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Bust of Dianne Feinstein

It's Time to Step Down Dianne

Provide an opportunity for a new person who will, hopefully, be more aligned with California values

•••••••••• January 3, 2023 ••••••••••

David Romano.
David Romano

We have been deceived. Senator Dianne Feinstein is a Republican masquerading as a Democrat. It's not just that (in an affront to all San Franciscans) she hugs Lindsay Graham, a truly reprehensible human being, but, more importantly, she has defended, championed and confirmed the very worst of the Republicans, from Condoleezza Rice who lied about Iraq's WMD to Amy Coney Barrett who lied her way onto the Supreme Court. Is this the kind of leadership we want from our senior Democratic senator?

Here is the headline from the December 20, 2022, edition of Common Dreams: "...you will see no sign of new funding to revive the short-lived expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which reduced poverty among children in the U.S. by more than 40 percent when it was in force between 2020 and last year. So as the Pentagon is set to receive a mind-boggling $858 billion for missiles, warships, drones, and bombs, we can't find a measly $12 billion to slash poverty for the nation's neediest children and their families" Where was Feinstein in the fight to allocate more funds away from the bloated military budget and towards social programs? I don't recall her making a stand for the expansion of the Child Tax Credit but she was able to vote for an expansion of the defense budget.

Feinstein has been an enthusiastic supporter of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I would like to hear how those wars benefited the families of California. How have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq benefited your family? Or our country for that matter? The result I see is homeless, desperate and mentally ill veterans on our streets uncared for. Did the wars make us safer? No; we are in a worse situation than before. The world is a more dangerous place. If we had been made safer, the defense budget would be going down, not up. Think of how the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on those ill-conceived and disastrously executed wars might have benefited the American people. We might have put an end to child hunger.

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Feinstein has been an enthusiastic supporter of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I would like to hear how those wars benefited the families of California. How have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq benefited your family? Or our country for that matter? The result I see is homeless, desperate and mentally ill veterans on our streets uncared for.”

"1 in 4 San Francisco residents is at risk of hunger due to low income," according to the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health website, The Food Security Task Force. Try a Google search for "children hungry in San Francisco." You will see a long list of ads for nonprofits asking you to donate: Donate to No Kid Hungry; Help End Hunger In SF-Marin; Fight Hunger in San Francisco - More Than a Soup Kitchen. Hunger is not decreasing despite the best efforts of all nonprofits. It is a disgrace that the federal government and Senator Feinstein haven't made a dent in this. Google "What Hunger Looks Like in California.'' and you will get this answer. "In California, 3,571,920 people are facing hunger - and of them 1,165,400 are children. 1 in 8 children face hunger."

 

Feinstein is not the only Democrat voting for war and massive defense budgets. Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Representatives are falling all over themselves to give money to the weapons industry. Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey told the world, from the forum of COP26, that increasing the Pentagon budget was a good way to fight climate change. Yes, you read that correctly. Congressman Pallone thinks that we can help fight climate change by increasing the Pentagon budget. He has just been told, by Abby Martin of the Empire Files, that the Pentagon is a bigger polluter than 140 countries combined and was exempt from the COP26 climate talks. Ms. Martin then asked, how we can justify an increase to an already massive Pentagon budget.

The question was put to Nancy Pelosi but Rep. Pallone couldn't wait to jump in and volunteered to answer. "There is no reason why what we're putting together with Build Back Better and other things can't respond to the Defense Dept. and have some impact in terms of reducing emissions." What, exactly, is he saying? How does this address the issue of pollution or the massive Pentagon budget? Compounding his Orwellian doublespeak, Rep. Pallone goes on to say, "I don't see what we're doing, in any way or, you know, increasing the defense budget as being something that's inconsistent with climate action." If anyone can explain to me how this works I would appreciate it.

Not only is the Pentagon exempt from any resolution coming out of COP26, it is also exempt from EPA regulations. It is free to pollute as much as it wants and there are no consequences. If another country polluted our land, air and water the way our military has, we'd declare it a terrorist act. One example was recently reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Amid a continuing crisis over fuel contaminating the Navy's tap water at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu's water utility said Friday it shut off one of its wells so it doesn't taint its own supply with petroleum from an underground aquifer it shares with the military. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply said it acted shortly after the Navy on Thursday disclosed that a water sample from one of its wells had shown the presence of petroleum. The well is near a giant World War II-era underground fuel tank complex that has been the source of multiple fuel leaks over the years. The tap water problems have afflicted one of the military's most important bases, home to submarines, ships, and the commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region. They also threaten to jeopardize one of Honolulu's most important aquifers and water sources. Nearly 1,000 military households have complained about their tap water smelling like fuel, or of physical ailments like stomach cramps and vomiting. The Navy water system serves 93,000 people. Nearly 1,000 military households have complained about their tap water smelling like fuel, or of physical ailments like stomach cramps and vomiting. The Navy water system serves 93,000 people. (Honolulu utility shuts well to prevent fuel contamination by Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press)

You really have to ask if throwing money at the Pentagon is the way forward on climate change

Feinstein supports increased spying on Americans and the abrogation of our constitutional rights. She is a strong proponent of the surveillance state. In 2005 Feinstein voted along with the GOP to renew 14 of the 16 expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and make them permanent." (Wikipedia) "In the Senate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., joined Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in introducing their renewal legislation. (SFGate, Edward Epstein, Chronicle Washington Bureau July 14, 2005.)

Feinstein is not the person to best represent the interests of California or the United States. She has always been a hardliner on drug policy, a supporter of prohibition and draconian sentencing laws. If you wonder how we ended up with the prison/industrial complex, private for-profit prisons and the resulting devastation to the families of poor people, especially people of color, you can look at Feinstein's record. If it was up to her, marijuana would still be illegal. She has been out of touch with California's needs and sentiments, in this respect, for decades.

Feinstein was a big supporter of Hillary Clinton; in fact, you could say she was instrumental in Hillary being the candidate against Trump. When Obama was being anointed as the Democratic Party standard bearer Hillary was told she would have to step aside for now. Her turn would come later. Eight years later it was Hillary's turn and Feinstein was going to make sure she got it. After all, wasn't she entitled to it? But really, Feinstein was a handmaiden; it was Hillary's overweening pride and ambition, her sense of entitlement that she should be the first woman president that brought us the debacle of Donald Trump. Joe Biden would have won if he had been the candidate. Bernie Sanders would have won. Aside from the old guard, where were all the young, committed, intelligent and progressive Democrats that might have run? They, along with Joe and Bernie, had been locked out, frozen out and marginalized so that Hillary, the chosen one, and her select cadre of Democrats, including Feinstein, could rule.

Feinstein was very much involved in the 2014 defeat of the popularly supported "Proposition H" in San Francisco which would have banned artificial turf in Golden Gate Park. She prominently endorsed "Proposition I" and her "Argument in Favor of Proposition I" led the endorsements on our local San Francisco ballot. The effect of "Proposition I" was to nullify "Proposition H." The shredded tires used in the turf have been the subject of many studies worldwide. In almost all cases, the toxicity of the tire crumb was found to exceed the allowed exposures for children. If you want to know more about the battle to get SBR (ground-up tire waste) out of our parks, playing fields and playgrounds go to Safe Healthy Playing Fields to read more. I wrote to Feinstein about this and here is what she replied:

"Dear Mr. Romano,

Thank you for writing to me regarding ballot "Proposition H," which dealt with synthetic turf and nighttime lighting in municipal parks but was rejected by San Francisco voters in 2014. Note that I have not sat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors since 1978. As such, I was not involved in this local 2014 ballot proposition(my bolding)."

Clearly, Senator Feinstein was suffering from forgetfulness or a "convenient" memory loss when she wrote to me. Or perhaps it's just that what happens in Golden Gate Park is of no importance to her. I expected better since San Francisco is, after all, her hometown.

Senator Feinstein could still do one valuable service for California; she could step down and provide an opportunity for a new person who will, hopefully, be more aligned with California values. Values like peace, protecting the environment, caring for our citizens in need and also those fleeing persecution, ending the incarceration of poor people caught up in the war on drugs and taking marijuana off the federal Schedule I list (Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.) It appears the federal government doesn't yet know about medical marijuana. It's time, I think, to move on.

We're not getting the leadership we need to meet the challenges of today: climate change, making the world a less dangerous place, ending child hunger, lessening income and gender inequality. We can do better.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

January 3, 2023

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Chesa Boudin on steps of Hall of Justice
Photo: Courtesy chesaboudin.com

In response to: How San Francisco Became a Failed City by Nellie Bowles

Part II

•••••••••• October 25, 2022 ••••••••••

David Romano.
David Romano

It may not have been so clear until now, but San Franciscans have been losing patience with the city’s leadership for a long time. Nothing did more to alienate them over the years than how the progressive leaders managed the city’s housing crisis.” — Nellie Bowles (Article)

Ms. Bowles seems to have gone into her own realm of magical thinking; she thinks the progressives are to blame for the ills of San Francisco. If we can just get rid of them, everything will be alright. They stop housing being built with all their petty regulations and their ineffectual polices get in the way of business.

Contrary to Ms. Bowles' assertion, it is not the progressives who are responsible for San Francisco's current plight. The real power in San Francisco emanates from the Mayor's office and we have not had a progressive mayor in decades; not since Art Agnos in 1992. If you think Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom are progressives you and I need to have a serious talk. Newsom may be the champion of gay marriage and asylum seekers but that doesn't get in the way of the agenda of his billionaires sponsors like Gordon Getty and the Fisher brothers. Real estate development and corporate profits have always been the first order of business with privatization of the public space a close second.

The Board of Supervisors, while progressive in terms of civil and human rights, has never had a progressive voting majority and is generally compliant to the Mayor's will. To go against the Mayor is to go against the Democratic Party machine and Supervisors are acutely aware of that. A good case in point is the recent sale of City College land. You go along to get along.

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Today we are reaping what was sown when Gavin Newsom became mayor in 2004. Newsom and Mark Buell, a real estate developer who also served as the first Director of Economic Development for San Francisco, had big plans for the City ... This program, inevitably, resulted in gentrification and the displacement of poor people. There is no money to be made from poor people in rent controlled apartments. The emphasis was not on building affordable housing or preserving community. The real money is in commercial real estate and high-end condos. ”

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave final approval to the 1,100-unit Balboa Reservoir development, rejecting an appeal filed by City College of San Francisco community members. Supervisors voted in favor of the project’s environmental impact report, zoning changes, a development agreement and $11.4 million sale of publicly-owned land to developers. … Some industry experts have estimated the sale price is well below market value.” — By Ida Mojadad, 8/12/20, San Francisco Examiner

We have had progressive Supervisors in San Francisco, but, like I say, never in a majority on the Board of Supervisors. That wouldn't be tolerated. Christina Olague, a senior and housing rights advocate, served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2012. She was an honest, thoughtful voice representing the people of San Francisco. The powers-that-be made short work of that. Appointed to the Board by Mayor Lee, she soon proved too independent so she had to go. She had voted to allow Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to remain in office when the Mayor wanted him out. Mirkarimi was a progressive and was not the preferred candidate of Lee and company. He was too independent. 

The Supervisors do what they can to try and put some restrictions on real estate developers but they can't do much to stop this runaway train. By the way, did you know that 40,000 residential units are sitting empty in San Francisco? Investors have purchased them but left them empty. Progressive Supervisors are trying to get an empty residence tax passed to fund social programs. We'll see how that goes in November.

Today we are reaping what was sown when Gavin Newsom became mayor in 2004.  Newsom and Mark Buell, a real estate developer who also served as the first Director of Economic Development for San Francisco, had big plans for the City.  Basically, the idea was to “activate” every square inch of San Francisco, encourage high-tech businesses to locate here by giving them tax breaks, and flood the city with well-paid high-tech workers. This program, inevitably, resulted in gentrification and the displacement of poor people. There is no money to be made from poor people in rent controlled apartments. The emphasis was not on building affordable housing or preserving community. The real money is in commercial real estate and high-end condos. 

Mayor Ed Lee, appointed by Mayor Newsom when he resigned to run for governor, continued the Newsom agenda. After Lee, we got London Breed, the hand-picked candidate of Ron Conway, venture capitalist, self-appointed power broker and political fixer at City Hall. It was Conway who sponsored Breed’s run for Supervisor. “He donated nearly $600,000 to San Francisco races in 2012…” (Ron Conway says he’s too busy to get involved in SF’s mayor race; Trisha Thadani, Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 2018.) Breed's outspent opponent was the progressive incumbent, Christina Olague.

There are big issues that provide the context for the San Francisco where Boudin came to power. Four major factors are at work; 1. drug addiction and the fentanyl and opioid overdose crisis, 2. homelessness, 3. lack of treatment and facilities for the mentally ill and drug addicted, 4. the pandemic.  None of these were caused by the government of San Francisco and all of them are beyond the ability of San Francisco to solve on its own. If San Francisco is a failed city, California is a failed state and America is a failed nation. There is one factor, actually, that was under the control of the City administration; the unparalleled and uncontrolled development of San Francisco and the displacement of people that occurred as a result.. 

More people die in San Francisco from drug overdoses than from COVID. 

