your Miraloma Life … online – March 2007

  • Something New at the Spring Social Event
  • Residential Parking Stickers
  • From the President…
  • Disaster Meeting Place
  • Legal Ease
  • Miraloma Church Threatened With Closure
  • Sunnyside Park and Playground
  • On Shaky Ground: NERT Notes
  • GRAFFITI SUMMIT
  • Design Matters
  • Miraloma Elementary School Book Fair
  • Miraloma Park Improvement Club Clubhouse
  • Miraloma Cooperative Nursery School
  • Bernal Hill’s Big Bloom 

Something New at the Spring Social Event

by Jim O’Donnell

On Sunday, May 20, MPIC is going to have in its usual 3-5 PM slot, the Spring social, mixer, get-together, whatever you want to call it. Last Fall we had a special program with Jacquie Proctor and her history of the area in an audiovisual presentation. This spring, we are going to have something different, a classical music presentation featuring artists from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. We are planning to feature both instrumental and vocal presentations.. These young musicians are the cream of the crop. And, of course, we will have the usual mixer with wine, cheese and other refreshments to stimulate conversation. You will get the chance to meet your neighbors and friends while being accompanied by musicians from the Conservatory of Music. The format will be instrumental for the first hour and then the vocal ensemble will perform between 4 and 5, which will require our undivided attention to really appreciate the fine music that they have worked so hard to master. Bring your friends and family for this unique and pleasant event.

 

Residential Parking Stickers

by JoAnn Eastep

Do you come home only to find that there are no parking places near your house and you must walk two or three blocks with briefcases or groceries to get home? Most of us who live near the shopping strip on Portola experience this problem almost every day. All available parking spaces are taken by people who work in small businesses in the shopping area, at Tower Market, at the Youth Guidance Center by those who come from out of the area who park all day and ride the Muni to work. The problem reached a crisis state when parking meters were installed on the 700 block of Portola and in the small lot east of Tower Market.

The areas most affected by lack of parking for residents are: 0-99 Chaves, 0-199 Evelyn, 0-199 Juanita and 0-299 Teresita. The Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) has been contacted to find a solution to this problem. They have suggested the possibility of residential sticker parking with a two hour limit for all non residents.

Residents pay $60.00 per parking sticker per year and each household is allowed to purchase up to four stickers. Displaying the sticker ensures unlimited parking for all permit holders. Non residents are not allowed to purchase stickers and would only be allowed to park for two hours. Restricted parking would be in effect from 9am to 6pm, Monday through Friday. The areas affected would be patrolled by meter maids on a regular daily schedule. Cars without residential stickers would be marked and ticketed if the time limit is violated.

On Sunday April 15 from 2 to 4:30pm, there will be a meeting at the Miraloma Park Clubhouse to learn your views on this issue. Representatives from MTA have been invited and will be able to answer your questions regarding this process and about the pros and cons of parking stickers. Even if you do not live in the streets named in this article, you may want to attend the meeting as there is always the possibility that such sticker parking could have an impact upon parking in your area.

The Miraloma Park Improvement Club has neither endorsed this effort nor opposed it but is providing a forum for neighbors to discuss the possibility of residential parking stickers.

 

From the President…

Phil Laird

Following are some developments in our neighborhood that all our residents should know about. Work will begin soon on the upgrade to the Stanford Heights Reservoir, surrounded by Teresita, Agua, Isola, and Rockdale. The work will retrofit the reservoir to meet both seismic and health standards required by the state. The pump house on Agua that will be rebuilt to modern standards as part of the work was architecturally designed to comply with the esthetic guidelines for our neighborhood. A storage tank atop Mt. Davidson and the pipeline to it from the reservoir will also be replaced. Landscaping along three sides will be redesigned for both appeal and safety inspection standards. The SFPUC has conducted several community meetings to present the plans and incorporate community ideas and preferences. Traffic and parking—especially truck traffic—are still of concern to the residents and the Board of the MPIC. Work is scheduled to begin in the fall of this year and last about two years. Short-term inconveniences can be expected in return for significant long-term benefits. Information about the project is available on the SFPUC web site, www.sfwater.org.

