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A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works

In the Works

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July 2023

Every summer, the Public Works ranks fill with college and high school students exploring career options and helping our pro teams with projects ranging from bridge inspections to growing the urban forest – a workforce development initiative that cultivates a symbiotic relationship with copious benefits.


Youth Movement: Cultivating
Public Works’ Next Generation

Interns and summer youth workers can be found across a broad range of disciplines, from architecture and engineering to landscape maintenance and tree planting. A few share their experiences.


Rooting for success!

As the steward of more than 125,000 street trees in San Francisco, we support and expand the City’s urban canopy in creative and innovative ways, such as the latest tool in our arsenal: soil cells.


Pedestrian Bridge Mural Blooms

A once drab pedestrian bridge connecting the Balboa Park and Sunnyside neighborhoods now pops with a delightful mural.

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The Bridges of San Francisco County

We operate and maintain three drawbridges – one dates back to World War I, another to the Great Depression and the third near the end of World War II. And today, they remain workhorse transportation corridors in San Francisco.


Love Our City

Dozens of volunteers and Public Works crews joined together this month for a day of greening, cleaning and community pride in Glen Park, the Castro, Noe Valley, Bernal Cut, Diamond Heights and other District 8 neighborhoods.

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Architectural Associate Kyle Barreras looks through drawing sets with an intern.

Youth Movement: Cultivating
Public Works’
Next Generation 

The building blocks for Lorina Louie’s career path were there from the start. 

"I played with Legos as a kid,” said Louie, a former intern with Public Works and now an assistant engineer for the Infrastructure Design and Construction Division. “I loved building the structures and I still collect them as an adult.”

Louie first interned with Public Works in 2012 while studying civil engineering at San Jose State University. The born and raised San Franciscan wanted to stick around to keep beautifying her city.

"I wanted to be part of that,” she said. “I like seeing people mingle with each other out in the streets, the community events, just everything (that’s) a part of San Francisco made me want to stay and work for them.”

Assistant Engineer Lorina Louie first started as an intern with Public Works in 2012.

The internship experience proved to be a solid foundation for her early on in her career. She learned about budgets, schedules and how teams worked together to get things done.

“It’s taught me what I needed to know to be full-time (staff at Public Works),” Louie said. “The people I met throughout my internship have helped me throughout my career, as well.”

Louie’s professional journey is no anomaly. More than 90 former interns at Public Works are now permanent employees. Every year, scores of students swap parts of their summer break for a hands-on, paid internship with Public Works. 

Interns – some returning from previous stints with Public Works – can be found across a broad range of disciplines, from architecture to engineering and construction management. 

“The internship program started back in 1984 with a handful – maybe a dozen, if that – interns and has grown since then,” said Patrick Rivera, an engineer and acting bureau manager at the Bureau of Project Management, who now runs the program. “As the department has grown, as the sections and bureaus have grown, so has the need for the interns.” 

The program always has fostered a symbiotic relationship.

“It helps us in the sense that we're potentially going to find the next City Engineer or the next director and giving them that opportunity is a plus for us,” Rivera said. 

“And then for them, for the interns, it allows them the opportunity to experience engineering or construction management or architecture, landscape architecture in a professional field and allows them to decide whether that's an option for them," he continued.

This summer, 53 interns from across the country and abroad are cutting their teeth at Public Works. And while the longstanding program is mostly geared toward college students and recent graduates, Public Works also is tapping high school students for paid internships through a new pilot program that grew out of the department’s Racial Equity Initiative. The youth outreach committee for the Bureau of Architecture and Bureau of Landscape Architecture spearheaded the effort for Public Works. 

"It's for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) high school students,” said Solange Guillaume, a landscape architectural associate who is involved with the first-year effort. “And the idea behind it is to help improve the connection between students and access to careers in the fields of landscape architecture and architecture,” disciplines where communities of color historically have been underrepresented. 

The new initiative is a part of the City’s Opportunities for All program. Administered by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, in partnership with the nonprofit Japanese Community Youth Council as the fiscal sponsor, Opportunities for All has facilitated more than 10,000 internship placements since it launched in October 2018. The effort is further supported by the Dream Keeper Initiative, a citywide effort launched in 2021 to reinvest in San Francisco’s Black communities.


Landscape Architect Jasmine Kaw talks with interns on a terrace at the Public Works office at 49 South Van Ness.