Four of the largest U.S. corporations have agreed to pay roughly $26 billion to settle a tsunami of lawsuits linked to claims that their business practices helped fuel the deadly opioid crisis”. —  NPR 2/25/2022

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Walgreens can be held responsible for contributing to San Francisco’s opioid crisis for over-dispensing highly addictive drugs for years without proper oversight and failing to identify and report suspicious orders as required by law…U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that for 15 years, Walgreens dispensed hundreds of thousands of pills, eventually contributing to the city’s hospitals being overwhelmed with opioid patients, libraries being forced to close because of syringe-clogged toilets, and syringes littering children’s playgrounds in San Francisco. —  PBS Newshour, 8/10/2022

Chesa Boudin is not responsible for San Francisco’s overdose crisis and drug problems just as he's not responsible for Trump's racist rhetoric. The City’s attempts to address the overdose crisis goes back at least to the beginning of the fentanyl epidemic a decade ago. It is ridiculous to think Boudin could do anything except recommend diversion for minor drug crimes. It’s not even his decision in any case; it’s up to the judge. 

Boudin wanted to “...break the cycle of recidivism” by addressing the social causes of crime — poverty, addiction, mental-health issues Boudin was selling revolution, and San Francisco was ready. In theory” — Nellie Bowles. “Addressing the social causes of crime — poverty, addiction, mental-health issues,” is revolutionary? What are the alternatives? Relying on incarceration and punishment?

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If San Francisco is a failed city it's not because progressives have been in charge.”

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On a separate but related topic, if you haven't heard, we have a problem with corruption at City Hall.  Another reason why we needed Chesa Boudin. And another reason why he had to go. Mohammed Nuru, former head of the San Francisco Public Works Department, lost his job for his part in a bribery and corruption scandal. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: 

“Nuru was arrested and charged by federal officials last year for an alleged attempt to bribe a San Francisco airport commissioner, in a probe that lifted the curtain on the city’s sprawling pay-to-play and corruption scheme. Eleven defendants have been charged to date, including multiple department heads, contractors and business executives. In a separate but related investigation, officials with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office found that Recology had overcharged city ratepayers $94.5 million over the past four years by failing to account for revenue it would already receive. A settlement announced last month will require the waste company to reimburse its customers and pay a $7 million penalty to the city.—  S.F. corruption scandal: Another Recology exec faces charges of bribing Mohammed Nuru by Megan Cassidy, April 15, 2021 (Nuru was recently sentenced to seven years in prison)

The San Francisco political corruption case against two former city officials that stemmed from a wide-sweeping FBI investigation into a Chinatown gangster has ended in a pair of plea deals. The San Francisco Examiner learned Tuesday that the case against former Human Rights Commission staffer Zula Jones and ex-political consultant Keith Jackson will not move forward to trial after years of delays.Jones pleaded no contest to felony bribery in late February, while Jackson, a former school board member, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts related to making a campaign contribution in excess of $500 and in someone else’s name. Jones, Jackson and a third defendant were accused of soliciting bribes from an undercover FBI agent in 2012 to retire the campaign debt of the then-newly elected Mayor Ed Lee in exchange for political access and favors. Jones once allegedly told the agent, “you got to pay to play here.” By Michael Barba, Apr 2, 2019, San Francisco Examiner

The sad truth is, despite being a bastion of LGBTQ civil rights and an asylum city, San Francisco has been anything but progressive in creating and maintaining a livable city, a place where community comes first. When I first came to San Francisco in 1978 no one had any problem finding a place to live. Rentals were plentiful.  If San Francisco is a failed city it's not because progressives have been in charge. 

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

October 25, 2022

In response to: How San Francisco Became a Failed City by Nellie Bowles

Part I

•••••••••• October 2022 ••••••••••

David Romano.
David Romano

If you have been beguiled by Nellie Bowles’ account of life in San Francisco, I would like to offer a reality check.

.. San Francisco voters decided to turn their district attorney, Chesa Boudin, out of office. They did it because he didn’t seem to care that he was making the citizens of our city miserable in service of an ideology that made sense everywhere but in reality. It’s not just about Boudin, though. There is a sense that, on everything from housing to schools, San Francisco has lost the plot — that progressive leaders here have been LARPing left-wing values instead of working to create a livable city. And many San Franciscans have had enough.” How San Francisco Became a Failed City By Nellie Bowles. The Atlantic. 6/8/22

Ms. Bowles’ description is a gross mis-characterization of what actually happened. San Francisco voters narrowly voted to recall Boudin by a 55% to 45% margin in a campaign where only 25.8% of registered voters returned their ballots. Further, the recall supporters raised 7.2 million dollars, most of it from right-wing billionaires, in a campaign that highlighted dis-information, lies and fear-mongering targeting the Chinese-American community. This was not a victory for the people of San Francisco. 

As Chesa Boudin said on election night, “People are angry, they’re frustrated and I want to be very clear about what happened tonight. The right-wing billionaires outspent us three to one.”

And what was Boudin’s great failing, his great sin? He dared to say that the police would be held accountable if they broke the law. The idea that the police would be held accountable infuriated the powerful San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA). Conservatives, especially some billionaire Republicans, were angry that Boudin wanted to reform the criminal justice system. City Hall didn’t want Boudin because he was independent. Mayor London Breed endorsed Boudin’s opponent in the general election. Nobody wanted Boudin but the voters. A recall campaign was started before he had been in office for two months. It obviously wasn’t Boudin’s effect on the City that got him into trouble. There hadn’t been time for there to be any effect.

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Can you imagine the power this man, Chesa Boudin, is reputed to have? Before he could even settle on his staffing and get his policies implemented, “he was making the citizens of our city miserable,” according to Ms. Bowles. Single-handedly, this incredibly powerful man was causing misery and making people feel unsafe throughout San Francisco.”

Can you imagine the power this man, Chesa Boudin, is reputed to have? Before he could even settle on his staffing and get his policies implemented, “he was making the citizens of our city miserable,” according to Ms. Bowles. Single-handedly, this incredibly powerful man was causing misery and making people feel unsafe throughout San Francisco.

I have lived in various neighborhoods, from the Mission to the outer Richmond, since 1978. There have been some noticeable changes in San Francisco since the pandemic began. I have witnessed the unhappiness over a lack of police presence, lack of police response to crimes, concerns over safety, and the decline in the quality of life in San Francisco. The pandemic has resulted in layoffs, remote work, and small businesses closing, all of which have impacted service workers more than office workers. The poor and minority communities have suffered the most.

Anti-Asian Hate

After the pandemic, the biggest change for the Chinese community has been the advent of Donald Trump. Trump has given permission for people to be racist. The rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in San Francisco coincides with the election of Trump and his trumpeting of the “Chinese virus” and other anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican slurs. It has nothing to do with Chesa Boudin being elected D.A.

Since the election of Trump there have been increased concerns over safety in the Chinese community and in the west side neighborhoods. Property crimes and assaults have increased. That said, incidents involving Asian-Americans are not always hate crimes, but often robberies or random violence committed by mentally ill individuals. Auto break-ins have seen the biggest increase in numbers but auto-break-ins don’t distinguish by ethnicity or neighborhood. It’s true the perception of a lack of safety is worrying people, but not enough to stop my neighbors from going about their business. I see many little, old Chinese ladies riding the 31 Balboa bus by themselves or walking to Safeway to do their shopping.

About a year after Boudin was elected, I was getting a haircut at a salon in the Sunset when I overheard a customer telling his hair stylist, “If we can just get rid of that Chesa Boudin everything will be better.” “Yes, you are right,” she replied.” They were both Chinese. Boudin had been in office less than a year when the word in the Chinese community was that getting rid of Boudin would solve all problems. It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

The Right in San Francisco

It may surprise you to learn that in progressive San Francisco, where a Republican can’t get elected to the Board of Supervisors, there is a sizable contingent of Trump supporters. Who can doubt that many of them are members of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). We may have a Black police chief and a Black Mayor, but racism and a lack of accountability have been systemic in the SFPD for decades, to the point of requiring federal intervention. 

“The Collaborative Reform Initiative comprises 272 recommendations made to the SFPD in a 2016 U.S. Justice Department report. … In the past year, over 120 reforms reached “substantial compliance,” and the total number implemented and compliant has crept up this summer to 193 ... The reforms cover five categories: use of force, bias, community policing, accountability, and recruitment, hiring and retention.” by Eleni Balakrishnan, Mission Local 7/22/21

“The San Francisco Police Department’s latest data, from the first quarter of 2022, shows that extreme racial disparities persist regarding how police stop, search and use force on civilians. Force is 15 times more likely to be used against Black San Franciscans than whites. Black residents are 10 times more likely to be arrested and five times more likely to be stopped by police. These disparities are practically unchanged since the SFPD began reporting force and arrest disparities in 2016 and disparities in police stops in 2018. ... (Police) Commissioner James Byrne noted that the SFPD’s total number of arrests, which dropped off in 2020, had never returned to pre-pandemic levels. This, he said, supported anecdotal rumors that the police are not arresting people committing crimes.” by Eleni Balakrishnan Mission Local, 9/9/22

Over 56,000 people in San Francisco voted for Trump in 2020, 10% of registered voters, and he won more than 25% in the Sunset and Richmond districts. Concerns for personal safety and the safety of property can be exploited to further the agenda of a law and order regime that will be welcomed by a frightened populace.

Previously we have seen special interests, dark money and right-wingers attempt to buy our elections, but they failed. Now, they are actually gaining ground and obtaining success. Even in San Francisco, Donald Trump gained more voters in 2020 than he did in 2016. That was a telling sign and should serve as an alarm to anyone who cares about our democracy. If any of us think that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack can only happen in Washington D.C., they are gravely mistaken. The right-wingers have been and will continue to come at us, and they are back for more this November. In fact, they will keep coming to San Francisco until they destroy our democracy. — Connie Chan, District 1 Supervisor, San Francisco, September 2022. 

In the real world, there was a public health crisis and Boudin was doing what he could to keep people out of our overcrowded and understaffed jails. Complicating the situation, many of the alleged perpetrators were teenagers and younger. Not to repeat myself, but one of the reasons we needed Chesa Boudin’s proposed reforms was that we have a problem with police misconduct in San Francisco. Lawsuits over police shootings and beatings have cost the City millions of dollars.

“The city of San Francisco will pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit over the brutal beating of a Black man by a baton-wielding police officer who now faces criminal assault charges.” — by  Nicholas Lovino courthousenews.com, 1/28/22

Officers in California have killed nearly 1,000 people in six years… In 2021 California’s law enforcement agencies recorded 628 use-of-force incidents resulting in 233 people shot and 149 killed Latino and Black Californians were again vastly over-represented in use-of-force incidents last year… — Police use of force remains constant, by Raheem Hosseini and Joshua Sharp, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/4/22

The San Francisco Police Commission will hear Sept. 7 the latest data on traffic stops, searches, and use of force by race — and the reports show that Black people are still stopped and searched far more than white people. In the first quarter of 2022, 23 percent of the people stopped by the cops were Black. According to the latest Census data, just 5.7 percent of San Francisco residents are Black. The Census data shows that 51 percent of the city is white; 35 percent of the traffic stops involved white people. So Black people are about five times more likely to be stopped by the cops than white people … The commission will also discuss, in closed session, yet another lawsuit against the city that shows the ongoing cost of police violence. In July, 2018, according to the complaint, Susan Bell was engaged in peaceful civil disobedience during a demonstration in front of Immigration Control and Enforcement headquarters in San Francisco. From the suit: “As police officers in riot gear approached, Ms. Bell sat silently and waited … making every effort to appear as non-threatening as possible … To Ms. Bell’s surprise, [SFPD] officers immediately commenced a violent takedown on Ms. Bell and put her in an arm bar.” She was then handcuffed for 30 minutes, in what she describes as intense pain, and taken to the hospital, where she had to have surgery for torn ligaments. —Tim Redmond, 48 Hills, 9/4/2022

District Attorney Jenkins

Brooke Jenkins, a former assistant D.A. and friend of Mayor London Breed, quit the D.A.’s office to help lead the recall effort. Ms. Jenkins is now D.A., appointed by Mayor Breed. Jenkins portrays herself as a tough-on-crime, law and order person.

Following the mayor’s political playbook, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins yesterday announced that she was going to reject a number of existing plea bargains in drug cases and seek more jail time for the sale of relatively small amounts of narcotics. The decision flies in the face of a half-century or more of data on the impacts of the “War on Drugs” and the carceral approach to a public health issue. It also makes no sense in San Francisco right now, when there is no room in the jails and no evidence that more arrests of small-time sellers will have any impact on fentanyl overdoses. It might very well lead to more deportations of people who are victims themselves. In fact, Jenkins is about to create a huge mess in the local criminal-justice system. — Tim Redmond, 48 hills 8/4/22 

The DA (Boudin) has filed charges in about 80 percent of felony drug sales and possession for sales cases presented to our office by police,” Marshall (from the D.A’s office) pointed out. After all, he could prosecute people only if the police arrested them, and arrest rates had plummeted under his tenure. So how could that be his fault? But why had arrest rates plummeted? The pandemic was one reason. But maybe it was also because the D.A. said from the beginning that he would not prioritize the prosecution of lower-level offenses. Police officers generally don’t arrest people they know the D.A. won’t charge. — Nellie Bowles 

And there you have it. Police officers simply decide not to arrest someone committing a crime. No need for judge, jury or D.A. There is actually a desperate need for reform at the SFPD but it’s not because low-level drug dealers aren’t being arrested or charged.