Following are some developments in our neighborhood that all our residents should know about. Work will begin soon on the upgrade to the Stanford Heights Reservoir, surrounded by Teresita, Agua, Isola, and Rockdale. The work will retrofit the reservoir to meet both seismic and health standards required by the state. The pump house on Agua that will be rebuilt to modern standards as part of the work was architecturally designed to comply with the esthetic guidelines for our neighborhood. A storage tank atop Mt. Davidson and the pipeline to it from the reservoir will also be replaced. Landscaping along three sides will be redesigned for both appeal and safety inspection standards. The SFPUC has conducted several community meetings to present the plans and incorporate community ideas and preferences. Traffic and parking—especially truck traffic—are still of concern to the residents and the Board of the MPIC. Work is scheduled to begin in the fall of this year and last about two years. Short-term inconveniences can be expected in return for significant long-term benefits. Information about the project is available on the SFPUC web site, www.sfwater.org.

The SFPUC is also in the midst of a five-year Wastewater Capital Improvement Program (CIP). Miraloma Park residents hardly need to be told that our sewers have long been in need of replacement. The sewers along Teresita Boulevard, Foerster Street, Molimo Drive, El Sereno Court, Bella Vista Way, Gaviota Way, Arroyo Way and Verna Street were enlarged in 2006. Sewers along Marietta Drive and Del Vale Avenue will be replaced sometime this year, but no start date has been offered. The disruption along these narrow, congested streets could be substantial. We are working with the residents of these streets to do what we can to mitigate parking problems during the construction period.

The Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) has proposed installing “speed cushions” on Teresita Blvd. between Reposa and Isola and between Sequoia and Gaviota . These will calm traffic approaching the intersection at Teresita and Reposa and hopefully reduce the number of cars that drive through the stop sign without stopping. Speed humps and speed cushions are elevations in the road, more gradual than traditional “speed bumps,” that allow cars to pass over smoothly at 25 mph but deter them at speeds over 30 mph. Teresita is a through street used regularly by buses and emergency service vehicles, so the effect of speed humps on these vehicles is of concern. “Speed cushions” have cut-outs that allow larger vehicles to straddle them. Residents on these streets have expressed support for traffic calming measures, but many are worried about potential noise as speeding cars encounter the humps. DPT has already conducted a written poll of Teresita residents, and by the time you read this a hearing at City Hall will have been held. The status of other long-promised traffic calming efforts on Teresita Blvd. and its feeder streets is still open.

Commuters filling all the daytime parking on the streets surrounding the Portola Ave. shopping area have long frustrated the residents, notably along the low-number blocks of Teresita, Fowler, and Juanita. Employees of the surrounding stores, as well as students at the McAteer campus and visitors to the Juvenile Justice Center, all seek nearby street parking free of parking controls. Consequently some residents are petitioning to extend the “T” zone for Residential Permit Parking, currently in force in the vicinity of Forest Hill station, to the blocks surrounding the Portola strip. If approved, street parking on these blocks will be limited to two-hour parking except for residents who purchase a permit ($60 per year). Naturally parking on nearby streets would in turn be affected as non-residents seek parking outside the permit zone. See the announcement about a community meeting on this proposal on Page 1. Information about permits and the petition process is on the SF MTA site (http://www.sfmta.com/).

 

Disaster Meeting Place

When disaster strikes, go to the NERT Incident Command Center at Miraloma Playground (Omar Way and Sequoia Way). Rescue services, securing resources like food, water, shelter and medical services will be provided by trained volunteers.

 

Legal Ease

Q: It’s my birthday, I just turned 18. Now, what can I do that I couldn’t do before?

