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A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works

In the Works

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April 2022

Steven Chiv and his OnE Team colleagues, on a nighttime inspection in Chinatown, hunt for identifying information in their quest to track down the illegal dumping culprit.

FEATURE STORIES

When the Sun Goes Down,
Our Inspectors Get to Work

Our OnE team conducts night walks twice weekly along commercial corridors across the City, taking meticulous account of any and all instances of illegal dumping, graffiti, overflowing garbage bins and other infractions related to cleanliness.

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Barricade Brigade
 

Early every morning at the Public Works Operations Yard in the Bayview, a team of employees loads up two flatbed trucks with as many as 90 metal barricades to distribute around the City.

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Building Community
with Paint, Tiles and Mulch

Public Works collaborates with neighborhood groups to bring public art and gardens to a medley of urban infrastructure and spaces – from retaining walls to road medians to odd-shaped nooks and crannies. 

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A Whole Lotta Love 
 

Every year on April 18 at 5:12 a.m., City officials and aficionados of the City’s past – many in period dress – gather at Lotta’s Fountain to mark the anniversary of the City’s 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire.

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Hope Blossoms in Japantown

The deliberate destruction of two beloved cherry blossom trees in Japantown 15 months ago grew into Blossoms of Hope – a community-inspired project completed this month.

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Love Our City

Neighborhood Beautification Day volunteers teamed up with our crews in the West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods – planting trees, clearing brush, sprucing up flower beds and spreading mulch – for our monthly neighborhood beautification event.

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Public Works Teams Win
Three National Honors

San Francisco Public Works scored three big wins this spring in major awards competitions.

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The OnE Team inspects garbage, compost and recycling bins in Chinatown

to see if they’re overflowing and contributing to trash on the streets.

When the Sun Goes Down, Our Inspectors Get to Work

The night was clear, brisk and relatively quiet at the intersection of Stockton Street and Broadway, which bustles with activity during the day. There, where San Francisco’s iconic North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods meet, our Outreach and Enforcement (OnE) Team members gathered to start their night-time inspections walk.

The small but mighty OnE team conducts these night walks twice weekly along commercial corridors across the City, taking meticulous account of any and all instances of illegal dumping, graffiti, overflowing garbage bins and other infractions related to cleanliness in the public right of way. 

Cardboard improperly left out on the sidewalk by businesses is a contributor to the City’s illegal dumping problem.

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The operation is part of the department’s multi-prong approach to keep San Francisco clean. While our street cleaners are on the job around the clock, we also need business owners and residents to do their part. The OnE Team’s role first and foremost is to educate the public on their legal responsibilities and, secondarily, to take enforcement action.

OnE Team staffers Nancy Wong, left, and Steven Chiv speak with a merchant about

proper ways to put out garbage bins so they don’t become a nuisance.

To decide which corridors to visit, team members analyze 311 service request data and factor in input from Public Works’ street cleaning crews and Recology, which provides refuse-collection services in San Francisco. 


These special inspections take place in the evening for a number of reasons. Since street conditions change throughout the day – people take out their garbage at various times, businesses operate on different schedules, deliveries occur throughout the day – hitting the streets at times outside of the typical inspection schedule helps the OnE Team gain a more complete understanding of a corridor’s characteristics and problem areas.


Every commercial corridor has its own history, a unique sense of character and a diverse array of businesses, as well as its own challenges. As the OnE Team made its way south on Stockton and deeper into Chinatown on this particular night, April 25, all of these elements came into clear focus. This stretch of Stockton is characterized by a densely packed array of grocery stores, bakeries, banks, pharmacies and community gathering spaces, all of which are typically only open during the daytime. 

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When the Public Works team members come across an infraction at one of these closed businesses, they take note of the business name, address and the nature of the infraction. They then send a letter to the business owner explaining what code violations they found, what the business would need to do to fix the problem and the City resources available to help. If the business is open at the time of the inspection, the OnE Team attempts to meet with the owner or manager to go over the concerns.

Ennis Harris documents the overflowing bins.

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The most common infraction that the OnE team comes across is graffiti, either on private property or public infrastructure, such as City trash cans and mailboxes. 