My neighbor was sitting in his car in front of the now-closed Cliff House when he saw a guy systematically breaking car windows, looking for valuables. He saw two SFPD officers sitting in a car nearby and went up to them. “Aren’t you going to do something?” “No, what’s the point, he won’t be charged.” Many on the west side have experienced the same indifference on the part of the police. 

Recall Campaign Spending

You may be wondering how Brooke Jenkins supported herself for the year after her resignation, before she was appointed the new D.A. All of the following quotations (italicized) are from “Brooke Jenkins’ $100K came to light with this document. Here’s what else it shows,” Susie Neilson, SF Chronicle Aug. 11, 2022.

“San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is under scrutiny after disclosing she was paid more than $100,000 by a nonprofit organization linked to the recall campaign of her predecessor and former boss, Chesa Boudin — a campaign for which she was the most prominent spokesperson… The forms show Jenkins made at least $120,000 in total as a “consultant” from three nonprofit organizations in the 12 months prior to her assuming the D.A. role in July” 

One of the non-profits, Global:SF is dedicated to furthering corporations and corporate profits. From their website: “Global:SF is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to paving the way for international companies to locate, invest, and grow in the San Francisco Bay Area while helping locally-based companies expand into global markets.” What is their interest in recalling Boudin and supporting Jenkins? Is Chesa Boudin bad for corporate profits or is Global:SF just currying favor with Mayor London Breed? 

“Darlene Chiu Bryant, the nonprofit’s (Global:SF) executive director, served on the Edwin M. Lee Democratic Club with Safer SF Without Boudin co-chair Mary Jung, according to her professional profile; both women also served on Breed’s transition team in 2018. The Ed Lee Democratic Club endorsed the recall and also received $3,000 from Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy in 2022.” 

Another of the non-profits is Sister’s Circle Women Support Network, “supporting women of all colors, faiths and ethnicities” in the city, particularly those who are recovering from drug use, unhoused or “coming out of incarceration … Jung, the recall campaign chair, is on the board of directors of Sister’s Circle, according to the organization’s website and Facebook page” 

Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right that a non-profit supporting women, “particularly those who are recovering from drug use, unhoused or “coming out of incarceration,” should be spending money on the recall.

“The organization that attracted the most controversy for Jenkins was the third nonprofit, Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, from which she reported more than $100,000 in income. Neighbors for a Better San Francisco is a 501c-3 organization advocating for good governance and improved public safety. It’s related to but distinct from the similarly named Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy, a political action committee that spent millions on the Boudin recall effort. Jenkins was a key part of this effort, regularly appearing in advertisements and messaging campaigns and media statements. The two groups were formed on the same day, share the same address in San Rafael, and are supported by the right-of-center San Francisco billionaire William Oberndorf, who is on the board of each group.”

For the record, Jenkin denies she was paid for her work on the recall and says the money was for non-profit consulting work. Here is an update on Jenkins from a recent community meeting:
“One audience member asked for reassurance that some 10 San Francisco police officers facing charges from prior DA Chesa Boudin would still be prosecuted. Some officers face charges for destruction of evidence, while others have been charged in killings of unarmed civilians ...In November, 2020, District Attorney Chesa Boudin filed manslaughter charges against Samayoa, the first time a San Francisco police officer has faced criminal charges for an on-the-job shooting.... Jenkins did not respond directly… “Any cop that has broken the law will be prosecuted,” Jenkins said. “If we can prove that case, we move forward.” It was unclear from her response how she plans to move forward with the specific, currently pending cases against San Francisco police officers — all of which are reportedly being reviewed or have been delayed since Jenkins took office. Jenkins has also fired or demoted all of the prosecutors who were previously working on those cases.” — by Eleni Balakrishnan 9/7/22, Mission Local

Part of the recall effort was a blitz of TV ads where the “volunteers” for the recall campaign actually turned out to be paid staffers.

A woman identified as “Andrea Shorter, Safer SF Without Boudin” appears in the ad (urging the recall of Boudin), and says, “I didn’t support the Newsom recall, but this is different.” This is the same Andrea Shorter whom the campaign is paying $8,000, twice every month according to campaign filings, for a staggering $16,000 monthly salary. Nice work if you can get it! Shorter is generally identified as “spokesperson” for the recall campaign... We also hear from Mary Jung, identified in the ad as “Former Chair, San Francisco Democratic Party.”… She says in the ad that, “Chesa’s failure has resulted in an increase in crime against Asian Americans.” That leaves out some important context, namely that Mary Jung is also the treasurer of the recall campaign, according to their filings. “– Recall Chesa Boudin Campaign Releases First TV Ad, Featuring Paid Campaign Staff Joe Kukura, Sfist.com, 11/18/2021

“Among the largest donors to pro-recall committees include several real estate interest groups, such as the California Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors, the S.F. Chamber of Commerce, and tech investors such as Initialized Capital founder Garry Tan and former PayPal executive David Sacks.” - Susie Neilson, 6/6/22, SF Chronicle

“Over the past two years, (William) Oberndorf has been the biggest donor to the Neighbors for a Better San Francisco super PAC, which has spent just over $1.8 million on pushing the Boudin recall, of which over $900,000 came from Oberndorf … While he has stylized himself — in both his public comments and donation history — as an anti-Trump Republican, he still donated millions of dollars to congressional Republicans in the Donald Trump era, most notably Mitch McConnell’s fund for Republican Senate candidates. … Over the years, the billionaire continued to sink six figures into different ballot measures, including $100,000 in 2006 to fight a universal prekindergarten program, paid for by taxing people who make over $400,000 a year.” — by Eric Ting, SFGATE 4/8/2022

Is this the medicine Ms. Bowles thinks San Francisco needs; Mitch McConnell “law and order” Republican policies? Just like we’ve had for decades past with the prison/industrial complex and the lack of mental health and drug addiction treatments for the incarcerated. The failed war on drugs and Draconian sentences for African-American and Latino men convicted of minor drug offenses have resulted in overcrowded, unhealthy, understaffed prisons and broken families. And yes, constant recidivism. San Francisco needs change. Reforming the police and the criminal justice system and investigating corruption at City Hall are good places to start.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

October 13, 2022

Shoreline at Arcadia National Park
Shoreline at Arcadia National ParkPhoto: Imma Barrera

Searching for the Night Sky

September is a good month for viewing the moon and planets.

•••••••••• September 13, 2022 ••••••••••

David Romano.
David Romano

Before the advent of electricity, the night sky was everyone's favorite picture show.  There is an age-old fascination and sense of wonder in observing the planets and tracking the great and small cycles of the ever changing yet ever recurring patterns of the stars and planets.  The night sky was the roadmap to knowledge for our ancestors. Since time immemorial humankind has looked outward, into the depths of the cosmos and pondered the workings of the universe. Science and philosophy begin with our tracking of the night sky and our search to make sense of our place in the cosmos

The earliest recorded observations of celestial activity come from the clay tablets of ancient Sumer. The Sumerians believed the earth stood still, in the center of the universe, yet they tracked the movements of the stars with tremendous accuracy, working night after night for centuries. From these observations, the calendar was created and our knowledge of the solstice and  equinox points that mark off the seasons. The rhythms of life were intimately linked to celestial activity. The moon not only pulls the tides, but also influences the times for planting and harvesting.

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You won't see from downtown what you can see from Mt. Tam. Out here at Ocean Beach the nighttime fog makes viewing an occasional event. Happy skywatching!”

The paths of the stars across the vastness of the heavens proved to be predictable and fixed in their relationships.  Distinctive groups of stars formed constellations and there were seven points of light that moved independently of the starfield. These "wandering lights" were the sun (that rose and set at different locations throughout the year), moon and the five planets visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  The word planet originally meant wanderer.

In the 2nd Century A.D. Ptolomy built upon the star picture of the Sumerians and devised a complex mathematics to accurately track the seven wanderers, while still keeping the Earth as the fixed center of the cosmos.  Systematic observations over long periods of time had revealed the movements of the heavens to be cyclical in nature.  These ever recurring cycles gave a framework to temporal events and made possible correlations between the macrocosm of celestial activity and the microcosm of human activity.  Such correlations were the basis for astrology.  Astrology sought to predict future influences and time activities accordingly.  

The Ptolemaic worldview remained intact until the 16th century when Copernicus demonstrated that the earth was not the center of the universe but revolved, like the rest of the solar system, around the sun, and that the earth was actually moving.  The earth's movement was the explanation for why the planets sometimes appeared to go backward or retrograde, in their orbits.  This elegantly simple discovery did away with the complex mathematics of Ptolemy's epicycles.  Ptolemy's system was observational, designed to predict what appeared to be happening from an earth that stood still whilst all the heavens revolved around it. The Copernican system was abstract, based on mathematical calculations that showed what was actually happening as opposed to what appeared to be happening.

Until very recently, our relationship with the night sky was immediate and experiential.  In fact, the planets and constellations are easily recognizable if you know where, and when, to look. The twelve constellations of the zodiac, which form the background against which we observe the movements of the sun, moon and planets, are so large that six constellations cover a band of sky stretching from horizon to horizon.  The planets are always found within a narrow band extending roughly 6 degrees either side of the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun. You can use the moon to locate the ecliptic by simply tracing a line of sight from east to west that bisects the moon midway between the two crescents.  From earth, the apparent diameter of the sun or moon is half a degree. If you can find the moon you can find the ecliptic and the planets.  A little study and observation will quickly reveal that you can use the night sky to orient yourself to the compass and find direction or navigate.

Today, observation of the night sky continues to be the catalyst for our still expanding  view of the universe and our place in it. Quasars, black holes and warped space-time have brought changes as profound as the Copernican revolution. The famous “Blue Marble” photograph of earth, taken in 1972 from the Apollo 17 spacecraft, graphically brought home to all that we are indeed spaceship earth, magnificently evolved to travel the reaches of farthest space.  One tiny bluegreen planet afloat in an immeasurably vast ocean of space.

September is a good month for viewing the moon and planets.  Some of the celestial events we will see this month include the "Harvest Moon", the famous full moon of the fall, on the 9th, and the autumnal equinox, when the sun's path exactly aligns with the celestial equator (and for 24 hours, day and night are the same length everywhere on earth), will occur on the 21st. The equinox is the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, the imaginary line in the sky mirroring the Earth’s equator.  The sun crosses from north to south in the autumn, and south to north at the spring equinox, March 21st, the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere.

The new moon on the 25th will provide the darkest night sky in which to track the planets. For all of September Jupiter will be at its closest and brightest in nearly a century. Saturn will be visible and Venus, the brightest planet, is visible before sunrise in early September. Mars can be seen later in the evening and Mercury is low on the twilight horizon but may be visible.  Turning off unneeded outside lighting and directing outside lighting downward will help make viewing easier. Of course, location makes a big difference. You won't see from downtown what you can see from Mt. Tam. Out here at Ocean Beach the nighttime fog makes viewing an occasional event. Happy skywatching! 

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

Sep 13, 2022

Concrete Slab replaces grass in Golden Gate Park
Polo Field: Concrete slab replaces grass in Golden Gate Park.Photo: Kathy Howard

Outside Lands Outrage

Another Planet Entertainment pours concrete on the Polo Field

•••••••••• August 30, 2022 ••••••••••

David Romano.
David Romano

The concrete was poured and set before anyone even knew it was happening.  Another Planet Entertainment (APE) has put a massive slab of concrete in the Polo Field so they can save money on repairs after Outside Lands. And the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department approved it by adding an addendum to the original use permit.  APE saves money and the Polo Field, Golden Gate Park and the people of San Francisco lose out. The Permit for Outside Lands states it is not subject to CEQA review because it's only a temporary installation. Outside Lands is for three days out of the year but concrete is forever.  This is not a temporary installation.

According to the original Use Permit, dated April 1. 2009;

14. Repair of Damage. ... Permittee shall promptly, at its sole cost and expense, repair any and all damage to the Premises and any personal property located thereon caused by Permittee or Permittee's Agents or Invitees. Permittee shall obtain Recreation and Park Department's prior written approval of any party to be used by Permittee to conduct such repair work. Alternatively, Recreation and Park Department may make such repairs on behalf of Permittee at Permittee's sole cost and expense. ...

An Addendum to the Original Permit, dated May 20, 2022; states, in part:

... there has been significant damage to the far western areas of the Polo Fields, which has delayed the Department from reopening the entire field to athletic activities and other recreational uses due to  broken irrigation valves and other impacts. Permittee is solely responsible for repairing this damage under Section 14 of the Permit, and has done so each year, at its considerable expense. To conserve resources over the remaining term of the Permit and to prevent future damage and delays, Permittee has offered to complete a project valued at approximately $400,000 to replace the far western turf areas of the Polo fields with decomposed granite and in certain particularly impacted areas reinforced concrete.

