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A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works

In the Works

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May 2023

The 1000 block of Lombard Street, known as the Crooked Street, draws its fame not just from the eight hairpin turns that curve down the roadway, but also the resplendent landscaping that bursts to life with colorful hydrangea, roses and poppies. It takes water to keep the block-long garden alive and the installation by Public Works crews of a new drip irrigation system is expected to drop water usage by 42,000 gallons a month and keep the plants thriving. 


Straight Talk: Crooked Street Gardens Now Water-Wise and Ready to Thrive

The meticulously maintained gardens straddling San Francisco's famed Crooked Street on Russian Hill received a long-awaited refresh with a twist this spring.


Stepping It Up – Stairway to Upper Terrace

For decades, an unassuming concrete stairway – cut into a steep hillside at the foot of Mount Olympus – has provided a vital connection for the neighborhood, linking 17th Street and its public transit options to Upper Terrace.  


Chinatown Alley Paves the Way

As you explore the streets in Chinatown, make sure to stop by Wentworth Place to appreciate the incredible craftsmanship demonstrated by skilled artisans from Public Works who recently completed upgrades to this charming street.


Honoring Our EMS Crews
Through Public Art

Station No. 49 came online two years ago, providing a new, state-of-the-art headquarters for the City’s ambulance crews. This month marked the final piece of the project with a ceremony for the installation of the facility’s public art centerpiece.


The Rebirth of a Park

The Merced Heights community – both human and canine – came out this month to celebrate the latest transformation of a neighborhood park into a more welcoming spot. 


On Your Mark, Get Set, Clean!

At this year's Bay to Breakers race, following behind was a well-choreographed contingent of Public Works street cleaners — nearly 50-people strong — to clean up the mess left behind by runners and the throngs of people who came out to cheer them on.

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The Volunteers’ Mantra: #LoveOurCity

A bounty of goodwill and community spirit played a starring role in this month’s Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day volunteer workday in the Haight and Western Addition.


Public Works Week 2023

We celebrated Public Works Week 2023 from May 21-26, recognizing the department’s outstanding projects, services and employees. 

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Lombard Irrigation

Straight Talk:
Crooked Street
Gardens Now
and Ready
to Thrive

The meticulously maintained gardens straddling San Francisco's famed Crooked Street on Russian Hill received a long-awaited refresh with a twist this spring: Public Works landscaping crews painstakingly installed a serpentine grid of polyethylene tubing, with drip emitters, right before the eyes of tourists and locals visiting the steep, curvy 1000 block of Lombard Street.


Our gardeners install new irrigation tubing in a grid pattern.

Preparations for the drip irrigation installation project began in January with crews from the Bureau of Urban Forestry excavating broken, old and rusted pipes buried deep underground. Not only will the new irrigation system function better, but it will also save precious water. 


A Public Works gardener works on the drip irrigation system amid a breathtaking backdrop. 

The thirsty gardens will slowly sip 8,000 gallons of water a month, down from a gulping 50,000 gallons. That’s a savings of more than 500,000 gallons a year — no drop in the bucket considering California is emerging from a devastating decade-long drought.

Set on a timer, the new system enables gardeners to fine-tune watering needs, based on rainfall, heat and sunlight. It replaces an antiquated and malfunctioning irrigation apparatus that wasted water, stressed the plants and vexed neighbors who pool private funds to maintain the spectacular gardens for the enjoyment of all.


Crews dig out the old watering system along the curvy street’s gardens.

Lush greenery, including showy pink and lavender hydrangeas, hardy boxwoods, fragrant roses, vigorous and bushy Matilija poppies and sturdy Sycamore trees, will benefit from the irrigation upgrades – not to mention residents and visitors from around the world who traverse the winding brick road and steep stairways flanking the street’s resplendent flower beds. The plants will be happier because their leaves won't be splashed with water. The hydrangeas, for instance, which have suffered from drought stress, require deep-root watering — which the new system will provide — to truly thrive.


The Crooked Street gardens burst with color during the spring months.

Brian Lease, the Bureau of Urban Forestry gardener who led the project, said he’s proud of his team’s work. “This is better for the plants and drought consciousness,” he said, while kneeling at the edge of one of the flower beds, hacking away at landscape fabric with an industrial garden pick to reach and cap off old spray heads. 


Brian Lease readies to bury the new irrigation system mechanisms underground.

On the stairs to his left and right, tourists snapped selfies against a backdrop of sweeping views of Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill with the clang-clang of a cable car bell providing an only-in-San Francisco soundtrack in the background.

