The above graphic shows how off-leash dog areas will be reduced at three sites under a park management plan that won support this week. Courtesy Recreation and Park Department.
Two San Francisco oversight bodies this evening approved a plan that will bring sweeping changes to how the city manages its natural areas in city parks over the next two decades.
While supported by park advocates, environmentalists and city gardeners, the plan drew strong objections from dog owners, golfers, and others who want to protect the city’s existing forest canopy, especially on Mt. Davidson.
Known as the Recreation and Park Department’s Natural Resources Management Plan, it covers not only Mt. Davidson’s forest but also the grasslands of Bernal Hill, Twin Peaks’ coastal scrub lands, and Islais Creek in Glen Canyon. Also covered are the wetlands of India Basin and Lake Merced, and portions of McLaren Park, Buena Vista Park, and the Oak Woodlands of Golden Gate Park.
“San Francisco is quite rare in terms of other American cities … we have uniquely robust access to wild spaces,” said Dawn Kamalanathan, the rec and park department’s director of planning and capital management division. “These natural areas are, quite literally, steps away from many people’s front door instead of miles away.”
Recreation and park staff stressed that the plan is only a guiding principal and that more community input would be sought for how to implement it at individual park sites.
“Most conversations have been around the edges of the plan. These negotiable edges in each of the parks is over how much square footage should be shifted from one use to another or how many trees should be taken down one year and the next,” said Kamalanathan. “Those conversations will continue to go on, likely forever, and we welcome them.”
There are 32 local park sites designated as natural areas, which encompass 1,100 acres and 30 miles of trails. Many of the sites are popular with dog owners as they provide recreational access within walking distance from their homes, as noted in a story in today’s (Thursday, December 15) Bay Area Reporter.
The purpose of the management plan, under discussion for close to 25 years, is to protect the city’s native habitats and species, some found nowhere else in the world, such as the San Francisco garter snake and mission blue butterfly.
“Without these special natural places, the most sensitive species cannot survive,” said Amber Hasselbring, executive director of Nature in the City, who urged the oversight panels to adopt the plan.
With that goal in mind, the plan calls for the removal of a total of 19.3 acres of off-leash dog areas from the city’s parks. The other 75.9 acres where dogs can play off-leash would remain, and parks officials stressed that dogs on-leash are allowed at all city parks.
Dog advocates argue that adopting the city’s plan at the same time as the National Park Service intends to remove nearly all the off-leash dog areas in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area will negatively impact the city’s parks, as dogs and their owners will crowd into the remaining dog play areas in their local parks.
“As the population of San Francisco grows, we will need more off-leash areas not less,” said Sally Stephens, the long-time chair of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group, who added that the EIR did “not adequately” address how the move by the GGNRA would impact the local parks.
And she warned that due to how the plan is written, “San Francisco might close 80 percent of the dog play areas over time.”
The city’s plan also lays out how rec and park intends to cull 18,000 non-native eucalyptus trees and other species parks officials have identified as either dying or in poor conditions. It calls for replacing one-for-one any trees that are removed, though they likely would not be planted in the same spot.
That drew vocal protests at today’s hearing, as did complaints from parents and others about how the plan would allow the use of pesticides in the city’s parks.
Also included in the plan is how the parks department intends to upgrade habitat for two endangered species, the red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake, at Sharp Park, which is located in San Mateo County. The 12th hole would be removed from the historic 18-hole golf course at the park as part of the proposed changes.
Not only have golfers raised objections to the plan over the golf course changes, the Sierra Club also opposed the plan being certified and adopted if it included the golf course. The environmental group, alongside others, has long been at odds with city officials over how to manage Sharp Park and delivered letters from 325 of its members to the hearing today asking that the golf course not be included in the natural areas management plan. They argued it should be addressed on its own since it is not being managed as a natural area.
After hearing more than five hours of testimony, the city’s planning commission voted 6-1 to approve the plan’s environmental impact report. Following that vote, the recreation and park commission voted 5-0 to adopt the plan, which will now go before the Board of Supervisors for final approval sometime in early 2017.
“I am proud of this EIR document. It is comprehensive and meets the criteria,” said planning commissioner Myrna Melgar.
Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore agreed but was the one vote against the EIR.
Mark Buell, president of the rec and park commission, noted that the plan is meant “to give guidance” as the agency moves forward with the various projects, which are yet to be funded.
“This doesn’t mean that tomorrow chainsaws will be out clear-cutting Mt. Davidson or any other part of the city,” he said.