This year’s tree-planting blitz in the South of Market brought out volunteers of all ages.
We celebrated Arbor Day 2023 this month with lots of hard work, a burst of community pride, a bundle of fun and a strong commitment to greening our urban environment.
Volunteers gathered at Bessie Carmichael Elementary School for the Arbor Day tree planting event and fair.
Nearly 200 volunteers joined the Public Works Bureau of Urban Forestry team on March 11 to plant 112 new street trees in the City’s South of Market neighborhood. Among the tree species that took root: Raywood ash, London plane and Olea Majestic Beauty.
Mayor London Breed helped rev up the crowd with a spirited address at the start of the workday.
Mayor London Breed gets into the spirit of Arbor Day.
“You all are here to really do what is an amazing service for the City and County of San Francisco. Today we are hoping to plant over 100 trees! You get a tree, you get a tree, everybody gets a tree,” she said, playfully pointing at individual volunteers.
Carrie Dhao showed up with her friend, Siyuan Yuan, and helped plant four trees on Cleveland Street, outside of Bessie Carmichael Elementary School. Dhao said it was her first time planting a tree.
Volunteers talk about the importance of planting trees and giving back to the community.
“I learned there are so many steps,” she said. “I thought it was just dig a hole and put a tree inside the hole ... but it’s way more than that. You have the stakes and the straps, and because it’s on the sidewalk, you have to pay attention to the orientation of the tree. I’m looking forward to doing it again. It’s a very meaningful thing to do.”
She’s right. These new trees, once they grow big and strong, will absorb stormwater runoff, reduce air pollution and provide wildlife habitat and cooling shade in the neighborhood. Plus, they bring a much-welcomed splash of living beauty to the neighborhood, which has one of the lowest percentages of tree canopy coverage in the City.
Mayor London Breed, state Sen. Scott Wiener and District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey prepare the soil for a new tree.
Among the locations for the new Arbor Day trees: Fifth Street, between Clementina and Bryant streets; Folsom and Harrison streets, between Fifth and 13th streets; Howard Street, between 11th and 13th streets; and South Van Ness Avenue near 12th Street.
The simple recipe for planting a tree: Dig a hole, add a tree, put more dirt around the base and surround it with love.
This year marks the 151st anniversary of Arbor Day, an annual event observed internationally to pay tribute to the beauty and environmental benefits of trees. As caretaker of San Francisco’s 125,000 street trees under the voter-approved StreetTreeSF program, Public Works is committed to growing the City’s urban forest and ensuring it thrives.
Bessie Carmichael Elementary School serves as homebase for the Arbor Day festivities.
In addition to planting trees with volunteers, we also hosted our Arbor Day Fair, a family-fun event organized by our Community Engagement and Bureau of Urban Forestry teams and held on the grounds of the Bessie Carmichael school.
There, our carpenters set up shop where (mostly) kids, wielding hammers and nails, could turn a piece of pre-cut wood into nifty Public Works-branded planter boxes. Once built, the folks could hit the next station, staffed by our landscape crews, and plant succulents and fragrant mint, rosemary and thyme plants.
One of the most popular activities: building planter boxes and filling them with fresh herbs.
Our partner City agency, SF Environment, also was on hand, offering a composting demonstration that included a large plastic bin full of wiggling earthworms. Folks who stopped by to take a look were invited to write a wish for the planet on a piece of biodegradable paper and toss it in the bin for the worms to eat.
Wiggly worms make great composters.
The San Francisco Beekeepers Association offered tasty samples of their golden honey, harvested from hives in neighborhoods, including the Richmond, Presidio, Cole Valley, Golden Gate Park, the Sunset, Lake Merced and Bernal Heights. The beekeepers also educated passersby about the importance of the buzzing pollinators who help green the City.
The honey tasting buzzes with interest.
There was face-painting, crafts-making and hip-shaking music. Another highlight of the day was the sky-high bucket truck rides provided by our arborists.
“I didn’t start my day thinking I’d be climbing into a bucket truck to see my neighborhood like I’ve never seen it before,” said South of Market resident Amy Greene, who shared a ride with her 3-year-old daughter, Jasmine. “What an amazing experience.”
This young volunteer already shows great form in prepping the ground for a new tree.
Join San Francisco Public Works for a day of greening and neighborhood pride in the Richmond, Sea Cliff and Anza Vista neighborhoods.
Volunteers will plant trees, garden, mulch, pick up litter and abate graffiti.
Public Works Landscape Architect Koa Pickering, in front of City Hall, with the prose he wrote etched in stone.
A Landscape Architect
Finds a Wellspring
Emerging from Lone Mountain springs
Hayes Creek lies hidden beneath your feet
Winter rains revealed the wellspring below
Once wide and braided more like a river
Now covered and quieted
Beneath Civic Center it still flows
Those 36 words, woven together as a poem in six stanzas, can be found engraved into the curbs of bioretention planters that the City installed as a green infrastructure component of the Van Ness Transit Improvement Project. Designed to capture and manage stormwater to reduce flooding on the street, the planters also serve to beautify the busy Civic Center neighborhood corridor near City Hall.
And, said Koa Pickering, the Public Works landscape architect who worked on this stormwater project, the poem provides an interpretive element that reflects the natural environment of what once was and what still lies beneath the paved urban fabric.
Hayes Creek long ago flowed freely above ground, “once wide and braided more like a river,” and today “lies hidden beneath your feet,” the poem reads.
Koa Pickering reads his 36-word poem.
Pickering did not come across the poem in a book. He wrote it.
The project team could have decided to install more traditional, ho-hum signage to let people know about the bioretention planters and their purpose, he said. “But we were looking for something evocative to tell the story” of the historic Hayes Creek that still runs beneath the Civic Center district and the new rain gardens that help replenish it.