The owner of the tagged news rack will be notified and asked to abate the graffiti

Along Stockton Street, however, there was little graffiti to be found and the corridor looked to be in good shape, save for a malfunctioning streetlight and illegally dumped wooden pallets on one corner.

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Improperly discarded large pallets and other trash create an eyesore

and pose health and safety hazards on this Chinatown sidewalk.

The biggest problem that night was private garbage bins that were overflowing or damaged through excessive use, which tends to happen with many businesses, such as markets that produce a lot of waste. The team contacts the owners about ordering new bins if theirs are broken or getting bigger bins if the waste is overflowing to prevent trash from spilling onto the sidewalk.

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If a bin isn’t large enough to hold all the garbage a business generates,

we encourage business owners to get a bigger bin or more frequent refuse service.

Once the team finished on Stockton Street, they turned down Jackson Street toward Grant Avenue into the heart of Chinatown. Jackson was livelier with a handful of restaurants, bars and lounges operating in full swing. Aside from these nocturnal establishments, the businesses along this stretch of Jackson resemble those around the corner on Stockton – a wide variety of markets, salons, bakeries, florists and community centers.

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Despite these similarities, the OnE Team encountered far more infractions on Jackson than they had seen on Stockton. The biggest scourge: illegal dumping – mainly cardboard boxes. In areas like this, with dozens of businesses on a single block, determining where the illegal dumping is coming from can be difficult. To find the culprit behind illegally dumped cardboard, OnE team members, armed with flashlights, double as sleuths. They rifle through the debris in search of any identifying information, such as shipping labels or business-specific branding, printed on the boxes.

The OnE team members are part educator, part sleuth and part enforcer.

In addition to its twice weekly night walks, the OnE team schedules pre-dawn and daytime inspections, focused on ensuring San Francisco’s public spaces are as safe and clean as possible.

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Our crews set up 35 metal barricades to secure the scene of a large fire in the West Portal neighborhood.

Barricade Brigade

Early every morning at the Public Works Operations Yard in the Bayview, a team of employees from our Bureau of Street Environmental Services loads up two flatbed trucks with as many as 90 metal barricades and a full tank of gas from the on-site fueling station. Most days these trucks stay put, but if an emergency arises, they can spring into action at a moment’s notice.

This is exactly what happened on April 18. Just after 11:30 a.m., a fast-moving, three-alarm fire broke out on the 300 block of West Portal Avenue severely damaging two buildings and causing another to partially collapse. The San Francisco Fire Department arrived on the scene quickly and in full force, containing the fire before it could spread further down the block.

But even as the fire subsided, the danger to the public did not – large plumes of dense smoke still lingered in the area and the full extent of structural damage to affected buildings remained unclear. The SFFD then called upon Public Works to secure the area. We had one of our flatbed trucks packed with metal barricades drive across town and arrive on the fire scene within 45 minutes.

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Barricades cordon off much of the charred detritus pulled from Venezia Interiors the day after the West Portal fire. Photo: Golden Gate Xpress

The crew, which included Operations staff members Steven Duong, Abelardo Leonardo and Francisco Echavez, swiftly deployed 24 steel barricades, each weighing 58 pounds, to secure the area and block off the sidewalk to keep passersby at bay. Moments later, at the request of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, they positioned an additional 11 barricades at two nearby intersections to prevent through traffic from entering the affected area.


Public Works’ barricades serve a variety of uses. Sometimes they line the perimeter of the City’s many street fairs, festivals and parades, other times they’re used to cordon off sidewalk hazards, sink holes or hillsides prone to slides. We also use them to keep encampments from reappearing once they’ve been cleared from specific locations by the City’s Healthy Streets Operations Center. In addition to the 90 we keep on the trucks for rapid deployment, we have another 500 available should the need arise.


Recently, we set out barricades at the request of the U.S. Secret Service, which was in town providing security for Vice President Kamala Harris at an event in Mission Bay.


From dignitary protection to emergencies, the barricades are a valuable resources we use to keep San Francisco’s public spaces safe and secure.

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With extra foot traffic and shopping opportunities on Stockton Street during the Chinese New Year,

barricades are used to separate the bustling sidewalk activity from vehicles.