A: Ah, the world is, almost, your oyster now. At 18 you can: get a job without a work permit; vote; apply for credit in your own name; get married or become a registered domestic partner without your parents’ consent; join the military without your parents’ consent; rent an apartment; buy real estate in your own name; make a will or trust; & get medical treatment on your own. However, the downside to turning 18 is that YOU are now responsible for your own debts (& not your parents) & any criminal contacts will no longer be brought in juvenile court, but in adult court. And YOU are now legally responsible for your own conduct. Enjoy your new-found freedom!HEAR YE, HEAR YE – You heard it here first! A documentary film about the proliferation of debt in America, Maxed Out, is coming to theatres in March. I saw a private screening of the film last May, & it presents a very disturbing portrait of this nation’s financial services industry & its selling of the habit of debt. If you have kids that are heading to college, or just entered college, then do them a major favor by seeing this film. Check out www.maxedoutmovie.comAnd once again, the FTC reported THE most frequent consumer complaint of 2006 was identity theft.

 

Miraloma Church Threatened With Closure

Miraloma Community Church has been at the corner of Teresita and Arroyo for 55 years. It is a member of the denomination known as the RCA (Reformed Church of America). Most of the more than thirty families who call it their place of worship live in the immediate neighborhood.

The church is the center for many community activities including Mandarin classes, AA, and Moms’ Play Group. Last October neighbors including the church pastor put on a block party in the church parking lot. In addition to regular Sunday morning worship services, there are bible study groups, and Sunday School classes, family nights, and group outings. Last summer Vacation Bible School was attended by more than three dozen neighborhood children.

A higher level group in the RCA is deciding whether to remove the current leadership, and to take over the church, its buildings and assets. Their reasoning is that the church is too small and has not grown with the fervor desired by the “mother church”. If you have any comments or want to help, call Dorothy Calvin, deacon, at 415-314-7134, or email to dcalvin2@aol.com

 

Sunnyside Park and Playground
        

Winter rains have not slowed down the $4 million capital renovation of Sunnyside Park and Playground. Underground water sources make their way through Mt. Davidson to surface in the Park. An extensive drainage system is being installed to control overflow, although one natural spring spout will continue to bubble-up to the surface to feed a Riparian Garden. It is an exhibition to peer through construction security fences to view how lower field level concrete forms define and shape a large children’s playground winding up the natural terrain. The remaining field will accommodate a micro-soccer field sized for younger aged athletes and community events.

Local schools and kids sports groups are encouraged to acquire permits to get first consideration for field use. Sunnyside Park Families & Neighbors (SPFN) invite interested citizens to attend a Community Meeting on Tuesday, April 10, 7:00 PM at the Miraloma Recreation Center (behind Miraloma Elementary School) to collect ideas for Programming at Sunnyside Park and Conservatory. For properties like these two, the Recreation & Park Dept. is considering sharing specialized recreational directors where full time, on-site directors are probably not needed.

Program ideas are sought to satisfy the wishes of local neighbors of all ages and interests as well as offerings by citizens who have talents to share. Planning for an early fall Ribbon Cutting Party will also be discussed at this meeting. SPFN hopes to make this Party even more successful than the ground breaking party was last year. For info or to contribute, call 334-3601 or write: SPFamilies@aol.com.

Submitted by Andrea O’Leary

 

On Shaky Ground: NERT Notes

 

NERT April Citywide Drill, Saturday, April 21, Marina Middle School, exact times to be announced. Join us, practice your NERT disaster response skills, and meet fabulous NERT members from all over the City!
    
NERT Leadership/Team Training, Saturday, March 10, 9:00am-3:30pm, San Francisco Fire Department Division of Training, 2310 Folsom at 19 Street.
    
Though this class is geared towards new neighborhood coordinators and NERT grads who are interested in taking a more active role in your neighborhood team, we encourage longer-term coordinators to retake the class if it has been more than two years since you have taken it. It now includes information on responding to our staging areas in a disaster. A great way to “learn the ropes,” and meet fellow coordinators! For more information or to RSVP, please e-mail Edie Schaffer at edie_schaffer@yahoo.com.
   