After researching San Francisco’s historic watersheds, creeks and streams and overcoming a short period of writer’s block, Pickering jotted down the prose freehand in his notebook, using a pencil. He sent his piece for review by staff at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which hired the Public Works landscape team to work on the rain gardens, “and they liked it right off the bat. The prose captured the message we were looking for.”
Inset showing Hayes Creek drawn from this San Francisco creek and watershed map.
Pickering, who favors the work of such poets as Robert Hass, Jane Hirshfield, Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, has written poems in the past, but really only for himself and never saw them published. Now, his verse is etched in the planter curbs fronting the historic San Francisco City Hall.
This plan shows where the rain gardens would be built.
“I recognize that it’s quite subtle and that people may walk by and not take notice,” he said. “It’s hard to know how much curiosity it may evoke. But maybe it will get people to start to think a little more about the urban development that gets plunked down on these amazing natural landscapes and waterways in our ecosystem that literally get buried and forgotten about. Maybe this will get people thinking about them again.”
Sight and Sound
Check out some of our recent media projects below, including a Public Works TV episode about our City and County Surveyor Kate Anderson (also check out last month's feature) and podcasts about our women leaders.
Runaway barges slammed into the bridge, buckling steel and splintering the wooden sidewalk.
When the winds kick up during storms, the biggest concern at Public Works typically centers around the toppled trees that keep our arborist crews working nonstop in the blustery weather.
That scenario unfolded March 21 when the gusts exceeded 70 mph, bringing down hundreds of trees and breaking limbs. What we weren’t expecting: three privately owned construction barges breaking loose from their tethers at Pier 48 and moving through the choppy Bay waters into China Basin. There, they rammed into the Third Street Bridge, causing significant damage.
This video shows the barges hitting the historic span amid choppy waters and high tides.
We quickly dispatched our structural and stationary engineers to assess the damage to the 90-year-old drawbridge.
Public Works engineers board a rowboat to assess the bridge from the water.
The initial evaluation showed that a portion of the east-side wooden sidewalk was heavily damaged, including several steel beams below it and the guardrail above. Also damaged were the east-side concrete sidewalk, which now tilts, and fender piles on the northern end of the bridge that were shoved out of place. In addition, the historic watchman’s house was hit hard and sustained significant damage.
The barges caused significant damage to the east-side wooden sidewalk, handrail and the historic watchman’s house.
The underlying structural integrity of the bridge and deck, however, remains in good shape.
The bridge is open and people can cross – on foot, by bike or in motorized vehicles. But lifts of the drawbridge are on hold until we can test the mechanisms used to raise and lower it and examine the alignment.
In the meantime, our Bureau of Building and Street Repair crews have barricaded off the damaged sidewalk to keep people safely away.
While a more thorough analysis of the damage is underway, we have begun mapping out plans for the needed repairs and developing a cost estimate for the fixes.
Public Works carpenters barricade the sidewalk to keep passersby safely away.
The Depression-era span, also known as the Lefty O’Doul Bridge, sits just south of the Giants ballpark and crosses Mission Creek. San Francisco Public Works, the bridge’s official caretaker, wrapped up a major rehabilitation project in 2020 to extend the life of the steel-and-concrete structure. Designated City Landmark No. 194, the bridge was designed by the Strauss Engineering Co., the same firm that designed the Golden Gate Bridge. We featured the Lefty O’Doul Bridge in an episode of Public Works TV. Click here to check it out.
After Gabe Llamas fabricated replacement pieces for the sculpture in the Public Works carpentry shop, he works on site to install them.
This Wall Is Welcoming
More than a half-century ago, at the dawn of the Diamond Heights neighborhood, the then-San Francisco Redevelopment Agency commissioned a “safety wall” to be erected at the intersection of Diamond Heights Boulevard and Clipper Street near Portola Drive to keep cars from flying off the hillside and hurtling into newly built homes downslope. The structure also is intended to serve as a visually compelling gateway to the fledgling community.
Now part of the City’s civic art collection, the artistic redwood wall just underwent a much-needed refresh by a skilled team of Public Works employees. Our graffiti crews carefully cleaned the open-air structure; our painters prepped and painted the nuts, bolts and washers that hold the sculpture together; our cement masons repaired the cracked structural slab at the base and our master carpenters fabricated new sections where the old wood had split or decayed.
Carpenter Gabe Llamas led the effort, meticulously replicating the replacement pieces — which, once weathered in the salty air, will be hard to tell apart from the originals. A man of few words, his attention to detail, his command of the tools of his trade and the pride he takes in his work is evident. “Take a look,” he said, holding up a replicated portion of the Diamond Heights sculpture.
Carpenter Gabe Llamas operates the mechanical drill with precision.
Our Bureau of Engineering managed the restoration, working closely with the San Francisco Arts Commission, the official overseer of the City’s public art.
Designed by Bay Area artist and architect Stefan Novak and built in 1968, the whimsical wall is like nothing else in San Francisco.
“The Diamond Heights Safety Wall embodies a hybrid Modernist design balanced with a distinctly Bay Area, organic influence in the material choice of untreated redwood,” is how the Planning Department described the structure in a 2017 report. The document was part of City officials’ successful effort to have the structure designated as an official City landmark.
“The site-specific work of public art serves a visual landmark – a gateway into Diamond Heights – and captures the aesthetic identity of the neighborhood which is characterized by a uniquely Bay Area regional idiom of Modernist design,” the report stated.
Rising 32 feet tall at its peak and some 50 feet wide, a primary element of the sculpture is a series of 10-inch square posts of varying heights and with angled ornamental notches. A prominent vertical element with a muscular geometric pattern serves as a towering anchor. People can move through the three-dimensional artwork via openings that allow for a playful interaction of light and shadow.