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Folks attend a mosaic-making workshop at Sisterhood Gardens.

Building Community with Paint, Tiles and Mulch

Our 7-by-7 city with its hills, valleys and steep and winding streets is an urban-lover’s dream of variety and richness. 

As the caretaker of San Francisco’s public right of way, Public Works looks after a medley of urban infrastructure and spaces – from retaining walls to road medians to odd-shaped leftover spaces. These bits and pieces are significant – often serving as a palette for shaping a neighborhood and bringing residents together. 

Across the City, Public Works collaborates with neighborhood groups to bring public art and gardens to communities in these unusual spaces. Sisterhood Gardens in Oceanview and the Burnside Mural in Glen Park are two great examples of neighbors coming together with a vision and a project – and then leaning on Public Works’ know-how to get the work done.
 

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Volunteers at Sisterhood Gardens.

Brotherhood Way, in the south part of the City, is a fast-moving road next to wide greenspace. Since it was built in the 1940s, Brotherhood Way not only has divided the neighborhood, but has prioritized cars over people who walk. In 2015, a group of residents from both sides of Brotherhood came to Public Works and laid out a vision of creating a neighborhood garden in the green space on the north side of the street near the intersection of Arch Street and Brotherhood Way. Public Works jumped in to help and provide services. 

Together with Chinese Progressive Association, Public Works landscape architects convened community meetings at the nearby I.T. Bookman Center, historically a hub for the Black community in Lakeview (the other name for Oceanview). Together, a diverse group of 60-plus neighbors helped develop and design what would become Sisterhood Gardens. Key to their vision was a mix of individual garden plots and communal spaces. Public Works was there every step of the way, from delivering mulch, grading the land and helping build planter boxes – but that work was complemented by hundreds of volunteer hours in planting, building and caring for the land.
 

Now, in 2022, the Garden is flourishing and expanding east down the greenway. Public Works continues to support this project, which lies in our right of way, by mowing and bringing mulch and technical expertise. Especially during COVID, the Garden has been a welcome refuge – an outdoor living room – for everyone in the neighborhood. This success has bred more creativity and community vision: the next phase is to tile the stairs that are the connector to Ramsell Street, which leads to the Muni M-Line, Ocean View Library, the Bookman center and the walking path along Brotherhood Way. With a grant from the City’s Community Challenge Grant program, the Garden hired local mosaic artist Kim Jensen to design the tile mural and lead volunteer workshops to create and install it. 

After community design workshops, the group landed on a design that highlights the natural history and habitat along Brotherhood Way: the Matilija poppy, California poppy, California pipevine swallowtail butterfly, anise swallowtail butterfly and honeybees. The California pipevine is one of the few native plants historically found on Brotherhood Way and still grows here today. Mosaic workshops are being held this month and next.


“An art piece is galvanizing and inspiring,” said Tiffany Ng, a community organizer with Chinese Progressive Association. “Making the mosaic together is a very humbling process. It’s very intricate. … . But we are guided by the design: the hands and hearts represent our role as responsible stewards of the land and rainbow colors in the background represent intersectionality and inclusion.”
 

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Glen Park neighbors eyed the Burnside Avenue retaining wall as an ideal canvas for a mural.

The Burnside Mural in Glen Park also looks to natural history, as well as local history, to build neighborhood pride and spirit. Envisioned by a group of neighbors, the mural – which is currently being painted by San Francisco-based Twin Walls Mural Company – is located at the dead end of Burnside Avenue, one block off of Chenery Street. This large retaining wall and its staircase are managed and cared for by Public Works, and connects to the Glen Park Greenway, which runs from the BART station to Glen Canyon Park. Like the pathway at Sisterhood Gardens, this is an important walking corridor in the neighborhood. And it connects Glen Park to the rest of the City as part of the Crosstown Trail, which stretches from the northwest tip of San Francisco at Lands End to the southwest tip near Candlestick Point. 

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An outline of the mural gets projected on the retaining wall at night to make it easier to draw the outline by hand.