The program provides paid, work-based learning opportunities to local youth. More than 3,000 applicants, between the ages of 13-24, vie for placements as interns and fellows with Opportunities for All each year. About 95% of applicants are young people of color. 

Although Public Works’ inaugural contingent is relatively small with four interns, the hope is that it’s just the start of a program that continues for years to come.

“So that we can really get the word out about who we are, as San Francisco Public Works, to the youth and for them to learn that these are possible opportunities for them career-wise,” said Erica Ruiz, an architectural assistant who is helping with the new pilot program.

‘You get to see the young people grow’

A small armada of rakes and hula hoes scraped its way through a browning median along Divisadero Street near Alamo Square Park on a recent July morning.

The driving force behind the quick-moving weeding operation?

A group of lively teenagers, clad in reflective vests and sporting safety glasses. 

With bright orange cones providing a buffer from the cars, buses and mopeds zipping along the busy corridor, the teenagers – part of Public Works’ annual summer youth program and from schools across the City – wasted no time. 

“We got one crew that’s called the knock-out crew,” said James Caldwell, chief officer of public safety with the Mayor’s Office, referring to a contingent that works with particular zest and efficiency. 

“They get in, they want to get it done.” 


A team from Public Works' annual summer youth program weeds a median along Divisadero Street.

Caldwell helps oversee the effort and has worked with the program for years. The initiative not only provides an avenue for kids to make a little extra money to buy school clothes or pay for books or even tuition, he said, it also teaches them some responsibility and work ethic.

“You get to see the young people grow,” Caldwell said.

Each year, Public Works partners with a community-based nonprofit for the program, which focuses on high school students – rising ninth graders through 12th graders – who live in San Francisco. The teenagers take on a variety of tasks during the summer program, including landscape maintenance, planting trees and shrubs and picking up litter. 

For some, the work can pique an interest in a potential career path. 


Jameir Johnson is considering pursuing a career with Public Works following his stint with the annual summer youth program.

Jameir Johnson, 19, was part of the group sprucing up the Divisadero Street median. The recent graduate of Gateway High School found out about the program through his uncle. He took so much to the work this summer that he’s considering pursuing a career with Public Works. 

“It just built up during the work experience here,” said Johnson, referring to his interest in Public Works.

A’Jai Bergess’ aunt told her about the program as an opportunity to make some money during the summer weeks. “But I actually enjoy doing what we do,” said Bergess, 18, who lives in Hunters Point. 

"I feel like we’re making the community look better,” she said.

While they carry out their tasks, the teenagers are aided by Public Works crews who help supervise the work. Among them is Avory Evans, a district captain and gardener with the Bureau of Urban Forestry. 

Evans, who recently became a father, enjoys working with the kids and wants to have a positive impact on them as much as he can. “They all remind me of me when I was growing up,” he said. 

Tackling real-world projects
and making friends

It’s been a summer of putting theory into practice for Rianna Maulino. 

As an intern with the Infrastructure Design and Construction Division, she has been creating a base map for the paving group, using a computer-aided design (CAD) and drafting software, known as AutoCAD, and other programs – tools she learned to use at Santa Clara University where she studies civil engineering.

“So a lot of drawing and looking at Google Maps, making sure everything’s okay,” said Maulino, who will be a senior this fall. “And with that comes slope inspections. So almost every day I go out to the field to do slope inspections on the curb ramps that are adjacent to the streets we’re repaving.”


Rianna Maulino has been putting the skills she learned in school to the test as a summer intern with the Infrastructure Design and Construction Division.

Having taken a surveying class in college, Maulino also has been able to put those skills to use, working with the curb and ramp group. But because the class was all online, the site visits and work in the field are an especially welcome change. 

“I had to take a surveying lab online, which is almost impossible. You need to be out in the field,” Maulino said, referring to her virtual surveying experience in school. “So I'm glad that I took that class and I can finally use those skills out on a City project. And I'm able to take the information I learned here and bring it back to my school.”

One big takeaway for Maulino so far? Try to hop on any project that’s put in front of you.

When a fellow intern has something to work on and they need help with it, Maulino makes a point to volunteer her time. “Just because you'll learn so much more that way,” she said.

For Ava Ross, a Seattle native and intern with the Bureau of Landscape Architecture, it didn’t take long to realize that Public Works touches every neighborhood in the City.