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The City’s explanation doesn’t explain anything at all. What is clear is that Outside Lands damages Golden Gate Park and APE has not honored its agreement to repair any damage to the Park.”

Beverly Ng
Beverly Ng

I asked Rec and Park about the concrete slab  and received this response from Beverly Ng, Deputy Director of Policy and Public Affairs: "This is an improvement project intended to prevent damage to the far western areas of our Polo Fields following the annual Outside Lands festival and avoid delaying the field’s reopening for athletics while we repair things like broken irrigation valves. Per its agreement with the City, Another Planet replaced these far western turf areas with decomposed granite (and reinforced concrete in select areas particularly prone to damage). The areas are outside the area of active field use and will not impact play."

It is a terrible idea to pour concrete on the Polo Field. What could be more damaging to a grass field than pouring concrete on it?  If the irrigation valves are the problem, don't repair them and let that area be dirt. That would be better than the concrete slab, which is ugly and only exists to serve the purposes of APE. The City’s explanation doesn’t explain anything at all. What is clear is that Outside Lands damages Golden Gate Park and APE has not honored its agreement to repair any damage to the Park. 

What stands out, immediately, in the Addendum is the language, "To conserve resources over the remaining term of the Permit ..." meaning to conserve the resources of Another Planet Entertainment  a private company making millions from Outside Lands, at the expense of Golden Gate Park and the people of San Francisco. APE has clearly reneged on its Agreement and violated both the spirit and the letter of its contract with the City. 

Phil Ginsburg, General Manager
Phil Ginsburg

That Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (SFRPD) and the City Attorney's office approved the Addendum does not change the fact that pouring concrete on a field can in no way be considered a repair of the field. It is the destruction of that field.  Why is Phil Ginsburg, who is charged with preserving and maintaining our parks, selling out the people of San Francisco?  APE gave 500 free tickets to the SFRPD for the 2021 Outside Lands. Could that have anything to do with it?

According to a San Francisco Ethics Commission report released in late September, city officials have been gifted at least $430,950 in free tickets to the festival through a loophole that, although technically legal, is ethically dubious, according to the report's authors. - KQED, October 29, 2021

From the time Golden Gate Park was created in 1870, to the time Outside Lands held its first festival, there was never any need for a private company to take over a large part of the Park so they could make a lot of money and then kick back some to the City. San Franciscans have always been proud to support, maintain and pay for Golden Gate Park and we have consistently passed bond measures in support of our parks.  

In a city with a $14 billion budget, how is it that we need to rent out Golden Gate Park for 3 weeks at the height of summer?  We never needed to before. We're stuck with Outside Lands and Another Planet Entertainment because two City officials, Phil Ginsberg, and Mark Buell, President of the Recreation and Park Commission, (both appointed by Gavin Newsom when he was Mayor), decided that was the way it was going to be.  

Polo Field Today
Polo Field TodayPhoto: Kathy Howard

A private consulting firm from Marin, hired by the festival promoters, came up with a figure of $66 million in tourism dollars generated by the festival in 2019.  Where do they get that figure from?  Do they have a basis for comparison with tourism dollars spent without the festival being here?  What about all the people who don’t come to San Francisco because of the festival.  People who are told by their friends and family not to come to San Francisco as they won’t be able to visit Golden Gate Park or Ocean Beach because of the traffic congestion, blocked entrances to the Park and impossible parking?  Have those people been surveyed?  I think the promoters got the numbers they wanted from the consulting firm.  APE is an LLC,  a private company, so we don't know how much money they make or who they pay.

What about putting a price on denying access to a large part of the western end of the Park to residents for three weeks while the festival is being set up, staged and torn down?  Of course, since that just deprives the ordinary citizens of the use of their park we won't put any value on that.  And now APE won't even repair the damage they have caused. 

APE Executive Vice-President Allen Scott, said, “… we know it’s a disruption. We hope that people see it for the greater good and not just about their personal routines.”  Are the personal routines of people in the Marina, Pacific Heights, Seacliff, Forrest Hill, St. Francis Wood or Presidio Heights, being disrupted?  Why should the Sunset and Richmond be faced with traffic congestion, noise and restricted access to the Park every year. That it’s for the “greater good” is doubtful; that it’s putting money in the pockets of APE and the bureaucrats at SFRPD is certain. Why not have Outside Lands on the Marina Green or Crissy Field and give that part of the city a chance to contribute to the greater good?

William Hammond Hall

Golden Gate Park belongs to the residents of San Francisco and should always be accessible, open and free. It was designed to be, and always has been, a public park. Phil Ginsburg acts as if Golden Gate Park is his private kingdom to do with as he pleases.  Of course one can make money off  public parks but that is, at best, unclear on the concept of what a park should be.  Now people can tell their children and grandchildren, the Polo Field was passed down for generations as a beautiful meadow and playing field and we bequeath you this massive slab of concrete as part of it.

“The purpose of Golden Gate Park is to serve as an open space preserve in the midst of San Francisco. This historic park is a cultivated pastoral and sylvan landscape, defined by an abundant evergreen woodland.  It is designed and managed to afford opportunities for all to experience beauty, tranquility, recreation, and relief from urban pressures.” (Mission Statement, 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan).

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

Sep 1, 2022

Trees on La Playa
DPW planted five trees on La Playa: One lived.

The Mystery of the Trees

Two Tree-Planting Agencies — Not a Drop to Drink.

•••••••••• August 1, 2022 ••••••••••

David Romano.
David Romano

Sometime in the not too distant past, perhaps 10-15 years ago, five trees were planted on the east side of La Playa Street, between Balboa and Cabrillo. Two trees died years ago, while still saplings, and were removed in 2021. Of the trees remaining, two survived into 2022 but are now expired; one is still alive and thriving. What happened? Why is only one tree doing well while four others are dead? And the future of the one remaining tree appears to be uncertain because it is no longer watered.

When trees are planted by the Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), the person or organization who requests the planting agrees to water the trees for a minimum of two - three years so that the newly planted trees have a chance to take root. But in this instance, the trees were not planted by FUF but by the Department of Public Works (DPW) through their Bureau of Urban Forestry (BUF) and the DPW is responsible for watering and caring for the trees. 

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District 5 gets $50,000 for tree planting. District 8, $246,000 for sidewalk gardens and street trees. And that's it for the entire City. If there is a climate emergency you wouldn't know it from San Francisco”

At first I thought they were FUF trees, and concerned that trees planted by FUF were being neglected and dying, I wrote to the Board of Supervisors. Further correspondence with FUF revealed that the trees, in fact, belonged to DPW and must have been planted by them. They did look exactly like FUF plantings with identical supports, straps and stakes. People may not be aware that many of the dead saplings they see on city streets, especially on commercial blocks have actually been planted by BUF, not FUF. I asked, but BUF has not been able to tell me when these five trees were planted or why only some of them were being watered.

760 La Playa
A dead tree at 770 La Playa Street
prior to its removal

In 2021, at least, a DPW watering truck came to the 700 block of La Playa on a weekly basis and watered the two saplings, one thriving, one expiring, in front of 758 La Playa. The truck was there every Friday, filling the water bags, but that stopped earlier this year and has not resumed. I don't know when the watering began but whenever it was, it came too late to save the two trees in front of 770 La Playa, if they were, in fact, ever watered. 770 La Playa is a 3 story building, called Progress House. I don't know if Progress House ever had any duty of care towards the trees but, if they ever did, that time is long gone

For whatever reason, the watering truck did not water the lone sapling, immediately adjacent, at 760 La Playa. It was alive at some point but is past reviving now. Perhaps it was already dead by the time I began observing the watering truck. It appears to have died from neglect years ago.

In 2021, the two trees that died years ago were removed from in front of 770 La Playa Street but not replaced. The supports and straps (somewhat deteriorated) are still in place and the planter squares look ready for planting  (see photo). I contacted BUF to thank them for removing two dead trees from in front of 770 La Playa Street (if, in fact, it was them) but noted that, unfortunately, no new trees were planted. BUF did not respond to my suggestion that new trees be planted.

New trees planted by contractors as part of new construction are required by Public Works Code Article 16 Section 806(d), and the developer (or contractor, depending) is required by the City to provide 3 years of care - i.e. 3 years of care so that the tree establishes roots. The trees at 770 and 758-760 La Playa Street clearly weren't maintained until they had become established. 

We can be reasonably sure that the trees died from lack of water but the mystery of how these trees met their fate raises many questions. Did the Bureau of Urban Forestry make any attempt to contact the contractor during the initial three-year period of required maintenance? Can the Bureau of Urban Forestry contact whoever planted the two trees at 770 La Playa St. and ask them to plant new trees and maintain them for three years? Can BUF provide watering for the one tree that is still alive? Can the two dead trees at 756 - 760 La Playa Street be replaced by whoever was responsible for planting them in the first place?

In the past, I have spoken with Steve Keller, Urban Forestry Inspector with the Bureau of Urban Forestry, and he connected me with Dan Hoffman, the Urban Forestry Inspector for my area. I emailed Dan with my concerns and called to follow-up. Dan called me back but only to say that our block had never been inspected and he had hopes of it being inspected this year; no word on who was responsible for the trees and when new trees might be planted. This was in December, 2021.

770 La Playa
The 2nd dead tree at 770 La Playa
Street prior to its removal

You might reasonably think that the BUF would have a strong interest in seeing that trees are kept alive. After all, trees are the whole reason for their existence. Here is what the BUF says in their Mission Statement:
Mission and Vision:  The Bureau of Urban Forestry enhances the City's green infrastructure by preserving and growing the trees and plants that make up our urban forest. Trees are more than just beautiful additions to urban life. They are an essential component of the City's ecosystem and provide enormous environmental and social benefits. They help manage stormwater, reduce air pollution, sequester carbon, save energy, increase property values, provide wildlife habitat, calm traffic, provide a more pleasant pedestrian experience and benefit human health. 

This from the DPW:
Healthy tree-lined streets are a key component of our urban forest. An estimated 125,000 trees grow along San Francisco's streets (street trees). These trees contribute to a more walkable, livable and sustainable city. They remove pollutants from air and water. They create greener and more vibrant neighborhoods. They make streets more enjoyable to walk and shop along. Street trees connect us to nature and enhance the quality of our daily lives. -  SF Public Works Urban Forest Plan.

The Bureau of Urban Forestry, the Department of Public Works, and Friends of the Urban Forest are not the only players in the tree game. There is also the Urban Forestry Council. 

The Urban Forestry Council (UFC) advises city departments, including the Board of Supervisors and the mayor. Its tasks are to: Develop a comprehensive urban forest plan, educate the public. Develop tree-care standards; identify funding needs, staffing needs, and opportunities for urban forest programs. UFC is part of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. The San Francisco Department of the Environment (SF Environment) advances climate protection and enhances quality of life for all San Franciscans.

There is also the Urban Forest Plan. The following is from the San Francisco Planning website (https://sfplanning.org/urban-forest-plan).

The Urban Forest Plan envisions a greener and healthier San Francisco where trees grow and thrive on the City’s streets. Developed in collaboration with San Francisco Public Works, the Urban Forestry Council, and Friends of the Urban Forest, the Urban Forest Plan (Phase 1: Street Trees) provides a long-term vision and strategy to improve the health and sustainability of the City’s urban forest. Adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2015, the Plan identifies policies and strategies to create an expanded, healthy, and thriving street tree population for all of San Francisco.  

Included in the plan is:

Dead La Playa Tree
The neglected, and now dead, tree
in front of 760 La Playa.

RECOMMENDATION #4: Manage street trees throughout their entire life-cycle - The Plan recommends managing San Francisco's street trees throughout their entire life cycle by creating an interdependent urban forestry operation. By minimizing waste, reducing travel distances, and providing second-life opportunities for locally grown urban wood, San Francisco can become a model of 21st century urban natural resource management.

 

I haven't yet mentioned StreetTreeSF, another department of DPW. 

StreetTreeSF is a voter-approved initiative managed by San Francisco Public Works to professionally maintain and care for the 124,000-plus street trees growing throughout all neighborhoods in the City. San Francisco Public Works is developing StreetTreeSF into an efficient and cost-effective system to routinely and proactively maintain street trees, ensuring that all public trees are inspected and pruned on a regular basis. Street trees will be pruned once every three- to five-years depending on the type of tree. StreetTreeSF will also repair sidewalks that have been damaged by street trees. Now that StreetTreeSF is maintaining and caring for all street trees, residents do not need to prune trees themselves.

They do not, however, water any trees.

Whatever the funding and capacity of BUF in the past, they currently aren't given enough money to plant and maintain trees. And I don't know what authority they have to enforce the duty of care requirements. If they do have any enforcement capability, it doesn't seem to have been used to save the trees on La Playa Street. The Board of Supervisors recently approved a draft (since revised) of the 2022-2023 City budget that included $0 for planting new street trees. We have to hope that the Board thinks some money, at least, ought to be available for the care of existing trees. 

SF Environment has a very impressive website and if you haven't visited yet, there is enough information on what they are doing to make San Francisco clean and green to keep you reading for days, if not weeks.

