A note from Dave Emanuel, member of the SF Forest Alliance, on Glen Canyon


On your next visit to Glen Canyon Park you will see a stark contrast in the landscape where majestic Eucalyptus stood for more than a century lining Alms Road. The removal of these signature trees over the past two weeks has been the source of heated controversy surrounding the facilities renovation project for almost a year before it started.


Jan 9, 2013. Photo SF Forest Alliance.

Jan 9, 2013. Photo SF Forest Alliance.

The project never should have pitted the playground and tennis courts against the trees. But the time for passionate pleas has passed, just like the trees, and it’s now time to work on reuniting our community.


The way forward is going to require broader community involvement, compromise, and changes to the policies and processes that did not serve us well.  Working together, though, we can further common goals of keeping our canyon safe, healthy and accessible to recreational users and the diverse species and wildlife that thrive in the ecosystems that exist in few urban areas.


In order to achieve success we are asking for transparency and clarity with projects and tree management throughout the canyon in the following ways:


Jan 14, 2013. Photo courtesy of SF Forest Alliance.

Jan 14, 2013. Photo courtesy of SF Forest Alliance.

  • Routine maintenance – conduct tree assessments more frequently than once every 50 years and perform maintenance on a routine basis. If that means shifting money from other San Francisco Rec and Park budgets in order to do so, heed the call this is a critical issue for the canyon.
  • Tree safety – if a tree poses a legitimate threat to the imminent safety of people the tree should be removed. In March of last year 24 trees among 627 evaluated were identified by the Rec and Park hired arborist as being hazardous yet 22 of them have not been remediated as of today.
  • “Poor Suitability” – dispense with this tree assessment category altogether. It uses a hodgepodge of criteria that factors in whether a tree is too big, the wrong species or invasive, among other things that have little or nothing to do with safety. Correspondence to the arborist shows that Rec and Park staff who are overseeing the current tree removal do not even understand what “poor suitability” entails. Neither do we.
  • Removal notification – mark every tree with a clear and specific explanation for why it’s being recommended for removal. While a generic 30-day notice has been placed on doomed trees, there’s no reason why a listing cannot be maintained online, as well. And residents should be able to sign up for automatic alerts notifying them when trees get placed on the list and the reason it will be removed.
  • Incorporate trees – find creative ways for preserving trees in project design, not simply removing them for interfering with architectural grandeur.
  • Community engagement – seek participation of the canyon’s visitors and neighbors throughout the year. Challenge us for solutions to complex and controversial issues, and solicit our ideas rather than just seeking our validation for variations of a standard mold that is applied to all parks.
  • True representation – no one group or organization speaks for the thousands of people who have a stake in the care of our canyon. Seek diverse and wide participation in the community meetings – including those tasked with organizing and hosting them – that play an important role in determining how taxpayer funds are allocated. And it’s time for those watching from the sidelines to get involved.


It’s evident from the standing room-only crowds and rancor during many community meetings held by our district supervisor and other groups after the project’s complete plan was disclosed that the process needs real improvement.


There are many good things planned for the canyon, and our community lobbied hard and voted together to secure substantial funding for continued work.


Now is the time to learn from the significant problems we encountered and fix the process in order to reach a true semblance of consensus going forward. Our canyon is worth it.


— Dave Emanuel lives in Glen Park. He is a member of the San Francisco Forest Alliance,  a nonprofit organization that cares deeply about the stewardship of parks, open space and urban forests (http://sfforest.net).



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11 responses to “A note from Dave Emanuel, member of the SF Forest Alliance, on Glen Canyon

  1. dolan eargle

    Thanks for the tree (etc.) update.  I do not plan to go to glen canyon park (note, no caps) in the near future.  My protests and efforts have come to nothing but sawdust. =dolan eargle


  2. Eric

    Forget the trees for a moment. Let’s use our community benefit as a yardstick for “process” validity for the entrance way portion of the contract. In fairness, the community does benefit from a new drop-off point and improved ADA access (and the long overdue new playground and rec center improvements covered by separate projects).

    But what else are we getting for our $ millions?
    Are we actually getting an extra tennis court? No.
    Are all the tennis enthusiasts satisfied with the orientation of the new courts? No.
    What about additional facilities – perhaps something like a couple of low-maintenance concrete outdoor racquetball courts – even half a basketball court? No.
    An inspired design that preserved a few landmark old-growth park trees? Obviously, no.

    But RPD did ensure we taxpayers purchased a native plant garden as part of the project and ensured all those pesky mature “non-native” trees were eliminated. I would wager that regular citizens, even those totally ambivalent about park trees, are likely to prioritize other uses for our taxes than fulfilling what amounts to a rather extreme native plant agenda (in our city parks – we aren’t talking about Yosemite here).