Bureau of Landscape Architecture intern Ava Ross has been working on the City's efforts to increase its resilience to the health impacts of climate change.

During orientation, she and fellow interns learned about how Public Works does “everything in the City,” said Ross, who graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and a minor in urban design and planning.

“I've only been here for a couple of weeks, but now I've been going around town and I’m able to point out like, ‘Oh, we designed that playground’ or ‘We did that streetscape,’” she said. “From buildings to streets to parks – probably Public Works was involved in it at some point in time and so that's been a wonderful surprise.”

Another pleasant surprise for Ross: Being able to continue working on some of the things she focused on during her college career. 

Ross has been working on the City’s efforts to increase San Francisco’s resilience to the health impacts of climate change-related extreme heat and air quality hazards, with a particular focus on disproportionately impacted frontline and BIPOC communities. It’s an assignment that harkens back to her focus in design school. 

“They always tell you at school like, ‘Enjoy it while you're in it, because you're not gonna get to do this in the real world.’ But then I got here and I was like, ‘Wait, I'm doing this in the real world. This is amazing,’” Ross said. “I’m getting to do analysis of data and using science to push forward on design and policy for the betterment of the lives of people in this city.”

The desire to give back to her community was among the reasons Hester Lui – a San Francisco native and former Public Works intern turned junior engineer with the Building Design and Construction Division – was drawn to Public Works. 

She first interned with the department during the summer of 2018 before her junior year at California Polytechnic State University, where she attended the architectural engineering program. “I really liked it,” Lui said, referring to her internship. “That's why I kept returning every summer.”

On the design front, Lui explored the private sector, too, “but it was a lot of sitting in front of the screen for eight hours.”

“And I just didn't like that,” Lui added. 

Her work with us in construction management has a good balance of computer work and site visits where she gets to interact with other people, which she enjoys.


Junior Engineer Hester Lui first interned with Public Works in 2018. "I really liked it."

An enduring lesson she learned during her time interning with Public Works: Ask questions. 

“Especially as an intern, you're really new and green and you don't know anything,” Lui said. “And not everything from school applies to what you’re doing in real life. So you should always ask your mentor or your supervisor and don't be afraid to ask questions – just try to learn as much as you can.”

And not only are the interns learning from their supervisors, but they’re also learning from each other, said Rivera, the internship program organizer. He hears their laughter, chatter and networking whenever he steps out of his office during lunchtime in the summer. 

“They're making friends, they're talking, they're laughing, they're probably sharing experiences in the work that they're doing and they're getting to know each other,” Rivera said.

The welcoming atmosphere Public Works fosters for the internship cohorts is not lost on Lulu Liu. 

Originally from Hangzhou, China, she is studying landscape architecture at UC Berkeley and started her internship with the Bureau of Landscape Architecture this summer. With only a few weeks under her belt, she said she’s already been able to meet people from all sorts of cultural backgrounds at Public Works and been able to work with them.

“Public Works is a really friendly environment (where) everyone welcomed me.”


Bureau of Landscape Architecture intern Lulu Liu has enjoyed the welcoming environment at Public Works. 

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Soil Cell

City contractors lay down a grid of soil cells in the Mid-Market neighborhood.

Rooting for Success!

San Francisco isn’t always the most hospitable environment

for trees. 

Our salty coastal air sweeps in from the Pacific Ocean and can stunt tree growth. High winds are a constant threat to uproot or damage younger, less stable trees. Especially cool summers make trees susceptible to anthracnose, a fungal disease that can cause trees to drop their leaves too early in the year. The soil in many parts of the City is either sand or bay mud, both of which lack the nutrients and stability needed to foster strong tree growth. On top of these ecological issues, San Francisco’s dense urban environment can deprive trees of the sunlight and space for their roots to fully grow.

Despite these less-than-favorable conditions, Public Works, proud steward of San Francisco’s 125,000-plus street trees, continues to support and expand the City’s urban canopy in creative and innovative ways.

Our newest tool: soil cells – rectangular-shaped plastic units with a honeycomb-like design that protect and contain tree roots beneath the sidewalk. The open-face boxes provide ample space for roots to grow outward from the tree in a general horizontal direction, while preventing them from growing upward into the sidewalk above, or too deep, where they can interfere with underground utilities. This both supports the health of the tree and keeps trees from causing unwanted damage.