Tree plantings in the latest budget come under the Climate Action Plan (CAP), I guess by default, since planting trees isn't present elsewhere. Mayor Breed budgeted no money for CAP but the Board of Supervisors added back $2.6 million in funding for the Dept. of the Environment. A vanishingly small amount in a  total budget of almost $14 billion. District 5 gets $50,000 for tree planting. District 8, $246,000 for sidewalk gardens and street trees. And that's it for the entire City. If there is a climate emergency you wouldn't know it from San Francisco.

If you are wondering who might have saved those neglected saplings on La Playa Street, I'm wondering the same thing. Clearly, someone should have stepped up. It is reassuring to read the words of all the different City agencies but somehow, despite all these plans and commitments, the City hasn't been able to keep alive 4 of the 5 saplings that were planted on La Playa Street.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

July 28, 2022

Dark Skies

It's International Dark Sky Week

David Romano.
David Romano

International Dark Sky Week 2022 is here. It begins on Earth Day, April 22nd, and ends with the new moon on April 30th. Astronomers, both professional and amateur, have long known that the time around the new moon is the best time for viewing stars and planets because that’s when the night sky is darkest.

In recent times, it’s been harder and harder for astronomers and others to find night skies dark enough to see the stars, let alone continue to explore the universe, even when there is a new moon. Greatly increased artificial light at night has obscured our view of the night sky. 

There is more at stake in reducing artificial light than exploring the universe, important as that is. In his book, The End of Night, Paul Bogard writes “In ways we have long understood, in others we are just beginning to understand, night's natural darkness has always been invaluable to our health and the health of the natural world, and every living creature suffers from its loss.” 

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In Pittsburgh, that urban phenomenon is set to change thanks to a new ordinance that makes it the first major American city to adopt lighting standards addressing light pollution.”

We need electric light for human safety, comfort and health, but lighting up the night sky for amusement or displays should be kept to a minimum.  

It’s especially important that artificial light be kept to a minimum in our urban parks. At night, our city parks can be oases of dark in the otherwise unrelenting glare of electric light that engulfs most of our city. 

"... light pollution has a negative influence on a variety of animals and plants in a variety of ways. It has been shown to disorient animals. Light pollution affects mating, alters predator-prey behavior, confuses migration, and influences animal physiology. Effects have been observed over a full range of taxonomic groups, including birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, fishes, invertebrates, and plants" - Connie Walker, “A Silent Cry for Dark Skies", The Universe in the Classroom 

California is the first US state to have an official policy of conserving 30 percent of its lands and coastal waters by the year 2030. One goal of the plan is to do this in a way that provides better access to nature for communities, especially urban areas. Viewing stars under natural nighttime skies and trying to minimize the effects of artificial lighting at night on the plants and animals with whom humans share our urban areas are both vital parts of access to nature.

“While astronomers worldwide have been sounding the alarm about light pollution since the 1970s, ongoing scientific research has shown that artificial nighttime lighting is harmful to wildlife and human health. In Pittsburgh, that urban phenomenon is set to change thanks to a new ordinance that makes it the first major American city to adopt lighting standards addressing light pollution. The law requires all new construction and renovations of city-owned buildings [only] to comply with dark sky lighting principles, including replacing all the city’s street lights with fixtures that feature timers and dimmers, so they are only on when needed; are shielded, so light is directed at a specific area and is no brighter than necessary…” Christina Griffith, thephiladelphiacitizen.org  Dec. 14, 2021.

We're not stuck with light pollution. We can make changes. If Pittsburgh can implement a Dark Skies ordinance, why not San Francisco?  It’s the environmentally responsible thing to do.  San Francisco can work with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), which has worked with various individual cities to assist in the kinds of lighting technology that would minimize light pollution. 

The cities of Alameda and Emeryville have passed dark sky ordinances. We need our Board of Supervisors to follow their lead and find ways to help create darker skies for San Francisco.  It’s good for the planet.

San Franciscans for Urban Nature (SFUN)

SFUN is a group of community activists who work to preserve and protect nature in San Francisco.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

April 2022

Ferris Wheel
More Fallout from the SkyStar Wheel

Government Oversight Committee Subpoenas SF Parks Alliance Records

David Romano.
David Romano

I'm not saying that Mark Buell, President of the Recreation and Park Commission, is getting paid by SkyStar, LLC of St. Louis, MO, but how do we know he's not? SkyStar doesn't have to reveal how much money it pays out or to whom. It's a limited liability company and its contractual arrangements are private. There is, in fact, no written contract between SkyStar and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD). When RPD gave the Wheel a choice location in the Music Concourse, rent free for a year, there was not even a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in place.

How and by whom, exactly, was the determination made to contract with SkyStar to put the Observation Wheel in Golden Gate Park? Who determined the ticket price and who decided that the initial split for full price adult tickets would be $17 to SkyStar and $1 to the non-profit SF Parks Alliance with zero dollars going to the City? Was there any consideration of SkyStar paying rent to the City for operating three different concessions (food and drink, souvenirs, and the Wheel) in a premier public space?   

There is, to say the least, a lack of transparency in the contractual arrangements between SkyStar LLC, the Rec and Park Commission, RPD, and the non-profit San Francisco Parks Alliance. On March 3rd, 2021, the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) held a hearing on whether or not to extend the Wheel's stay in Golden Gate Park to five years from the original one-year term. Mark Buell had read into the record his strong support for the four-year extension for the SkyStar Wheel.

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The vendor was selected on a sole source basis for a one-year term because competitive bidding was considered impractical and/or impossible by RPD due to the limited time between deciding to include an observation wheel (in July 2019) and a community event date in April 2020 ...”

Phil Ginsburg, the General Manager of the RPD, was the person most responsible for bringing the Wheel to the Music Concourse. I'm not saying Ginsburg is getting kickbacks from SkyStar, but how do we know he is not? According to the Budget and Legislative Analyst report: “The vendor was selected on a sole source basis for a one-year term because competitive bidding was considered impractical and/or impossible by RPD due to the limited time between deciding to include an observation wheel (in July 2019) and a community event date in April 2020 ...”

This shows a lack of planning and a blatant disregard for the public interest. We did not need a ferris wheel to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Golden Gate Park. We have now been stuck with the SkyStar Wheel for five years for the benefit of an out-of-town vendor. 

Supes' Oversight

Connie Chan

Supervisor Connie Chan

At the San Francisco Government Oversight and Audit Committee hearing, held on November 18, 2021, the Budget and Legislative Analyst (BLA) was asked to report on the relationship between San Francisco Parks Alliance and the RPD. The conclusion: “Adequate controls against the possibility of corruption and financial transparency were found lacking in our review of key agreements between the two organizations from recent years.”

At the hearing, Supervisor Connie Chan asked the BLA if they had asked RPD why they capped their revised agreement with the Observation Wheel company at $900,000 (total share of ticket and concession stand sales). RPD told the BLA that it was because, if the contract was for over $1M, then RPD would have to get approval from the Board of Supervisors (BOS). So, apparently, RPD gave up funding that would have benefited our parks in order to avoid having the BOS review a RPD (non-competitive bid) contract.

San Francisco has gone to the dark side.

Mohammed Nuru, former head of the San Francisco Public Works Department, lost his job for his part in a bribery and corruption scandal. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Nuru was arrested and charged by federal officials last year for an alleged attempt to bribe a San Francisco airport commissioner, in a probe that lifted the curtain on the city’s sprawling pay-to-play and corruption scheme. Eleven defendants have been charged to date, including multiple department heads, contractors and business executives. In a separate but related investigation, officials with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office found that Recology had overcharged city ratepayers $94.5 million over the past four years by failing to account for revenue it would already receive. A settlement announced last month will require the waste company to reimburse its customers and pay a $7 million penalty to the city.”  (S.F. corruption scandal: Another Recology exec faces charges of bribing Mohammed Nuru by Megan Cassidy, April 15, 2021)

Today we are reaping what was sown when Gavin Newsom became mayor. Newsom appointed Mark Buell to run the Rec and Park Commission and Phil Ginsburg to head the RPD. Their mandate was to privatize the commons and turn our public spaces into money-making enterprises run by corporations. They call this a “public/private partnership” but it is, in fact, a giveaway of the public space. Mayor Ed Lee, appointed by Mayor Newsom when he resigned to run for governor, was able to facilitate all their schemes and more; from putting artificial turf in the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields to turning the Arboretum into a “plant museum” and banquet facility for the rich, to Outside Lands, to hosting the America's Cup and the Super Bowl party, none of which benefits the citizens of San Francisco. My wife and I were taking the 5 Fulton outbound, going home, when the driver told everyone we had to get off at 6th Ave. She had been instructed to turn the bus around and pick up people going to the Super Bowl party downtown. So, we were put off the bus; the elderly, disabled, youth, and people just trying to get home. We waited for over an hour before another bus came. Thanks Ed.

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Today we are reaping what was sown when Gavin Newsom became mayor. Newsom appointed Mark Buell to run the Rec and Park Commission and Phil Ginsburg to head the RPD. Their mandate was to privatize the commons and turn our public spaces into money-making enterprises run by corporations.”

More Transparency Needed

How much did the America's Cup cost us?  “San Francisco's red ink from the 34th America's Cup doubled Monday, with updated figures showing the city lost $11.5 million hosting the event.”  (San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 11, 2014.)  Another party for the rich with San Francisco taxpayers picking up the tab.  

Scott Wiener, David Chiu and London Breed were three of the seven Supervisors who placed Prop. I on the ballot, in opposition to Prop. H, which would have required the Soccer Fields to have natural grass and no stadium lighting. Over 10,000 San Franciscans signed the petition to put Prop. H on the ballot. Seven Supervisors was all it took to put poison pill Prop I on the ballot. And, of course, the Mayor's office, the RPD and the SF Parks Alliance went all out to defeat Prop. H, plastering the City with posters with the slogan “Let the Children Play,” showing children outside the locked gates of a field. In actual fact, it was the RPD that fenced and locked the Soccer Fields. Ed Lee was aided and abetted in his efforts by Wiener and Chiu. 

Dianne Feinstein wrote the lead Proponent’s Argument in Favor of Proposition I for the voter information pamphlet (Nov. 2014) and Ed Lee wrote the rebuttal to Opponent's Argument Against Prop. I. Wiener and Chiu both knew who they needed to please and both later won seats in the State Assembly. It was the Democratic party machine that put seven acres of artificial turf and stadium lighting into Golden Gate Park.

After Ed Lee, we got London Breed, the hand-picked candidate of Ron Conway, venture capitalist, self-appointed power broker and political fixer at City Hall. It was Conway who sponsored Breed’s run for Supervisor. “He donated nearly $600,000 to San Francisco races in 2012 ...” (Ron Conway says he’s too busy to get involved in SF’s mayor race; Trisha Thadani, Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 2018.)  London Breed, Ed Lee’s anointed successor, has continued the Newsom legacy in her support for the SkyStar Wheel. 

I should mention, if you didn't already know, the San Francisco Chronicle endorsed Ed Lee and London Breed in their mayoral campaigns, recommended yes on Prop. I and, of course, endorsed both Wiener and Chiu in their Assembly races. 

The Government Oversight and Audit Committee has unanimously voted to subpoena the financial records of the transactions between RPD and the SF Parks Alliance. In the words of Supervisor Chan, “... I have identified that the sub-account practice is not appropriate and problematic ...” so we have yet to see what sub-accounts for RPD may exist. It was the sub-accounts for the Department of Public Works at SF Parks Alliance, uncovered by the FBI, that helped bring down Public Works Director Nuru. However, it turns out, I think we can all agree that, at the least, more transparency is needed when a City department contracts with an outside vendor and a private non-profit gets reimbursed for its costs as part of the deal.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

December 2021

Trees on Market St.
Some of the mature, healthy trees approved for removal. These trees are headed to the chipper unless San Franciscans respond
Is the City Really Committed to Trees?

Plans for Market Street, Van Ness Avenue & Main Library / Where are the trees?

David Romano.
David Romano

Do we want Market Street without any trees or with most trees removed? Do we want trees removed from Van Ness Avenue under the Van Ness BRT plan, or the ficus trees adjacent to the Main Library taken away? Should trees be removed from Market Street under the Better Market Street plan?

The Library trees are supposed to be replaced, according to the DPW Order, so we'll see what happens. The Van Ness trees are also supposed to be replaced but SFMTA has already removed more trees than they were permitted to because of shoddy construction practices which killed trees slated for preservation. Unfortunately, more than a dozen 'new' trees are already dead for lack of watering and many more old and new trees will be dead soon if current maintenance practices continue. Part of the reason our tree canopy is in such poor shape is because of the disaggregation of removals (i.e. we're just removing a few trees here, and a few there.) 

...
The canopy at Market and PowellPhoto: MUNI

For a variety of reasons, San Francisco is on course to take out a lot of trees and is not planting replacements. One prominent example is the planned removal of trees on Market Street. Planting trees is not the only issue. Maintenance of newly planted trees has been woefully inadequate and many saplings, throughout the City, have died or are dying through lack of watering. Look around your neighborhood at the trees planted in the last ten years.  On my block, Friends of the Urban Forest planted five trees; two are dead, two are failing and only one is thriving.

