in real time over the internet. Once you see how much electricity you are using, you may be motivated to turn off some appliances or to defer their use until after the peak period, defined as 1:00 to 7:00 PM in summer.

Where can the lay person obtain more information?
Payback and other financial tests for solar electric systems: www.ongrid.net/papers/PaybackOnSolarSERG.pdf
Solar information, rebates and calculators:
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) site:

The SFPUC has placed solar monitoring stations around the city; the one closest to us is at Laguna Honda hospital. You can compare our solar radiation levels to those of sites in the Mission, Hunters Point and the Richmond. The SFPUC site also has a solar calculator for estimating the amount of electricity that a solar system could produce at your home; however, visit the site www.gosolar for a more accurate calculator.

Thanks, Newton.


Bella Vista Garden Work Days

The work days Bella Vista project will be June 28 & July 26 from the 9 to 12 at the corner of Bella Vista and Sequoia. Contact Jed Lane with any questions at either 425-9810 or Jed@JedLane.com