Buoyed with strong neighborhood support, the nearby St. John School community and the Glen Park Neighborhood History Project reached out to Public Works. As the wall and staircase are in the public right of way, Public Works engineers and craftspeople inspected the wall for structural integrity and made needed fixes. As the project progresses, Public Works will continue working with neighbors to assure the safety and accessibility of the site.
 

Meanwhile, Glen Park neighbors reached out to Elaine Chu and Marina Perez-Wong of the Twin Walls Mural Company because of their experience with working with community and their belief in the power of visual stories to capture and reflect micro-local histories.

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The Glen Park mural captures the flora, fauna and history of the neighborhood.

The mural celebrates the Glen Park neighborhood, focusing on key aspects of its history and Glen Canyon. It pays homage to the "Gum Tree Girls" – a trio of neighborhood activists who waged a successful campaign in the 1960s to stop a proposed freeway from ripping through Glen Park. It also depicts native flora and fauna. 


Look for the opening celebration July 2022! 

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The Burnside Avenue retaining wall blossoms from drab green to beautiful.

What’s next? These Glen Park residents always are looking out for a neighborhood project and an opportunity to improve and beautify the public realm. So, they already are planning for a tile mosaic for the stairs. 


“It would be great if other neighborhoods picked up on this type of project. It’s great community-building,” said Glen Park activist Renee A. Berger. “I get my fix on smiles when I walk by and see the mural in progress.”

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A lion-head spigot gushes water at Lotta’s Fountain.

A Whole Lotta Love

Lotta’s Fountain, located on a pedestrian island at the intersection of Market, Geary and Kearny streets, stands as one of San Francisco’s markers of the past commemorating the City’s 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire.

Every year on April 18 at 5:12 a.m., City officials and aficionados of the City’s history – many in period dress – gather at Lotta’s Fountain to mark the anniversary of the 7.9-magnitude quake that violently shook San Francisco, causing widespread death and property damage.

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Public Works crafts workers check on the historic fountain before the annual commemoration ceremony.

In 1906, Lotta’s Fountain served as a gathering place for survivors and as a spot where people posted the names of the dead. Today, it stands as both a memorial and as a symbol of a city that survived calamity.

Built in 1875 and formally known as Lotta Crabtree Fountain, Lotta’s Fountain is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as San Francisco Landmark No. 73. 
 

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Stationary engineers, plumbers, electricians and sheet metal workers from our Bureau of Building Repair put their skills to work.

The importance of Lotta’s Fountain is not taken for granted. Every year, Public Works’ stationary engineers, plumbers, electricians and sheet metal workers from our Bureau of Building Repair prepare for the anniversary event, making sure the cast-iron structure with lion-head spigots is operational and looking good. 

We take a lotta pride in helping to keep San Francisco history alive.
 

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Mayor London Breed, dressed in turn-of-the-19th-century period garb for the occasion,

poses in front of Lotta’s Fountain with Public Works plumber Ray Mendoza.

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The blossoms are just starting to burst forth on one of the replacement cherry trees

Hope Blossoms in Japantown

The deliberate destruction of two beloved cherry blossom trees in Japantown 15 months ago grew into Blossoms of Hope – a community-inspired project completed this month.

The project not only replaced the pair of vandalized trees fronting the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California on the 1800 block of Sutter Street, but also included the planting of two more cherry trees and the creation of a new sidewalk design made of carved stone and natural boulders that suggest a flowing river. 


The idea, said Paul Osaki, the community center’s executive director, was to “turn the unfortunate incident into an inspiration for beauty and peace.”

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Pink paper cranes adorn a cherry tree, left, which is part of a beautiful new sidewalk design on the 1800 block of Sutter Street.

Osaki and his group hosted a joy-filled community celebration on April 23 to dedicate Blossoms of Hope. They were joined by Consul-General Hiroshi Kawamura of Japan, Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents Japantown, landscape architect Gerald Kawamura, who designed the project, and Public Works Deputy Director DiJaida Durden. Our Bureau of Urban Forestry’s arborist and cement shop crews worked on the project.


More than 600 people responded to a GoFundMe campaign and chipped in to help pay for the new trees and streetscape improvements.

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Everyone who attended the Treat Plaza celebration was invited to join in a ceremonial land-dedication dance.