On January 23, 2020, the BART Board of Directors approved a contract to construct 22 canopies over entrances at BART stations along Market Street. The contract calls for the removal of 32 trees on Market St. Here are some excerpts from recent Public Works Order No. 205249:

Findings:
Tree removal was approved for the construction of canopy structures over the BART/MUNI entrances.

At the hearing, the BART representative, Mark Dana, testified that the trees needed to be removed due to the construction of the new BART/MUNI canopy entrances. The new entrances would provide many benefits to the community including the ability providing security and protection. He stated the main reason to remove the trees was a matter of public safety and that the proximity of the trees to the new canopies creates a hazard for access to the top of the entrances.

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The removal of the healthy trees is not yet set in stone. Several appeals by concerned citizens will be heard via Zoom at the Board of Appeals and hopefully, healthy trees can be saved and ailing or absent trees replaced. Members of the public should email letters of support/opposition to boardofappeals@sfgov.org, at least one week prior to the October 27 Hearing, and reference Appeal # 21-077 or "BART tree appeals," and they will be distributed to Board members prior to the hearing.”

Several members the public strongly contested the removal due to the good health of the trees, the value of the trees to combat the climate crisis, the issues of mass transit and the destruction of trees, that the trees have been poorly maintained, that the design should have incorporated the existing trees, and because the trees provide a habitat for the Western Swallowtail Butterfly.

Civic Center and Powell stations
Montgomery and Embarcadero Stations
Chart Key

Recommendation:
After consideration of correspondence and testimony provided at the hearing, the recommendation is to uphold and approve the decision to remove all thirty-two (32) street trees.

And this pretty much tells the story of what happens to trees on City streets. Trees are not taken into account and are not valued. Members of the public strongly protested but to no avail. Trees would not be a problem if they were central to the design process, as they should be. The values we profess to hold dear in San Francisco, "... the value of trees to combat the climate crisis, ... trees provide habitat," etc, and our public commitment to planting and maintaining trees, are not at the center of the discussion. We need a tree-centric approach.  

The most striking thing about the Market Street removal orders is that, in every instance, the tree removals are without replacement. That is at odds with many of the City's stated policies that have the goal of conserving and increasing the tree canopy in San Francisco.  Here is what the Bureau of Urban Forestry, an agency of San Francisco Public Works, says in their Mission Statement:

Mission and Vision:  The Bureau of Urban Forestry enhances the City's green infrastructure by preserving and growing the trees and plants that make up our urban forest. 

Trees are more than just beautiful additions to urban life. They are an essential component of the City's ecosystem and provide enormous environmental and social benefits. They help manage stormwater, reduce air pollution, sequester carbon, save energy, increase property values, provide wildlife habitat, calm traffic, provide a more pleasant pedestrian experience and benefit human health. 

A more detailed look at the individual trees slated for removal reveals many areas of concern.  Of the 32 trees in Public Works order 205249, 16 are healthy, mature trees; 3 trees are already gone, 3 trees are dead, 8 trees are either vandalized or failing and need to be removed, and 2 are not next to a BART entrance but next to a MUNI bus shelter and clearly would not be a safety concern for BART.  What does it say about the City's record-keeping on trees that Public Works has included in the Work Order, 3 trees that are already gone and 2 that are not within the scope of the project?  Why were the dead trees not removed and replaced before?  Why were the 3 missing trees not replaced?  Why were the 8 trees that need to be removed not removed and replaced before now?  Why are trees failing and would maintenance and watering have made a difference?  

Importance of Trees
Healthy tree-lined streets are a key component of our urban forest. An estimated 125,000 trees grow along San Francisco's streets (street trees). These trees contribute to a more walkable, livable and sustainable city. They remove pollutants from air and water. They create greener and more vibrant neighborhoods. They make streets more enjoyable to walk and shop along. Street trees connect us to nature and enhance the quality of our daily lives. - From the SF Public Works Urban Forest Plan.

The removal of the healthy trees is not yet set in stone. Several appeals by concerned citizens will be heard via Zoom at the Board of Appeals and hopefully, healthy trees can be saved and ailing or absent trees replaced. Members of the public should email letters of support/opposition to boardofappeals@sfgov.org, at least one week prior to the October 27 Hearing, and reference Appeal # 21-077 or "BART tree appeals," and they will be distributed to Board members prior to the hearing.

We need to conserve our mature, healthy trees and we need to replace any trees that are removed in a ratio of 10 new trees planted for every 1 tree removed if we are going to enhance our tree canopy and fight climate change. An important value of trees in the Urban Forest is their ability to reduce the amount of reflected heat bouncing back into the atmosphere.

Heat islands are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. Structures such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies. Urban areas, where these structures are highly concentrated and greenery is limited, become “islands” of higher temperatures relative to outlying areas.- EPA

We need to plant more trees and take better care of the street trees we have. We can do this!

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

September 2021

installation
So many San Franciscans are bored with this Illuminate project, many are asking why it's still there? Photo: Illuminate.com
Illuminate burns on.

The Millionaire's Arts Club of San Francisco

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects me directly affects all indirectly.” - Martin Luther King, Jr

We need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth. The future of all life on this planet, humans and our societies included, requires us to become effective stewards of the global commons—the climate, ice, land, ocean, freshwater, forests, soils, and rich diversity of life that regulate the state of the planet, and combine to create a unique and harmonious life-support system.” From a statement by a group of academics including 13 Nobel laureates issued on April 29, 2021 (as reported in the SF Chronicle)

David Romano.
David Romano

There is a millionaire's club at work in San Francisco, bringing corporate money and corporate influence into public spaces, grabbing public resources and exploiting what little remains of our green spaces and our night sky in the City. This millionaire's club goes by the name of Illuminate and is, ostensibly, a non-profit arts organization. Its mission: "Illuminate rallies large groups of people together to create impossible works of public art that, through awe, free humanity's better nature" (from the Illuminate website). What on earth does that even mean? There is so much wrong with Illuminate, on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin.

You do not create art by rallying large groups of people. Millionaires plus technocrats plus electric lights do not equal art. It is not possible to create "impossible" works of art. It's not possible to create "impossible" anything. But it is clever, if deceptive: if you do make something that you had previously said was impossible, why then you must be a creative genius. Right from the start you get the impression that Illuminate is laughing at us; we can tell these fools anything if we dress it up in some new age jargon. David Hatfield, part of the three-member executive team, has the title, Chief of Opportunities.

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Illuminate is a group mostly composed of elite white capitalists who hire contractors to put up electric lights in public spaces”

Illuminate's Ten Principles include, "Live or die with integrity. Never compromise for corporate dollars, even if that means failing." Are you kidding me? Is Iluminate like Doctors Without Borders whose members risk their lives to bring life-saving medicine to victims in conflict zones? Is it like Greenpeace whose members risk their lives and possible jail time defending whales and dolphins from slaughter? Is it like the tribes trying to stop the oil pipelines who are putting their lives on the line to save the planet from fossil fuels? No; Illuminate is a group mostly composed of elite white capitalists who hire contractors to put up electric lights in public spaces. I don't think "dying with integrity" really enters into it, unless someone is accidentally electrocuted.

So, who are these guys, anyway? I have to ask, with all due respect, how are these people qualified to sit on the Board of a non-profit arts organization that's taking in tens of millions of dollars and using its spending to influence City officials to favor its projects? 

A quick look at some of the Illuminate Board members tells you that art is likely not their strong point: 

John Combs, Founder/Principal RiverRock Real Estate Group; Jeff Jungsten, Jungsten Construction, President; Ken Maxey, Director of External Relations Comcast NBC Universal; Matt Mullenweg, Founder/CEO Automattic Inc.; Dickon Pinner (chair), Partner, McKinsey & Company; Patricia Wilson, CEO, P.S. Think Big, Inc.; Lisa Vogel, Director of Asset Management, Wareham Development.

Illuminate's most prominent supporters are: The Lisa & John Pritzker Family Fund at $3 million plus and Tad and Dianne Taube at $2 million plus. "The Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund seeks to improve the trajectories for young children in San Francisco, by investing in their health and learning" (from their website) so it's a bit of a head scratcher why they would give so much to Illuminate. The Taubes give money to youth programs, pediatric cancer research and the San Francisco Opera, amongst others, so it's also puzzling why they would donate so much to fund lighting projects that diminish children's experience of the night sky and their ability to see the stars, moon and planets. Artificial light only obscures the celestial lights, which have always been humanity's true source of awe and wonder.

More from Illuminates Ten Principles: "Be free to all. Create nothing that requires paid admission." Shouldn't be hard to do when all you do is put up lights in public places and you're funded by donations. "Take worthy risks. Try difficult things and be transparent in sharing all lessons." Again, are you kidding me? What risks is Illuminate taking? What lessons are they sharing?

It goes on: "Bring light to shadow. Pursue positive expressions that address real-world shortcomings." "Be in it for others. Self-sacrifice toward the greater good." Such noble sentiments! These people are veritable saints. "Always aim high. Seek to unite all people around higher values of love and equality." And the way to do this is by putting electric light displays in our public spaces, causing untold amounts of wasted energy and light pollution?

Somehow, all this quixotic double-talk has also translated into putting lights in Golden Gate Park. Illuminate is lighting up the bandshell for the next two years with bright, colored lights. Also, they apparently plan to light up the Conservatory of Flowers indefinitely "...the dazzling light projection on the historic building’s exterior continues nightly into its third year." (from the Illuminate website.)

"In ways we have long understood, in others we are just beginning to understand, night's natural darkness has always been invaluable to our health and the health of the natural world, and every living creature suffers from its loss." The End of Night by Paul Bogard

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We need this? Perhaps Illuminate is thinking that the destitute and disenfranchised individuals who congregate on Market between 6th Street and Van Ness will be so mesmerized by the lights they'll forget about their plight?”

Ben Davis, the CEO of Illuminate, asked if he could address a Zoom meeting of San Franciscans for Urban Nature, (I am a member) and we agreed. Once the meeting had begun, he announced that he had invited Dana King to join us and shortly afterwards handed his presentation over to her. He was looking to get our support for Illuminate's latest project, putting an electric light installation across the facade of the bandshell. Dana King is the creator of Monumental Reckoning, a newly installed sculpture in the Music Concourse. A few weeks later he again asked to speak at our meeting and, after the meeting had begun, again announced that he had invited Dana King, and he let her do the talking.

It may be a somewhat underhanded way of doing business, but it is very effective. Who's going to dare to oppose what a celebrity African American woman artist says? I guess that's why Mr. Davis gets paid the big bucks. According to ProPublica in 2018 his compensation was $169,623. Total executive compensation was $249,056 (38.7% of total expenses); other salaries and wages were $202, 805 (31.5% of total expense). For 2019 Mr. Davis made a more modest $137,066. 

So be aware, if Ben Davis asks to speak to your group, he will likely produce Dana King in his place once he arrives. He won't tell you ahead of time.

**************

“... light pollution poses a serious threat to nocturnal wildlife, having negative impacts on plant and animal physiology. ... The rhythm of life is orchestrated by the diurnal patterns of light and dark, and disruption of these patterns impacts ecological dynamics.” Connie Walker, A Silent Cry for Dark Skies, The Universe in the Classroom.

Illuminate's current big project is Lightrail - "Lightrail will be the world’s first subway-responsive light sculpture. Designed with more than 20,000 LED lights, it will run for two miles along San Francisco’s iconic Market Street, from Van Ness Avenue to The Embarcadero."(Illuminate website). We need this? Perhaps Illuminate is thinking that the destitute and disenfranchised individuals who congregate on Market between 6th Street and Van Ness will be so mesmerized by the lights they'll forget about their plight?

"Working with local artists George Zisiadis and Stefano Corazza, an extraordinary technical team, a range of city agencies, and the SF Board of Supervisors, Illuminate holds a major encroachment permit to install Lightrail, a two-mile-long piece of artwork that will run from One Market Street to Van Ness Avenue" (Illuminate website). May I point out that it is not artwork; it is light pollution and a wasteful use of energy we should be trying to conserve. It is ironic that as part of the same project, Illuminate "plans to retrofit the ... streetlights–from the Ferry Building to the Rainbow Flag–with new energy-efficient LED bulbs that will cut energy use by "80%" Yes, exactly; we need to cut energy use and direct lights downward. But if this is going to cut energy use by 80%, why isn't the City taking care of it? Why is our public space being co-opted by Illuminate who, otherwise, plans to produce only more light pollution using ever more energy? Dana King may be willing to lend her name and credibility to Illuminate, but the City should not cede rights to our public spaces to a non-profit "Arts" organization propagating ecologically damaging activities.

The stakes are very high and San Francisco is on the wrong path. Has no one at the Recreation and Parks Commission or the Mayor's office heard of Greta Thunberg? I guess what Greta has to say is just an inconvenient truth. What would Greta think of Illuminate's projects? Jason Mark, the editor-in-chief of Sierra, makes our situation very clear in his editorial, Writing the Future, “The twin threats of the climate crisis and the extinction emergency mean that the decisions we make today will reverberate on a geologic time scale.” What does Illuminate do to mitigate the climate crisis or the extinction emergency? Sad to say, thus far, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Illuminate can yet become a good steward of the Earth by turning it's creativity, imagination and technical knowledge toward reducing the negative effects of artificial light in our public spaces.