    If this was average bureaucratic waste I wouldn’t spend my time writing this post. If anyone believes RPD’s nativist agenda is small money they should look up the current Draft Environmental Impact Report (DIER) for our park Natural Areas (which include Glen Canyon Park). In summary, the RPD plan calls for:
    – Elimination of over 18,500 “non-native” trees in SF parks
    – Closure of over 9 miles of recreational trails, dog-walking areas, and other park features
    – Establishment of native plant gardens requiring ongoing maintenance in terms of personnel and herbicides

    RPD’s native plant agenda will divert tens of millions of dollars from traditional recreation facilities and services. Until one actually reads the proposals in the DIER it is difficult to believe they are driven by SF RPD – a “cash-strapped organization” that recently required a bond float of $195 million of taxpayer debt.

    The misalignment of RPD budgets with public priorities is difficult story to tell, especially in Glen Park. The GPNA is very unlike the 20 other neighborhood associations that have officially communicated their opposition to the DIER and RPD’s costly “restoration ecology” agenda. In my opinion, the GPNA could better serve residents by critically investigating RPD plans rather than instinctively facilitating them. Mainstream residents are too busy with families and careers to delve into construction contracts and forestry report details necessary to act as RPD watchdogs.

    Eric Miller

  3. Ted Edwards, Glen Park

    Eric, well said. Thank you.

  4. Tara Navarro

    I’m just an average SF citizen and this native-plant agenda, requiring the removal of XXXX trees makes no sense to me. In the past when I’ve voted in favor of bond measures to support SF Recs and Park, this was not what I intended. I highly doubt any of my friends/average citizens realized that money would be put toward native plant areas versus improving playgrounds, improving trails, etc. I think more transparency is necessary. I would NOT have voted yes on bond measures if I had known it meant that trees were going to be felled in favor of the planting of some scrub grass. Ugh.

  5. elizabethweise

    Please remember that in Glen Canyon, the tree removal HAD NOTHING to do with the native plant controversy. The trees were removed to make a new entrance to the park, a safe place for parents to drop kids off for activities and moving the tennis courts. However you feel about those three things happening, they weren’t linked to the Native Plant Areas Program.

  6. Million Trees

    Ms. Weise is mistaken. Most of the trees that have been/will be removed in this phase of the project are unrelated to the renovation of the entrance. Most of the tree removals will occur in the so-called “natural areas” despite the fact that the Environmental Impact Report for the Natural Areas Program has yet to be approved.

    The Recreation and Park Dept is embedding the tree removals demanded by native plant advocates into the renovation projects that neighborhood want and deserve. They are creating this conflict in order to deliver the agenda of the nativists under the public’s radar.

    In Glen Canyon they have gotten away with it. But there are many more battles ahead because the removal of trees to return San Francisco to native grassland and dune scrub is planned for one-third of all of San Francisco’s city-managed park acreage. If that’s not what you want, better get involved.

  7. elizabethweise

    That’s not my understanding of the process. However I won’t be able to do any research on it until the weekend.

  8. Thank you – really appreciate the commentary back and forth. I also deeply regret having voted for the bond measures … I feel blackmailed by Park & Wreck over withholding playground monies because they’ve embedded the crazy native plant issue in those plans. At least I was able to tell my local Sierra Club chapter that I will no longer support them because of their support for those plans. I will remain a ‘life member’ but I won’t aid their misguided native plant efforts any longer.

    I will continue my calls and letter writings as the SF Forest folks indicate.

  9. Mic

    All I read here is back, back, back. Where’s the forth?

    Eric is a bit over-the-top when he states that few of the old-growth trees will be preserved. Obviously, untrue. But what % of trees will actually be cut down due to safety concerns, disease and/or the city’s efforts to create a balanced native and new growth landscape? If there are actually 18K SF trees slated to be taken down, how many of those are in our canyon? Nobody knows the specific number, but I’m confident it’ll be a tiny fraction of Glen Canyon’s total tree count.

    As for the new hilltop tennis courts – Hooray! There’ll be way more natural light and warmth on top. To those who wanted the courts re-built north (the shady side) of the recreation building, what were you thinking?. On the other hand, Eric’s suggestion to build a multi-purpose racquetball court might get some support, especially from current users in Golden Gate Park.

    Joel wasn’t blackmailed, but if he thinks DRP is guilty of bait-and-switch why not wait until the NAP hearings get started before jumping to conclusions about process. All this misplaced anger about updating the recreation facility is going to seem like child’s play when we finally wade into the nitty gritty details of the DRP’s Natural Areas Program. Get ready for trench warfare. The green shirts will be earning every penny of their paychecks this summer!

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