This plaque tells the Blossoms of Hope story.

The cherry trees were destroyed at the start of 2021. Footage from surveillance cameras shows that someone tore off the branches one by one over several days right after the New Year, leaving only jagged nubs. Two years before, a nearby cherry tree suffered a similar fate. The trees fronting the Japanese center were planted for the visit of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan in 1994, marking only the second time the Japanese monarchs visited the United States.

 

Those trees “would never be able to blossom again,” Osaki said. “However, through the kindness of hundreds of people, we have planted new trees that will blossom hope and goodwill.”

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Representatives from the Board of Supervisors, Japanese Cultural and Community Center, Public Works, the

Japanese Consulate and the donors group attended the April 23 Blossoms of Hope dedication ceremony.

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Volunteers spread mulch around streets trees near Lowell High School.


#LoveOurCity!

Neighborhood Beautification Day volunteers teamed up with our crews in the West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods – planting trees, clearing brush, sprucing up flower beds and spreading mulch – for our monthly neighborhood beautification event.

We held the kickoff at Lowell High School, where we were joined by Supervisor Myrna Melgar, and then headed to worksites in District 7 neighborhoods, among them Miraloma Park, Lakeside and West Portal.

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Flower beds get some extra TLC during the neighborhood beautification event.

We host a Neighborhood Beautification Day one Saturday a month, rotating among the City’s 11 Board of Supervisors districts.

 

Volunteers work alongside our crews, as well as many off-duty Public Works employees who appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with our community partners on improving San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods.

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This 4-year-old volunteer, with mom nearby, gets in the spirit of giving back to the community.

Next month, on May 7, we’ll be in District 3 neighborhoods, including North Beach, Chinatown, Nob Hill and the Financial District. The kickoff is at Francisco Middle School, 2190 Powell St. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. Click on this link to sign up, or visit sfpublicworks.org/loveourcity.

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Public Works Teams Win Three National Honors

San Francisco Public Works scored three big wins this spring in major awards competitions.

The American Public Works Association selected the San Francisco Animal Care & Control Facility as Project of the Year for historical restoration/preservation projects valued at more than $75 million.


Public Works designed the new facility and managed construction. 


The new home for Animal Care & Control involved the adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of the original Market Street Railway Company powerhouse, which was built in 1893 and expanded nine years later. The animal shelter was constructed within the building’s original footprint and retains the historic brick façade and industrial wood windows, but was repurposed to house a modern, multi-level facility that includes rooftop animal runs and an interior courtyard where animals can enjoy fresh air.


The new 65,000-square-foot shelter at 1419 Bryant St. includes a modernized veterinary suite, better ventilation, improved cleaning systems to reduce the spread of disease, and mechanisms that more effectively control noise and odors. 


On behalf of San Francisco Animal Care & Control, Public Works designed the new facility and managed construction. Clark Construction served as the general contractor. 


The $76.4 million project opened in spring 2021.

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Another notable recognition came from the American Society of Landscape Architects, which honored our Bureau of Landscape Architecture with the Merit Award for Design: Parks, Recreation, Trails and Open Spaces for the Margaret Hayward Playground project in the Western Addition.


Our department provided architectural and landscape design services, engineering services and managed construction. Lizzy Hirsch, the parks team studio lead, led our design team.


The $28 million renovation of the 6-acre Recreation and Park Department property includes an all-new children’s play area as well as a community clubhouse with a teaching kitchen and room for expanded programming for seniors and youth. Other upgrades include a new plaza space, improved basketball courts, a new multi-use sports field and two expanded synthetic turf baseball/softball fields.


The renovated park, bounded by Turk, Gough, Golden Gate and Laguna streets, reopened in October 2020. 

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The third honor we won went to a key backbone component of our organization – the finance and budget team. The Government Finance Officers Association, a national organization, presented San Francisco Public Works with the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.


“This award is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. Its attainment represents a significant achievement by your organization,” the association said in notifying us of the award. Judges rated our published budget document on how it can be used “as a policy document, as a financial plan, as an operations guide and as a communications device.”

Congratulations to the trio of project teams for their exemplary work!
 

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