“Artificial light at night disrupts a wide range of natural processes. Recent research has shown significant impacts of coastal lighting reducing foraging of intertidal invertebrates, disrupting marine food webs, suppressing movement of juvenile fishes, increasing predation on nesting seabirds...” Dr. Travis Longcore, Associate Adjunct Professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Everything we do matters. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. It's past time to recognize this.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

July 2021

GG Park Map
A glance at the tourist map of Golden Gate Park indicates how little parkland is left
A Walk in the Park

A Letter to Our Supervisors

David Romano.
David Romano

The buildings, facilities, roads, parking lots, golf course, Polo Field, and the many sports venues (soccer fields, lawn bowls, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, etc.) in Golden Gate Park, leave very little parkland for people to experience.   

Here is a (partial) list of the areas in Golden Gate Park that are not available for "a walk in the park."  A glance at a map showing the features of the Park quickly reveals how little parkland is left.  The list of the man-made, or "not-park", areas of the Park is impressive.  Located within the boundaries of the Park are:

1. Kezar Stadium

2. Kezar Pavilion

3. Kezar Parking Lot

4. the considerable asphalt expanse of Kezar Drive 

5. the Tennis Courts 

6. the Horseshoe Pits

7. McLaren Lodge with its adjacent parking area

8. Racquetball Courts

9. Sharon Art Studio

10. JFK Drive

11. County Fair Building

12. MLK, Jr. Drive

13. Academy of Sciences

14. de Young Museum

15.  Japanese Tea Garden

16. the Disc Golf Course

17. Golden Gate Park Golf Course

18. the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (7 acres of artificial turf, concrete and asphalt) 

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In truth, the chance for a quiet walk in the park is fast disappearing”

19. the Dog Training Area (4 acres of artificial turf, sand, concrete and asphalt)

20. Route 1 - a six lane highway running more than the width of the Park

21. Crossover Drive - a four lane roadway

22. the Polo Fields and parking areas

23. the Horse Stables

24. the Bercut Equitation Field and adjacent area (now rented by a private vendor)

25. the Bison Paddock 

26. the Casting Pools, and the Angler's Lodge and grounds

27. the Archery Range

28. Middle Drive

29. Chain of Lakes Drive

30. 47th Avenue

31. the Park Chalet restaurant, backyard dining area and parking lot

32. various restrooms, playgrounds, maintenance yards, storage facilities, including a four acre yard south of the Soccer Fields

33. the Petanque Courts

34. Lawn Bowls Courts

35. the Richmond Senior Center and parking lot

36. the wood chipping facility and groundwater processing facility accessed by Overlook Drive. 

Wheel from the Concourse
Concourse today / Photo: Ann McPherson

The Music Concourse, with its fountains, walkways, landscaping, monuments and many trees, used to provide visitors with a gracious and pleasant walk.  Now, that walk is marred by a gigantic Ferris wheel, with a noisy diesel generator, a photo booth, and stands selling food and gewgaws. 

When Dana Ketcham of the Rec and Park Dept. advocated for a four year extension for the Skystar Wheel in the Music Concourse, she repeatedly made the claim that out of Golden Gate Park's 1017 acres, the Music Concourse was only 1.6 acres, and everyone had all the rest of the Park to be in a park.  We can see that isn't correct.  Ms. Ketcham's presentations to the Historic Preservation Commission and the Recreation and Park Commission, relied, in part, on establishing the negligible impact of the Wheel on our park environment, based on her claim that only 1.6 acres are directly impacted. In truth, the impact goes far beyond the Music Concourse, crowding visitors who come for the rejuvenating experience of being in "green space" into what little parkland is left.  

"Ready access to green space is proven to contribute to better health outcomes such as heart health, obesity and blood sugar as well as improved mental wellbeing."  Is Golden Gate Park really for all San Franciscans?  by Carly Graf (SF ExaminerMay 21, 2021.)

In truth, the chance for a quiet walk in the park is fast disappearing.  Please protect our parks from encroaching development. 

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

June 2021

lighting intrusion
Unnecessary lighting disrupts the life cycle of the insects, birds and animals in Golden Gate Park Photo: Ann McPherson
Light Pollution in Golden Gate Park
David Romano.
David Romano

The night sky, like the air, land and oceans, is a precious resource and belongs to everyone. It is our human heritage and the night sky truly gives meaning to our lore, literature, history and art. Alternating day and night, natural sunlight and natural dark, are essential to all living things on this planet. 

"We need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth. The future of all life on this planet, humans and our societies included, requires us to become effective stewards of the global commons—the climate, ice, land, ocean, freshwater, forests, soils, and rich diversity of life that regulate the state of the planet, and combine to create a unique and harmonious life-support system. There is now an existential need to build economies and societies that support Earth system harmony rather than disrupt it." From a statement by a group of academics including 13 Nobel laureates issued on April 29, 2021 (as reported in the SF Chronicle)

"In ways we have long understood, in others we are just beginning to understand, night's natural darkness has always been invaluable to our health and the health of the natural world, and every living creature suffers from its loss.” The End of Night by Paul Bogard

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We need electric light for human safety, comfort and health but lighting up the night sky for amusement or displays should be kept to a minimum. It is especially important that artificial light be kept to a minimum in our urban parks. At night, our city parks can be an oasis of dark in the otherwise unrelenting glare of electric light that engulfs most of our city.”

Light pollution is the opposite of what's needed for a "harmonious life-support system.” We need electric light for human safety, comfort and health but lighting up the night sky for amusement or displays should be kept to a minimum. It is especially important that artificial light be kept to a minimum in our urban parks. At night, our city parks can be an oasis of dark in the otherwise unrelenting glare of electric light that engulfs most of our city.

Illuminate, a non-profit arts organization, seems determined to add electric lights to Golden Gate Park. Its mission (from the Illuminate website): "Illuminate rallies large groups of people together to create impossible works of public art that, through awe, free humanity's better nature.” Somehow, this quixotic double-talk translates into putting lights in Golden Gate Park. And what does "rallying large groups of people" mean? Are we all going to meet in Golden Gate to celebrate the colored lights that Illuminate puts up? How does that create anything? If you want to have a Human Be-In why don't you say so? Concerts and planetariums are good places for light shows; parks, not so much. 

Ferris Wheel lighting
Photo: Ann McPherson

"We are approaching the planet's limitations ... We are undermining the very ecological systems which allow life to continue.” Annie Leonard, founder of Story of Stuff.

"... light pollution poses a serious threat to nocturnal wildlife, having negative impacts on plant and animal physiology. ... The rhythm of life is orchestrated by the diurnal patterns of light and dark, and disruption of these patterns impacts ecological dynamics." Connie Walker, A Silent Cry for Dark Skies, The Universe in the Classroom.

Why Golden Gate Park? Why not Union Square, the Ferry Building, the Moscone Center, Market Street or Civic Center?  Perhaps it's because Golden Gate Park is there for the taking. And what's better than free space in the center of one of the world's most famous parks? Mark Buell, head of the Recreation and Park Commission, and Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, are happy to welcome a 150-foot-high lighted Ferris Wheel (brought to you, in part, by the SF Parks Alliance) for a four-year stay, so why not have Illuminate light-up the band shell with garish colored lights (also brought to you in conjunction with the SF Parks Alliance) for two years and put bright white lights on top of it? All in the guise of celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Park. Actually, light pollution is not good for the Park. Some birthday present.

And, while we're at it, why not have Illuminate light up the Conservatory of Flowers indefinitely? "...the dazzling light projection on the historic building’s exterior continues nightly into its third year. Working in close collaboration with ..., San Francisco Recreation and Park, (and) the Californian Historical Society," (from the Illuminate website.)  Add in the 100,000 plus watts of lights from the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields, the lights from Kezar Stadium and the new tennis courts and you've got quite a display. When Outside Lands comes with its light shows and three weeks of night-time security and work lighting, we'll really get going. It's an electrician's dream. Do Mr. Buell and Mr. Ginsburg, who are responsible for maintaining and preserving Golden Gate Park for future generations, think they know better than all the environmental organizations and scientists?

Concourse lights
Photo: Steph Wiseman

Let's not forget Entwined, where Peacock Meadow was filled with colored lights. Once again, SF Parks Alliance plays a prominent role; "SF Parks Alliance and SF Recreation & Parks look forward to bringing more temporary public art installations to parks in the future" (from the Golden Gate Park 150 Years website.)  I think we can see where this is headed. Private companies like Skystar, LLC, and private nonprofits with corporate donors, like SF Parks Alliance and Illuminate, are simply taking over Golden Gate Park with the full collaboration of Rec and Park.

Fireworks are for a few hours; light shows at outdoor concerts might have a run of a week; a MLB night game doesn't happen every night. Stadium lighting isn't on every night at Oracle Park like it is in the sports fields in our parks. Like it is at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields in Golden Gate Park, a hundred yards from Ocean Beach.

"Artificial light at night disrupts a wide range of natural processes. Recent research has shown significant impacts of coastal lighting reducing foraging of intertidal invertebrates, disrupting marine food webs, suppressing movement of juvenile fishes, increasing predation on nesting seabirds..." Dr. Travis Longcore, Associate Adjunct Professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Before Mark Buell and Phil Ginsburg sell out our parks to every dog and pony show (or amusement park ride and light show) that comes along, they might read about Prof. Longcore's research. Our parks are not an inexhaustible resource. Golden Gate Park is one of the few places in San Francisco where wildlife can find a refuge. Parks need darkness at night. The health of our environment and the future of planet Earth depend on mitigating the impact of human activity on the natural environment. There is no Planet B.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

May 2021

artificial turf field
GGP's Dog Training Area features lots of fake green turf
What's Wrong With The Dog Training Area in Golden Gate Park?

When you take your dog to the newly renovated Dog Training Area in Golden Gate Park you may want to avoid letting your dog play on the artificial turf installed there. It may not be good for the dog's health or for your own health either, for that matter. Before venturing into the Dog Training Area you may want to consider some of the reporting on artificial grass. 

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Single use plastic bags are being banned. Plastic straws are being phased out or banned. Why would anyone think it was a good idea to put plastic grass in Golden Gate Park?  Artificial turf only lasts 8-10 years and then it has to be ripped out and becomes toxic waste that can't be recycled. There is no good outcome to installing artificial turf.”

"Used tire rubber is put through a cracker mill, producing crumb rubber — tiny pellets of rubber, still carrying those thousands of unknown chemicals. Crumb rubber is then used to manufacture artificial turf and playground surface cover. A 2015 report by Yale scientists analyzed 14 different samples used for school athletic fields and playgrounds. They detected 96 chemicals, most of which have never been carefully studied. The National Center for Health Research has identified lead, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, and other chemicals that harm human health. Ingesting these chemicals is not advised. Unfortunately, they can get into a child’s bloodstream in other ways. The steam from a playground surface on a sunny day can be inhaled. Any scrape or skin burn invites exposure. Simply rolling on the surface can allow seepage into the skin’s pores."  - Don Kahle, The Register-Guard, Eugene OR 12/13/2020

"Scientists have shown that both the grass-like blades and the backing of artificial turf contain PFAS, highly toxic fluorinated chemicals. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” since they accumulate in the body and do not break down. They have been linked to endocrine disruption and cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to harm from PFAS because of their developing bodies and the chemicals’ persistence in the body. In a recent New York Times Op Ed piece (What Are Sperm Telling Us?), we read that 'Chemical companies are as reckless as tobacco companies were a generation ago, or as opioid manufacturers were a decade ago. They even lobby against safety testing of endocrine disruptors, so that we have little idea if products we use each day are damaging our bodies or our children. We’re all guinea pigs.'  Most people think manufacturers must prove that chemicals are safe before they put them on the market. They are wrong. Weak and outdated federal law presumes that most chemicals are safe until proven toxic." -  Real Grass for Healthy Kids!  greenwichfreepress.com  March 12, 2021

Synthetic turf should not have been used in the renovation of the Golden Gate Park Dog Training Area or anywhere in our parks and playgrounds. We should use natural grass turf. San Francisco cannot afford the liability and environmental consequences of plastic grass. Is the "City that knows how" unable to maintain some grass in our parks?  Plastic grass (synthetic turf) is subject to high temperatures, it is scratched (think of dogs playing on it) and degraded from use and it deteriorates over time due to exposure to the elements. Micro-particles of plastic are constantly being released into the environment.

Rubberized surfaces are mostly recycled tire rubber. We rarely have high temperatures in San Francisco, but plastic grass and rubberized surfaces heat up well above the ambient air temperature. Even in San Francisco temperatures are more than hot enough to "facilitate the release of chemicals ... linked to numerous negative health effects." Is the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department somehow exempt from the responsibility of not letting plastic pollute our environment?

"A garbage truck worth of plastic empties into the ocean every minute. Worldwide, humankind produces over 300 million tons of plastic each year, and this is increasing. Researchers believe as many as 51 trillion fragments of plastic ― known as microplastic (characterized as pieces under 5 mm) ― are polluting waterways and marine environments."  Author: Lucy Siegle, printed in the Huffington Post

Single use plastic bags are being banned. Plastic straws are being phased out or banned. Why would anyone think it was a good idea to put plastic grass in Golden Gate Park?  Artificial turf only lasts 8-10 years and then it has to be ripped out and becomes toxic waste that can't be recycled. There is no good outcome to installing artificial turf. 