A set of hard plastic soil cells gets set in an empty tree basin on Market Street before a tree goes in the ground. 

We’re using the soil cell system for the first time for one of our streetscape projects on Market Street, among the most dense and constrained corridors in San Francisco. Root management is especially important on Market Street, which is one of the oldest, most developed parts of the City with a labyrinth of wires, pipes, conduits, ducts and vaults under its surface – the result of more than 170 years of development.  

In an effort to make this historic area greener, healthier and more inviting, we are planting 65 new trees as part of the first phase of the Better Market Street project, which stretches from Fifth to Eighth streets. Nearly half of the new trees – or 31 – will have soil cells beneath them. 

Other components of the Better Market Street project include new traffic signals, wider ADA-compliant curb ramps, repaved crosswalks and curb lanes, new catch basins, new bike racks and curb bulb-outs to shorten crossing distances and improve pedestrian safety. 


Installing soil cells takes only a handful of steps, but does require prior planning and ingenuity when working in crowded urban environments. Before any excavation occurs to place them underground, we refer to drawings and diagrams that show the existing layout of underground utilities and street furniture, such as benches, public trash cans and light poles. This lets us know how much open space there is for our soil cells and how they will need to be configured to fit within this space. 

Soil cells come in multiple sizes, but Public Works typically uses a model that is 2 feet wide, 4 feet long and 3½ feet tall. Each cell can hold about 25 cubic feet of soil and can be arranged in a variety of ways making them especially useful for highly built-up urban environments.  

Once we determine the design and layout, it’s time to excavate the area, compact the soil beneath the installation, add a layer of aggregate gravel rock and then install them. 


Before installing the soil cells, engineers design a placement plan to keep tree roots away from underground utilities.

We start by pinning the base of each soil cell into the bottom of the excavated area, creating the footprint of the entire installation. Then, we attach six cylindrical posts to each soil cell – these create the height of the cell that allows for uninterrupted root growth. Once all posts are clipped into place, we fill the area with fresh, nutrient-rich soil and attach the soil cell’s top layer, called the “deck,” to create the full cell structure.

The innovative root-control system makes its San Francisco streetscape project debut for Better Market Street,

where the roots of 31 trees will be tucked into soil cells.

To finish things off, we lay down a layer of geotextile fabric to help hold the structure together, spread a second layer of aggregate gravel rock above the geotextile and repave the sidewalk above.

Though Better Market Street is our first project using soil cells, the technology is quickly gaining favorability and should soon become the norm on our projects. Our landscape architects see these customizable soil cells as especially useful in future streetscape projects, where landscape elements are closely incorporated with streets, sidewalks and crosswalks, and space can come at a premium. This technique can go a long way toward improving the health and longevity of San Francisco’s street trees and ultimately helping Public Works reach its goal of expanding and diversifying the City’s street tree canopy. 

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Havelock Mural
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The Havelock Bridge mural evokes a colorful array of dahlias.

Pedestrian Bridge Mural Blooms

A once drab pedestrian bridge connecting the Balboa Park and Sunnyside neighborhoods now pops with a delightful mural.

The colorful 40-foot mural along the west entrance of the Havelock Bridge depicts dahlias, the official flower of San Francisco. The petal elements are in the shape of hearts, “a simple form whose intent is to remind people to be kind,” according to the designer’s conceptual design statement.

The community-driven neighborhood beautification project has its roots in the 2019 participatory budget process, hosted by the District 7 supervisor’s office, that allows constituents the opportunity to make funding requests. 

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Prior to the mural, graffiti vandals routinely tagged the pedestrian bridge.

The new mural can be found on the 200 block of Havelock Street, between Circular Avenue and Edna Street. The bridge, which crosses Interstate 280, is heavily used by City College of San Francisco students, staff and faculty. 


Today, public art graces the west-side entrance of the bridge.

The Havelock Bridge mural is the latest mural project that Public Works has supported, in partnership with community members who champion public art as a way to make their neighborhoods more inviting and beautiful for residents and visitors. The process of moving the projects from idea to execution also inspires community engagement.

Other recent mural projects we’ve been involved in can be found on Burnside Avenue, the Bernal Cut and Kensington Way.