NERT HAM Communications Training (HCT101), Saturday, March 24th, 9:00am-3:00pm, San Francisco Fire Department Division of Training, 2310 Folsom @ 19th Street.

You just got your FCC technician’s license! Now what? Come to this NERT introductory class to learn the rules of HAM communication, equipment options, and HAM messaging. For more information, e-mail Bob Jacklevich at jacklevich@yahoo.com.

Other Training
  
Animal Care & Control/SPCA/Pets Unlimited training

The San Francisco Disaster Preparedness Animal Coalition (SFDPA) – six animal welfare agencies — are inviting members of the public to attend three free volunteer trainings at the San Francisco SPCA on Thursday, March 29, April 26, and May 31st from 6:30 to 8 pm. The training includes an orientation on disaster preparedness. Volunteers will receive specific training on their assigned roles and then to leadership skills for crisis management. All three sessions are mandatory. For more information, contact the SFDPAC at http://www.sfspca.org/SFDPCA/contact.shtml.
    
FREE CPR Saturday by the American Red Cross, Saturday, March 3  For classes in English call 1 800 520-5433. For classes in Chinese call 415-427-8911. Register on line at http://www.redcrossbayarea.org/
Please contact Red Cross directly for any further information regarding this event at HSService@usa.redcross.org.

Other Nert  Activites
    
Chinese New Year Parade, Saturday, March 3. Meet at 5pm on 2nd near Market Street. Wear comfortable shoes, bring ear plugs or other suitable ear protection (firecrackers will abound!), and be prepared to walk. Ham operators are welcome to bring their radios.
                           
St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Saturday March 17. Meet at 11am on 2nd near Brannan (details to follow). Last year NERT placed in the top 10. Help us place this year with a big showing of NERT volunteers to pass out flyers and candy. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk. Ham operators are welcome to bring their radios.

NERT Personal Preparedness Workshops begin in March. Check the NERT website soon for details.    This is a two hour presentation on individual personal preparedness. It covers making a kit and making a plan. Home mitigation and preparation are also covered. And there is a video on gas/electricity safety. Those who complete this workshop will receive credit for NERT Training class 1 if they choose to enroll in NERT training.

NERT Events Update:   
http://www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/fire/sfnert/

NERT Website:
http://www.sfgov.org/site/sfnert_index.asp

Gary Isaacson
Miraloma Park/ Mt. Davidson NERT Co-Coordinator
garyi6n@aol.com
585-9729

 

GRAFFITI SUMMIT

by Gary Noguera

On Saturday January 20, the DPW hosted a special update on the growing problems of graffiti.  There were many wonderful speakers giving and hearing advice including the Chair of the Graffiti Advisory Board, Mohammed Nuru, Officer Chris Putz of the SFPD, and Deputy District Attorney Paul Henderson, and many others.
    
While much great information was shared, here are of the highlights:  It is important that we all take an interest in the subject. There are regular trainings given by DPW by those wanting to erase the tags. It only takes about an hour for the class given by Merle Goldstone who may be reached at merle.goldstone@sfdpw.org.   Once a person has completed the short training (one hour or so), free paint and other supplies are given to the volunteer ongoing.
  
 We also learned how vital it is to monitor the court sentencing of the vandals who tag our city. Often the judges do not view these crimes as seriously as one would expect. For instance, someone who breaks a store window and someone painting tags on the front of a store are not treated in the same way relative to consequences.
   
 There is a program called, “courtwatch” which will notify any interested parties when a graffiti tagging trial is at the sentencing phase. People are encouraged to attend and speak to the judge. Anyone can speak, even relative to cases in which they are not directly involved. For example: “Your honor, I want you to know how bad this graffiti problem is getting. Our neighborhood group spends many hours a month correcting the damage taggers do. Please use the power you have to send a strong message to this person before you…”

 

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: I need more space, but can’t afford a major remodel or addition. What can I do?
A: Maximize the efficiency of the space you already have.

