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Parcel 4: The Real Story


...Submitted by Barbara Meskunas, CSFN President

from the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods Newsletter, April 2003


The Sand Dune Follies Continue


My editorial last month on the abuses of the Natural Areas Program prompted dozens of telephone calls from neighborhood activists who have been fighting this battle to save our trees from deliberate destruction, and our Open Space fund from irresponsible decimation, with little publicity from the local media, or support from City Hall. Of all the calls I received only one was critical of my position, which I believe faithfully reflects the debate and position taken by CSFN on this issue.


You will recall that Parcel 4 is the great sandbox with the cyclone fence (1) around it installed at Ocean Beach, at the corner of Balboa and the Great Highway. I was appalled that its estimated cost was $3.4 million, including $47,000 for the cost of trucking sand to the beach to create artificial sand dunes. I have since learned that the betrayal of the neighborhoods in regard to this project may be even more egregious than its cost.


Parcel 4 was acquired by the city in 1993 at a cost of $3,050,000, using a combination of PUC/Clean Water Program funds and Recreation & Parks Open Space Programs funds. It was acquired by the city with the intention of eventually transferring it to the GGNRA; i.e. once we had spent our tax money acquiring, improving, and maintaining the lot for a couple years, we would give it away to GGNRA.


Money was allocated for improving the lot: $280,000 from the Open Space fund and a Coastal Conservancy grant. Specific indirect costs for plantings, consultants, administration and department bureaucrats have never been disclosed, so the total cost for this project could well exceed $3.4 million. (We learn, for example, from a rebuttal article elsewhere in this issue, that the sand, for which an invoice exists in the amount of $47,000, was trucked in at an additional cost of almost $15,000.)


Anyway, the Coastal Commission went through the motions of holding neighborhood meetings prior to improving Parcel 4. Minutes from these meetings show that neighbors requested benches to sit on, trash receptacles, and a wall to keep the sand from blowing onto the Great Highway, i.e. simple park amenities. They were led to believe they would get those amenities.They were wrong. When it came time to implement the agreed-to plan they were told that homeless people could sleep on the benches and hide behind trashcans, and that kids could write graffiti on the retaining wall. So what they got instead was a sand lot behind a cyclone fence with no water source (forget the birds and butterflies), no benches to accommodate the public even if the cyclone fence eventually comes down, and no retaining wall to keep almost $62,000 worth of sand from blowing onto the Great Highway and sand-blasting the paint job on the apartments next door.


Those of you who have lived in San Francisco awhile remember what a disaster the Great Highway used to be after a windstorm. It would be closed for hours, if not days, while public work crews plowed back the sand to make the roads passable. Dianne Feinstein pretty much solved the problem by changing the topography and introducing new plantings to anchor the sand. Parcel 4 completely ignores the lessons of the past.


Finally, there has been some dispute over the scientific basis for the Natural Areas Plan. While it is true that a Scientific Advisory Board was created, I have the testimony of Professor Edward F. Connor, Professor of Ecology at San Francisco State, before a Board of Supervisors committee last summer. He stated that while he was listed as a member of the Advisory Board, he had never seen The Plan, never been asked to comment on The Plan, and was actually denied a copied of The Plan when he requested one! He stated: “Imagine how much more I was surprised when I finally did obtain access to and read this report to find that the names of scientists on the Scientific Advisory Board, and the names of scientists who were invited to but never participated in the Advisory Board were all invoked to sanctify a report to which they had no contribution.”


In regard to the Management Plan itself, Professor Connor stated: “I have read this plan and it is without scientific basis, it does not articulate clear, achievable, nor appropriate conservation goals for a set of small urban parks, it is void of an examination of the cost, feasibility, or utility of the management actions recommended, and it is without any sense that our urban parks must satisfy the needs for a wide variety of uses. I acknowledge that conservation numbers among the uses to which I would like to see our parks put, but not necessarily at the expense of other uses that are appropriate for urban parks and inappropriate in wild lands.”


So there we have it. The neighbors don’t like it, the costs are egregious, important documents have not been made available to the public, and it has no scientific basis. Yet in the absence of an approved environmental review, this plan is proceeding. An estimated three thousand trees have been destroyed and there are plans to destroy another three thousand. Subjective decisions are being made by people we did not elect that will remove our greenery, waste our tax money, destroy wildlife, and label our families and pets as “intruders,” since our very existence threatens these artificially created “natural areas.”


We need our Supervisors to request an opinion from our City Attorney as to how best to put a halt to this wanton destruction of public assets. In the midst of this budget crisis, this issue may escape their attention unless we attend to it immediately.


(1) Editor's note:  The cyclone fence was up for nearly 2 years and was taken down around October, 2004.  Some NAP supporters and staff have alleged that this web site is misleading the public about NAP's usage of cylone fencing.  NAP RAP has made no mention of the use of cyclone fencing at any other area.  However, NAP has in the past utilized cyclone fencing on a temporary basis while they await the establishment of native plants.  We want  NAP to state in writing their intentions regarding fencing for each park throughout all phases of the project.

Pine tree