Supervisor Myrna Melgar, community members and Public Works employees mark completion of the mural with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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Structural Engineer Richard Rhee videos the raising and lowering of the Third Street Bridge during a recent inspection.

The Bridges of
San Francisco County

San Francisco Public Works operates and maintains three drawbridges – one dates back to World War I, another to the Great Depression and the third near the end of World War II. And today, they remain workhorse transportation corridors in San Francisco.

This month, our structural engineers began conducting their biannual visual inspections of the spans. They check for defects, including corrosion, worn bolts, uneven decks, splayed concrete, stress cracks and the like to make sure needed repairs are made. 

The first phase of inspections was conducted on foot; in coming weeks the underbelly of the bridges will be inspected by boat.

"Many of our bridges are more than 50 years old and require routine maintenance and sometimes emergency repairs,” said Ray Lui, the chief structural engineer at Public Works. “We inspect our bridges every two years to identify any developing issues so that we can address them before they pose a danger to the public.  Our inspection program is key in determining and prioritizing our maintenance needs." 

The first stop on the July 20 inspections, led by Structural Engineer Richard Rhee, was at the Third Street Bridge, also known as the Lefty O’Doul Bridge. Crossing the Mission Creek Channel and connecting the China Basin and Mission Bay neighborhoods, the 90-year-old bridge underwent major rehabilitation work that wrapped up in 2020. 


The historic Third Street Bridge, a designated landmark, spans Mission Creek Channel.

But earlier this year, the bridge was damaged in a big storm when barges that broke loose from their moorings slammed into the eastern side, splintering a walkway and bending railing and beams. Fortunately, the underlying structural integrity and mechanics remained intact. 

The storm-related damage still needs to be fixed, but otherwise the bridge is holding up well, according to the initial inspection assessment.

The next inspection took place on the Fourth Street Bridge, a block west. Also known as the Peter R. Maloney Bridge, in honor of a former San Francisco police officer, the Fourth Street Bridge opened in 1917 and is the oldest operating bascule bridge in the state. Bascule bridges use counterweights to raise and lower the bridges.


The Fourth Street Bridge is the oldest of the three drawbridges operated by Public Works.

Like the neighboring Third Street Bridge, the Fourth Street Bridge was designed by Joseph Strauss, whose most famous bridge is the Golden Gate.

The Fourth Street Bridge underwent a major seismic retrofit after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which resulted in a redesign of the counterweight system. Today, Lui and his team are keeping an eye on corrosion on the span.

The final inspection of the day was on the Islais Creek Bridge, which serves the portion of Third Street that spans Islais Creek, between Cargo Way and Marin Street, just north of the Bayview neighborhood. The official name is the Levon Hagop Nishkian Bridge, named after the grandson of the designer Leon Hagop Nishkian. 


A Muni light rail train crosses the Islais Creek Bridge.

Built in 1945, the bascule bridge has not been lifted for marine traffic in more than a decade and hasn’t seen large ship traffic come through in 50 years. It is structurally deteriorating – but still operable and available for crossings – and seismically deficient. 

Plans are in the works to replace it with a fixed bridge that would meet current structural and seismic standards and be resilient to predicted impacts from sea-level rise. The plan is to start construction no sooner than spring 2025. 

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Love Our City

Young volunteers spruce up landscaping at James Lick Middle School.

Love Our City

Dozens of volunteers and Public Works crews joined together this month for a day of greening, cleaning and community pride in Glen Park, the Castro, Noe Valley, Bernal Cut, Diamond Heights and other District 8 neighborhoods.

Participants planted trees, abated graffiti, weeded, mulched and picked up litter for our monthly Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day event on Saturday, July 15. Crews and volunteers – young, old and in-between – started their morning at James Lick Middle School in Noe Valley where we were joined by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

Teams then fanned out to various sites around the neighborhoods to get to work. But one group stayed behind to spruce up the middle school’s campus and plant a Sugi pine, also known as a Japanese cedar, in its Dinosaur Garden.


The volunteer workday focuses on neighborhood beautification projects, from graffiti removal to tree planting.

Next month, on Saturday, Aug. 26, the Neighborhood Beautification team heads to the Sunset and Parkside neighborhoods. We’ll kick off the workday at 9 a.m., at Sunset Elementary School, Ortega Street and 41st Avenue. Register for the August event.

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Thanks for reading!

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