Lots of people are in this situation.  San Francisco does not have the sprawling McMansions that you find in the suburbs.  If you’ve decided to stay put instead of fleeing across one of the bridges, and a 3,000 square foot, 3 car garage in San Francisco is a bit out of your price range, then you need to maximize the efficiency of the space you have.   We still can’t get over the shock of visiting friends’ suburban homes and finding closets with nothing in them and empty kitchen cabinets! 

Where do you find this extra space?  By looking closely at how your space is currently utilized and by MASTER PLANNING your home.  I can’t say this enough to clients, family and friends.   Master Planning is so critical to saving money and ending up with a good, well thought out design that flows.   Few people can afford or want to do it all at nce so that’s why you Master Plan.  Master Planning is like following a recipe. Certain things can be done ahead of time while others can’t, and if you get the steps mixed up along the way it can turn out a disaster.

Many homes in San Francisco are old, and have a lot of inefficient use of space and outdated equipment and systems.   They also tend to have large basements and/or crawl spaces.  Once you’ve Master Planned your home you can start strategizing its completion by breaking the finished product down into manageable steps and looking for opportunities.   An opportunity is when a system has failed and needs to be replaced anyway.  One good example is when the big green gravity furnace many homes still have finally goes out or needs a repair.  Don’t repair it, replace it with a new high efficiency dual stage furnace and remove all of your old asbestos wrapped duct work while you’re at it.  The new furnaces can be mounted sideways and do not have to go back exactly where the old one was.   In some tall garages I’ve hung them from the ceiling or located them in crawlspaces and attics.  Then have the new ducts installed where you want them, rather than just the shortest route.  You shouldn’t have to duck under the duct.  They can be installed tight to the ceiling, between joists, and parallel to walls and hallways.  If you’ve master planned two news bedrooms in your garage or basement, you can show the contractor so he understands why and how to lay out the new ducts and will size the new furnace accordingly.

There are several other places to reclaim space within your home, such as abandoned chimneys in kitchens from the old wood burning stoves.   In some homes they are made of brick and go from the basement to the roof.  Removing these in the course of a remodel picks up a lot of space. 

Wall hung toilets are typically 8 to 10 inches shorter than floor mounted ones allowing installation in tight spots. 

Stacked washer and dryers take up less space, and if they open onto a hallway or other space, that floor area is getting double duty.    When your old water heater goes out, consider a tankless water heater.  They are considerably more energy efficient, are about the size of a carry-on suitcase and can be wall mounted on the interior or exterior.  There is no need for a blind corner cabinet.   That is the unused corner space where two cabinets come together.  There are several ways to solve that problem.   Light wells are another place to pick up a lot of space, especially in kitchens.  This gets a little trickier because you have to deal with building code light, air and ventilation requirements in addition to making sure it works with the house plan in general.
For many people, the basement is the obvious place to expand.  If this is your case, you have to Master Plan to think about how the entire house is tied together, otherwise you will have two distinct spaces separated by a garage.  There are tradeoffs in every basement concept, but there is usually a good way to connect the stairways and main house to the basement.  The thing you don’t want to do is eliminate that ability by adding say a bathroom where the stair should be.  By master planning you know where all the pieces go, and strategize, phase by phase, based upon your current needs and finances.

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

Peter A. Zepponi, AIA – Architects, is an architectural firm in San Francisco specializing in residential and commercial architecture. 

 

Miraloma Elementary School Book Fair

by Catherine Sparacino, Book Fair Chair

Miraloma Elementary School will host a Scholastic Book Fair on March 12 thru March 23 during school hours. Families, teachers, and the community are invited to attend the Fair.

The Book Fair will offer specially priced books and educational products, including new releases, award-winning titles, children’s classics, interactive software, adult books, and current bestsellers. Attendees can help the school build classroom libraries by purchasing books for teachers through the Classroom Wish List.