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

March 2021

Outdoor Pollution — Fun and Games.
artificial turf field
Photo: Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center

What does it take to get people off their phones and into the outdoors? 

Phil Ginsburg
SF Rec & Park Director Phil Ginsburg

In March of 2019, the Commonwealth Club of California presented an onstage discussion entitled "Naturally Wired: Getting Outside in the Digital Age." This begs the question of how much of the outdoors will be left uncontaminated in a world of increasing plastic pollution and global warming and how degraded will that outdoors become in our urban environment? Phil Ginsberg, the head of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD),  was one of the participants onstage. In response to a question from Kathleen McCowin, President of Healthy Soccer San Francisco, concerning the cancer risks associated with playing on the artificial turf fields installed at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields, Ginsberg began his reply with, "Now that's a fun question."

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And how long will it be before a leak from the fields begins to contaminate groundwater? ... in the midst of a campaign to replace paved over front lawns in the Sunset and Richmond districts so that rainwater will go into the ground, replenish the aquifer and not become run-off that pollutes the ocean. ”

How is that a "fun question"? A concerned citizen asks about the cancer risks to children from playing on artificial turf and that is a "fun question"? Ginsburg sidesteps any concerns about carcinogens and goes on to say, "So here's the thing about synthetic turf soccer fields is that they enable more people to use them and to play and they do it without actually using or conserving water. We’ve been able to add nearly 80,000 hours of playing each hour of play actually can accommodate 20 to 40 kids in a particular spot in an urban city that's particularly important." 

It is entirely misleading to compare the hours of play at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (BCSF) before the renovation to hours of play after the renovation. Prior to the renovation, the SFRPD had put a fence around the field and locked the children out. The fields were deliberately neglected and kept in a state of disrepair to bolster City Fields Foundation's case for artificial turf. No wonder the Soccer Fields were under-utilized. Phil Ginsburg, as well as being head of the SFRPD, also sat on the Board  of City Fields Foundation, the main advocate for artificial turf playing fields in San Francisco. The additional  80,000 hours of play is easy to achieve when you've previously taken the fields out of play.

artificial turf illustration

It's hard to know exactly what Ginsburg means by "without actually using or conserving water," (perhaps there is an error in the transcript?) but it's clear that he means to make a case for the fields as using little water and thereby being environmentally sound. In fact, plastic grass requires regular washing and the run-off from the washing, or from rain,  has to be treated as sewerage. The run-off is toxic and can't be allowed to enter the ground. Even as I write, toxic tire crumb is spreading from the fields into the surrounding Park.  It can't be contained within the soccer fields. Grass fields use recycled groundwater for irrigation and that water, and the rain that falls on grass fields, goes to replenish the aquifer under the Park. This ground water reservoir is also being tapped for drinking water for the first time. Contrary to Ginsburg's claims, maintaining artificial turf wastes more water than maintaining natural grass. And how long will it be before a leak from the fields begins to contaminate groundwater? The issue of groundwater is important. San Francisco is in the midst of a campaign to replace paved over front lawns in the Sunset and Richmond districts so that rainwater will go into the ground, replenish the aquifer and not become run-off that pollutes the ocean. 

The City has banned single use plastic bags. The State has banned single use plastic bags. Environmental organizations everywhere are in a campaign to lessen our use of plastics. So why would Ginsburg think it in the best interest of the citizens and the environment of San Francisco to put seven acres of plastic grass and tire crumb in Golden Gate Park within a hundred yards of Ocean Beach? 

Seven acres of artificial turf that is so toxic nothing can live in it. It poisons everything it comes in contact with, including soccer players. "Toxins from tire crumb can enter the body through inhalation of particulates, fibers, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  VOCs can cause organ damage, irritation of eyes, throat and airways, and nervous system impairments. Synthetic turf can be heated to high temperatures when exposed to sunlight which, in turn, can lead to further release of VOCs” Another 2011 study found that "benzothiazole, a chemical that causes respiratory irritation and dermal sensitization, volatilizes from crumb rubber resulting in inhalation exposure." (from the Sierra Club's brief re. the appeal of the findings of the BCSF (EIR). There have been a number of studies since with similar results and they are available online

When you're playing soccer on an artificial turf field, you are not in nature, you are in a man-made environment made of plastics and shredded automobile tires.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

October 2020

More Pavement — Less Park
Dog Training Area construction.
Renovation of the Dog Training Area in Golden Gate Park

Can no one stop SFRPD from paving over Golden Gate Park?  What's next, a miniature golf course?  If it wasn't for the pandemic, the Music Concourse would have been like a county fairground, complete with Ferris Wheel and hot dog stands. It soon will be as Mayor Breed has announced a grand opening for October 21st. SF Rec and Park might be good at the Rec part but they are failing us on the Park part; they don't seem to understand the concept of what a park should be. 

Dog Training Area

This is the current state of the Golden Gate Park Dog Training Area at 39th Avenue and Fulton. This is what Phil Ting and the SF Rec and Park Dept. (SFRPD) have wrought. Our beloved Golden Gate Park is being used, once again, as a contractor's boondoggle. The natural environment is being replaced by concrete and artificial turf. Two and half million dollars are being spent so dogs can run around? This is way beyond what was needed to renovate the dog run. 

Dog Training Area construction.

It seems SF Rec and Park won't be satisfied until every square foot of Golden Gate Park is concrete and artificial turf. The seven acres of the Beach Chalet Athletic Fields are now entirely concrete and artificial turf. Have you been to the Arboretum lately and seen the amount of greenery that's been replaced by asphalt and concrete?  If you go, I advise wearing earplugs because the noise from the leaf blowers, earth movers, chain-saws, trucks with horrendously loud back-up warning beeps, and other machines and tools have turned it into a construction zone. Nature is decidedly secondary. The amount of concrete being proposed for the renovation of the 9th Avenue entrance to the Park is truly frightening; a concrete extravaganza.

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Two and half million dollars are being spent so dogs can run around? This is way beyond what was needed to renovate the dog run”

John McClaren
John McClaren

If Phil Ginsburg would go back and read what John McClaren had to say about Golden Gate Park and what the Golden Gate Park Master Plan says, he would see more clearly how to maintain and improve the Park. Perhaps he already has read the documents?  In which case, I would like to remind him that, "The purpose of Golden Gate Park is to serve as an open space preserve in the midst of San Francisco. This historic park is a cultivated pastoral and sylvan landscape, defined by an abundant evergreen woodland. It is designed and managed to afford opportunities for all to experience beauty, tranquility, recreation, and relief from urban pressures.” (Mission Statement, 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan). And what is meant by recreation is not Ferris Wheels, music festivals and pay-to-play soccer played under night lighting on artificial turf. Golden Gate Park recreation, for the great majority of residents using the Park, means walking, running and biking as anyone who visits the Park can plainly see.

Unfortunately, since the beginning of the tenure of Newsom appointees Phil Ginsburg as head of Rec and Park and Mark Buell as head of the Rec and Park Commission, the Recreation has been at the expense of the Park. The Outside Lands music festival is a prime example; the Park is used as a for-profit, exclusive, entertainment venue and the residents are locked out so the City can get a slice of the money being made.

The massive amounts of concrete and asphalt being poured at the Dog Training Area, along with all the artificial turf, is another example of how Golden Gate Park is being monetized and degraded. The long- term health of the Park, and the planet, is not served by concrete and plastic grass.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

October 2020

Creeping Toxic Tire Crumb Seeps into SF Groundwater

tire crumb
Five photos showing the migration of toxic tire crumb into the adjacent parkland. See hi-res photos here 
...
David Romano

In the May/June issue of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's newsletter, Currents, there is a report on "Our Sewer System's Secret Weapon." The article talks about how, "...during large rain events, stormwater and wastewater volumes exceed the capacity of our pipes, causing overflow and discharge of excess wastewater to local waterways. This can carry pollutants and debris to the Bay or Pacific Ocean that are harmful to the environment." The article goes on to talk about how "Green infrastructure ... works to alleviate this problem by slowing down the rate in which stormwater goes into the sewer system." Some examples of "Green Infrastructure" are rain gardens, permeable pavement and green roofs.

No Opposition from SFPUC The Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (BCSF) in Golden Gate Park used to have a permeable surface; it's called grass. Rainwater and water from irrigation filters through the grass to replenish the groundwater supply. Now, after the renovation of the Soccer Fields by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD), instead of grass there are seven acres of artificial turf. The area has been effectively paved over. The run-off from the artificial turf is so toxic it can't be allowed to enter the ground but, instead, has to go into the sewer system. The SFPUC is committed to preventing overflow in the sewer system with its "Green Infrastructure" projects, yet the decision by the SFRPD to pave over the Soccer Fields was made without opposition from the SFPUC.

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The Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (BCSF) in Golden Gate Park used to have a permeable surface; it's called grass. Rainwater and water from irrigation filters through the grass to replenish the groundwater supply. Now ... instead of grass there are seven acres of artificial turf.”

Public Concern Starting in 2011, when the draft EIR was before the SFRPD Commission, and continuing through November, 2014, when Prop, H and Prop I were on the ballot, many organizations and individuals publicly voiced their concerns about possible contamination of groundwater. These organizations and community groups included: SF Ocean Edge, San Francisco Tomorrow, The Richmond Review, the Coalition to Protect Golden Gate Park, Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Coalition of Retired SFRPD Gardeners, the SF Green Party, the Sunset District Neighborhood Coalition, Soccer Parents & Coaches for Grass Fields in Golden Gate Park, and many others.

I raised my concerns about contamination of the groundwater supply with the SFPUC in 2018. I received a reply from John Scarpulla, Policy and Government Affairs, that said, in part, "The environmental review process for the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields documented that the soccer field is designed and was constructed with an underlying liner and a drainage system to prevent any potentially toxic materials from infiltrating into the groundwater basin. The storm water that drains from the soccer fields is directed into our wastewater treatment system and is not allowed to infiltrate into the groundwater."

Load on the sewer system from run-off Certainly, it's good that run-off from the Soccer Fields is not going into the ground, but it is going into the sewer system and that is not in accord with the goal of "Green Infrastructure" to reduce the load on the sewer system from run-off. Unfortunately, there is still the danger of toxins entering the groundwater supply because tire crumb is migrating from the Soccer Fields into the surrounding parkland where there is no lining to prevent contaminated water from entering the aquifer. This has been going on since the Fields were installed and a considerable amount of tire crumb would have migrated over the past five years. To quote from the Petition (by the Sierra Club) requesting the City reject the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the renovation of the BCSF:
"4. The artificial turf the City has elected to use consists of plastic blades of grass interspersed with infill material that cushions the turf. Unfortunately, the City has elected to use the most toxic type of artificial turf infill material – styrene butadiene crumb rubber (“SBR”), despite the fact that several non-toxic alternatives are available and are in use in places including Los Angeles, California; New York, New York; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Carlos, California; Piedmont, California; and dozens of other communities.

5. SBR infill consists of tiny, loose crumb rubber pellets. Petitioners presented the City and County with highly qualified expert reports and peer-reviewed scientific journal studies showing that SBR infill contains dozens of highly toxic chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”), phthalates, antioxidants, benzothiazole and derivatives, heavy metals, benzene, formaldehyde, naphthalene, nitromethane, and styrene, among other chemicals.

6. Certified hydrogeologist Matthew Hagemann, C. Hg., the former Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s West Coast Superfund Program, calculated that a child playing on SBR crumb rubber as few as 30 times per year (less than once per week) would experience a cancer risk of 19 per million – almost 20 times higher than the CEQA significance threshold of 1 per million, and approximately twice as high as the cancer risk experienced by someone living adjacent to the Chevron Richmond refinery.

7. Dr. Phillip Landrigan, M.D., epidemiologist and Director of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Children’s Environmental Health Center in New York submitted a letter to the City expressing his concerns that the major chemical components of crumb rubber, styrene and butadiene, are a neurotoxin and proven human carcinogen, respectively, and that the types of exposure risks have not been adequately studied. The EIR did not address Dr. Landrigan’s comments and the City has not responded to his letter.

8. The stormwater run-off from the Beach Chalet fields with SBR infill will be so contaminated with toxic heavy metals that the City will have to capture the stormwater in underground vaults, and send it to a treatment facility, so that the aquifer under Golden Gate Park will not become contaminated with toxic heavy metals."
The SFPUC's mission is to protect the water supply and environment of San Francisco, not to further the interests of the artificial turf industry. There is nothing good and potentially a lot of bad that can result from the installation of artificial turf at the BCSF. Frequent earthquakes are the norm in California and could cause damage to the drainage system allowing toxic run-off to infiltrate the groundwater. If this were to occur, there is no easy way to get the toxins out of the water supply. In addition, the entire field will need to be ripped up and replaced in a few years creating even more chances for environmental contamination. 


It's the job of the SFPUC to put clean water first. I hope the SFPUC will oppose any further installation of artificial turf in our parks.

David Romano lives near Ocean Beach

July 2020