Monthly Archives: January 2010

Park Arboretum to Build New Nursery

By George McConnell

In the works since 1995, with detailed planning beginning about four years ago, Golden Gate Park’s Strybing Arboretum will soon boast a new $13.1 million hothouse and nursery complex.

In an era of budgetary restrictions, that might seem like an extravagance. In this case, however, patrons of the popular 70-year-old arboretum are the beneficiaries of generous gifts as private donations will fund the entire project, according to Michael McKechnie, executive director of the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, an organization which raises funds to support the garden.

The nursery it replaces dates back 45 years. The new nursery is large, totaling 9,860 square feet, and will provide ample room for expansion. The typical six-room Victorian flat in San Francisco is about 1,500 square feet, so that gives you an idea of its size, McKechnie said.

Currently planned for the southwest corner of the arboretum, near the Children’s Garden located between 14th and 15th avenues, the new nursery will not be visible from the entrance of the arboretum. But for those who work there, its addition and operations will be deeply felt. The arboretum cultivates more than 7,500 plant species from around the planet, each with individual growing requirements, such as soil, water and climate, that must be taken into consideration.

There will be three components to the nursery, according to McKechnie: a hothouse for initial cultivation, a shadehouse where plants are transferred after successfully taking root and await transplantation, and a headquarter house.

Temperatures inside the nursery will vary, with heated tables holding the seedlings of a wide variety of plants, from rhododendrons, ferns, horsetails, heathers, aloes, wild ginger and California poppies, to the more exotic, such as Japanese anemone, Mexican sage brush, Chinese paperbush, blue bamboo, Chilean bellflower and Darwin barberry, a plant originally collected by Charles Darwin in 1835.

Although it is a working facility and will be closed to the public, people can get an in-depth look at some of the work that goes on behind the scenes at public observation sections in the nursery, McKechnie said.

The idea for an arboretum began in 1926 with a large donation from a wealthy San Francisco benefactor, Helene Strybing, for the creation of a botanical garden. Planning and work began in the 1930s as funds gradually became available. It officially opened in 1940.

Because summer days typically remain under 80 degrees and only a few winter nights are colder than 40 degrees in San Francisco, the arboretum’s collection features trees and shrubs that few botanical gardens can grow outdoors, according to McKechnie.

The 55-acre arboretum is a work in progress, said McKechnie, who has been the executive director for nearly 10 years. Today, he believes it is on the cusp of a Renaissance.

Strybing is one of a handful of public gardens worldwide to have a significant collection of Southern Hemisphere plants with its Chilean, New Zealand, Australian and South Africa gardens, which were all part of the original Gondwana Continent.

Currently, the arboretum is finishing the design for its Southeast Asian Cloud Forest Garden, which will incorporate 19th century Thai artifacts from the Doris Duke Foundation and a collection of plants collected in the highlands of Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and mainland Southeast Asia.

About 1.5 million visitors pass through the arboretum’s gates each year. In addition, more than 10,000 San Francisco public school students visit each year and more than 2,500 attend classes. Admission is free.

Cars Sideswiped on 19th Avenue

By Thomas K. Pendergast

Eight months after lines were painted along the outer edges of traffic lanes on 19th Avenue to designate street parking, city officials are proclaiming the program a success. But, since the change and a crackdown on vehicles parking on a portion of the sidewalk, residents along the busy avenue have been getting their vehicles sideswiped.

This past May and June, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) painted edge lines all along 19th Avenue, in both directions, from Lincoln Way to Wawona Street, to designate legal parking areas along the busy thoroughfare.

Before then, many people parked their cars with a portion on the street and a portion on the sidewalk, to avoid getting their vehicles clipped by traffic on the busy avenue.

After the lines were painted, enforcement of the parking laws against blocking sidewalks began.