 

Miraloma Park Improvement Club Clubhouse

This is The Great Place for An Event

The beautiful original wood has been refurbished. There is a clean gas burning fireplace to add that extra bit of cheer to your special event. New colorful curtains grace the stage and the foot lights are safely covered.        There are modern, lightweight tables and new really comfortable chairs.   Free parking is in the adjacent parking lot. Members get a discount. Trash and recycling available. Call 415-281-0892 for rates/availability.

  

Miraloma Cooperative Nursery School

Miraloma Cooperative Nursery School is holding its annual auction, “Our Little Red School Celebrates Spring!” on March 10, 2007 from 6 – 10 p.m. at The Event Center at Saint Mary’s Cathedral.  Please join us for the silent and live auction, fabulous food, delightful drinks, live jazz entertainment and gifts galore.  Please respond at our registration site miraloma.org/auction.html or by telephone to Reva  Adelman at  415  695-0608.

 

Bernal Hill’s Big Bloom

by Geoffrey Coffey

Often charming, occasionally gritty, surely up-and-coming – witness the real estate renaissance of Bernal Heights, S.F.’s neo-boho neighborhood where once-dilapidated homes are now trading at the speed of commerce beyond the million dollar threshold.  Yet a liferaft floating at the center of this frothing urban sea remains undeveloped: Bernal Hill Park, a peak with a far older balance sheet of life, death, and rebirth.

Start your walk on the south side, where all good rags-to-riches stories begin.  There on the wrong side of Bernal Heights Blvd. (south of the road), a proud blooming patch of hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) bears up in a weed-choked vacant lot.  This plant grows in oak woodlands, chaparral, and scrub along the coast of central and southern California, reaching its northern limit here in the Bay Area, where it thrives; it spreads by rhizomes and makes an outstanding groundcover in both sun and shade, especially under oaks or in other dry habitats.  The lance-shaped leaves give the finest fragrance of any sage you’ll find, and the dramatic pink blooms draw squadrons of hungry hummingbirds.  This rogue patch in a vacant lot is the last (known) survivor of the naturally occurring species on Bernal Hill – so if you find it, treat it with care.

Shooting Stars and Johnny Jump-Ups
Continue north and uphill, where 20 acres of grassland contain other jewels from the pre-Colombian flora.  Shooting stars (Dodecatheon spp.) burst aloft early and prolifically this year; these members of the primrose family have huttlecock flowers pointed like rocket ships, peppering the meadow with gorgeous violet flames.  The botanical name is Greek for “twelve gods,” and with as many easily intergradable species in the genus, the promiscuous taxonomy of Dodecatheon feels worthy of those old landlords of Olympus.  Bernal Hill is the type locality for Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum, a noteworthy subspecies that thrives on serpentine. Go see it now in plenty n the north and northwest slopes beneath the microwave tower, facing the skyline of downtown.

Rounding the tower to the west, you’ll find abundant shooting stars together with johnny jump-ups (Viola pedunculata), the bearded yellow-orange flowers with wine-goblet leaves growing from deep spongy rhizomes.  This cheerful harbinger of sunshine is the larval food of the federally listed Callippe Silverspot butterfly; both species should be hailed as hometown heroes.

Shooting stars and johnny jump-ups once reigned supreme on Mount Davidson and Twin Peaks, Corona Heights and Bayview Hill, and other red chert outcroppings in the city; they are now greatly reduced where not extirpated, driven out by Darwinism and development.  We could think of their surviving residence here on Bernal Hill as one of the city’s longest-lasting and most daring real estate acquisitions. 

Mission Bells and Death Camas
Further up the slope, two members of the lily family heighten the drama.  Swaths of Fritillaria affinis, their slender stalks hung with the pendent bells of greenish-bronze flowers, toll their golden clappers for Persephone.  Indeed, this lily goes by the common name of “mission bells.”  The tintinnabula this year on Bernal’s western flank are the best they’ve been in decades. 

Smaller clusters of the elusive star lily or death camas (Zygadenus fremontii) rise like a constellation, or an omen of unknown import, with multiple clawed white flowers held aloft on foot-tall candelabra.  The blooms of the Zygadene have delighted generations of native plant peepers, but the bulbs may spell early foreclosure for any fool who tries to eat them; these highly toxic plants have caused death in cattle and children.

Red striated cliffs, the upthrust pieces of petrified sea-floor, make a comfortable home for the low silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons var. collinus), whose ability to survive such tough conditions belies the delicate look of its feathery foliage.  The luminescent bloom alone recommends this hardy perennial for the garden, but the plant warrants further note as the larval foodstuff of the rare Mission Blue butterfly.  This endangered creature, no longer found on Bernal Hill, does persist nearby on Twin Peaks and San Bruno Mountain; gardeners in those neighborhoods may consider planting silver lupine to attract and support the protected butterflies, while green thumbs in Bernal, Miraloma Park, and elsewhere in San Francisco might do so just for the show of solidarity.

Grassland Dynamics
Most of our native bunchgrasses were overwhelmed long ago by an infection, otherwise known as weeds, those exotic annuals from overseas: wild oats, ripgut brome, soft chess, and Italian ryegrass, among many others. 

Annual grasses live fast, setting summer seed that will germinate next year, and die young, leaving behind the dead stalks of a brown-tinted landscape that now so characterize California’s countryside.  Perennial bunchgrasses, by comparison, retain a shade of green throughout the year.

As the rains come and go, so follow the life-cycles of the grassland — weeds and natives alike.  Winter downpours recharge the aquifer and drive the greening of the hills, like a blank canvas prepped for the colorful blooms of spring.  But the siege of summer’s drought will see native plants go dormant, a misleadingly drab tableau.  In fall, unsuspecting visitors might mistake a dry hill for dead, not knowing what thrilling life lurks in the roots.

That any natives survive at all on Bernal Hill testifies to their strength and tenacity, but the numbers are stacked against them.  A vegetation survey taken in 2000 by the Natural Areas Program marked a petite prairie of purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra) that anchored a micro-ecosystem “dominated by native species.”  This oasis totaled 0.07 out of 20 acres, or less than a hundredth of a percent – and the rest is wild oats.  But other native grasses found sparingly here include Festuca rubra, Danthonia californica, Melica californica, Koeleria macrantha, and Elymus multisetus.

Clinging to life on Bernal, Nassella pulchra also survives in diminished numbers throughout California’s coastal parries and inland valleys.  This compact 1- to 2-foot golden-green bunchgrass with shimmering purple inflorescence was recently named the California state grass (Prop. 215 be damned). 

For long-term stability on a sunny hillside, consider planting native bunchgrasses as the foundation for a coastal prairie.  Use any or all of the above-named species, one plug every 3 feet with wildflower seed sprinkled in between, and interplant 1-3 perennials per 5-10 grasses.  Help it with water through the first summer, and weed it regularly for the first year or two, then stand back and watch the succession of your low-maintenance, irrigation-free grassland.  Presto – a remarkable improvement in the property. 

Gardening with natives delivers benefits on multiple levels, but perhaps the deepest pleasure derives from the question of identity.  These plants lived here before the white man, before the red man; for longer than human history their striking beauty has defined this land we call home.  Planting them together in your back yard is like giving your garden a warm-up jacket with “San Francisco” emblazoned on the breast.
  
Geoffrey Coffey will give a seminar and slide show on the wildflowers of Bernal Hill, “Blooming Wild in the City,” March 25 at the 2007 SF Flower & Garden Show – see information online at <http://www.gardenshow.com/sf/seminars/sunday.asp>. He is the founder of the Madroño landscape design studio (www.madrono.org) and a principal of Bay Natives nursery (www.baynatives.com).