Sunset District Supervisor Carmen Chu indicated that although she’s sympathetic to the parking issues that residents face on 19th Avenue, there are others to consider, like disabled people. When she kicked off a publicity campaign to raise awareness about this issue about a year ago, she was joined by representatives from the Rose Resnick Lighthouse for the Blind, Independent Living Resource Center and Senior Action Network, all of whom were concerned that the cars on the sidewalk were blocking and impeding disabled and elderly people.

“All these things have been part of the greater conversation. It’s long been the practice to park on the sidewalk,” Chu said. “I completely understand that 19th Avenue is very narrow and sometimes people can get their side mirrors swiped off. The Department of Transportation (DPT) said there needs to be demarcation before they start to enforce the parking rules there, so that people would know where they could legally park. So, number one, it’s a safety issue and number two, we need to make sure that people with disabilities are able to use the sidewalk.”

Phillip Cory, a resident on the 1400 block of 19th Avenue, agrees that it’s a safety issue but not that the edge lines make anyone safer.

“I think it’s not safe because when you open your (driver’s side) door you step out into a really busy thoroughfare,” Cory said. “My car got totaled. It got rear ended a few months ago by a hit-and-run driver. We used to park with our tires on the sidewalk and we weren’t stepping out of our cars into traffic.”

Some people have suggested there is another motivation, however, that might have played a role in the crackdown. Money collected by DPT from parking tickets all goes to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA), which runs the bus system. To keep itself afloat financially, recently Muni cut service, redesigning routes and increasing parking meter hours. The transit agency keeps parking money revenue for its operations.

Judson True, a spokesperson for the SFMTA, denied that the crackdown had anything to do with making more money to run the bus system, and said that there are no quotas for tickets. To his knowledge, he said, no one is keeping track of how many tickets have been written for parking on the sidewalk on 19th Avenue or how much money the SFMTA has made from those tickets since the stepped-up enforcement began in June.

He noted that it’s never been legal to park half on the sidewalk, but before the edge lines were painted it also was not clear where cars should be parking. He estimated that before the crackdown, about two-thirds of the cars parked along the avenue were parked illegally on the sidewalk. He now estimates those cars at less than 10 percent.

So, although immediately after the edge lines were painted there was a sharp increase in ticketing for parking on the sidewalk, it’s probably not as much now.

“The purpose is changing the behavior and that’s been successful, as far as we’re concerned, and that’s the bottom line,” True said. “We don’t really need the level of enforcement that we did because essentially it’s a problem that’s been solved.”

Jason Jiang, a resident of the 1500 block of 19th Avenue, indicated that to him it was more a case of a solution looking for a problem.

“I think the situation beforehand wasn’t too bad. People parked on the sidewalk but it didn’t really block anyone and I don’t think it was a big issue because it was the vehicles of the owners who lived here,” Jiang said. “I don’t think it was blocked so much that a wheelchair can’t come by here.”

Jiang admitted that flyers were on cars up and down the avenue warning of the crackdown, but he added: “If your vehicle wasn’t parked on the street on that day, you didn’t receive the warning. We were all a bit surprised when they started giving out tickets because it was pretty sudden and a lot of people were very displeased about the policy, that they suddenly decide to draw a line and not have people park their vehicles safely.”

Anne Marie Nixon said she’s lived on the 2000 block of 19th Avenue for seven years.

“As far as I could see on my block the sidewalk’s always wide enough for anyone to go down them,” she said.

Nixon said so far she’s managed to avoid getting a ticket or getting her car clipped, but her housemate wasn’t so lucky about three months ago.

“His truck got crashed into. I guess in the middle of the night somebody sideswiped it and drove off. He was parked within that white line, legally. It was a pickup truck so he had to replace its bed because the whole side of it was ripped open.”

Patrick Keelan, who lives on 19th Avenue near Taraval Street, said he had no warning about the crackdown. Instead, he found out about it when he got a ticket. He also thinks his upstairs neighbors got their car sideswiped a couple of months ago.

“One day I heard a loud crash and I could hear the guys upstairs running around and cussing.”

Later, he noticed their car had been damaged on 19th Avenue, on the side nearest to traffic.