Crews will use a moisture meter to adjust the volume and frequency of watering as needed. Lease consulted on the project with Tom Bressan, a trailblazer in drip irrigation systems and co-founder of The Urban Farmer Store in San Francisco.

“Deep watering over the whole area will go straight to the roots,” Lease said. “We’ll get better, more even coverage. The plants will look better. They’ll be healthier and more resistant to dry spells.”

In March, Public Works gardeners began assembling the sections of hose at the department’s Operations Yard in the Bayview. They then transported the materials across town to Russian Hill. Day by day, over five weeks, they toiled on hands and knees on the hillside, taking breaks to appreciate the sensational views.


The Bureau of Urban Forestry landscape team preps the irrigation tubing at our Operations Yard.

“One of the principles at the Bureau of Urban Forestry is we want to have landscapes that are sustainable,” interim Public Works Director Carla Short said at the official unveiling of the new irrigation system on May 16. “We want to make sure we are using water as efficiently and as carefully as possible. … Our landscaping team takes great pride in the design and installation of this improvement project to keep the 10,000 square feet of landscaping on Lombard healthy and looking good.”


Interim Public Works Director Carla Short speaks at the irrigation system unveiling ceremony.

Public Works paid for the project, with additional financial support from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which runs the City’s water system.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who represents Russian Hill and attended the May 16 celebration, lauded the improvements.


“I’m delighted that the community, San Francisco Public Works and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission could come together to give a fresh makeover to one of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks,” Peskin said. “This irrigation and water conservation improvement project will ensure the vibrant gardens that line the sides of the crooked street will bloom and thrive just in time to welcome the visitors from all over the world this summer.”


The construction of Lombard Street, with its hairpin turns, dates to the 1920s. Up to 17,000 visitors a day come to the landmark location with its panoramic views of the Bay Bridge, East Bay hills, Treasure Island and the expansive blue Bay below. The air is invigorating, the sense of place unmistakable, the magic that is San Francisco palpable.

“This is still the city that knows how,” Peskin said.

Flower beds: 14


Length of drip irrigation tubing: 1 mile


Valve access points: 28


Depth of mulch recommended to control weeds: 2.5 inches

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Gallons of water the new irrigation system will save per year: 500,000


Square feet of landscaping in the curvy
section of Lombard Street: 10,000

Percent of natural grade: 27

Year the iconic street redesign
was completed: 1922

Hairpin turns between Leavenworth
and Hyde streets: 8


Annual visitors: 2,000,000


Year it became a one-way street: 1939


Speed limit, mph: 5 


Year California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have charged a fee for non-residents to use the road: 2019

SFPUC General Manager Dennis Herrera noted that the drip irrigation system is befitting of a quintessential San Francisco location, which is featured in film and pop culture, on coffee mug coasters and kitsch galore. San Franciscans, he said, are notorious for their water conservation, consuming an average of 42 gallons of water per day, one of the lowest rates in California and half the state average. The drip irrigation system also will be less prone to breaks and leaks.

“I cannot imagine a better place to be emblematic of San Francisco’s commitment to water conservation than to do it here in this iconic venue,” Herrera said. “San Franciscans are environmentally conscious and want to be good environmental stewards. The completion of this project means precious drinking water is not going to be wasted down the street.”

The Public Works team took on the project with pride, skill and resolve. Passersby in late March and early April witnessed the intricate irrigation installation process as gardeners fastened twisting rubber hoses up and down the curving flower beds.


The new tubing, stretching a mile long when put end to end, brings water directly to the plants.

Bureau of Urban Forestry landscape manager Nikki Mixon, who has worked for Public Works for 22 years, said she was amazed by her team’s execution. Not only will the mulch minimize the weeds, but it also will save water and protect the hoses from wildlife. Staff also gets to incorporate sustainable methods in the landscape, she said. 

“When we implement practices like this, it’s a win-win,” Mixon said. 


Project gardener Daleon Lang was part of the crew who came out in January to begin removing the vestiges of the old sprinkler system before work could begin to install the new one. He and his co-workers unearthed rusted irrigation heads, caps and pipes. “It involved digging a lot of deep holes,” he said. “The top part is the finishing touch. The underground work is where it’s at. It’s definitely a workout.”

Jennifer Board, hired by neighbors to care for the gardens, said she was heartened to see the project completed after advocating for it for many years. “My heart is melting today,” said Board, who has worked the part-time job for the past 11 years. “It’s a huge treasure for me to care for this space and I want to say thank you to the whole crew who worked hard on this.”

Daleon Lang, a public service aide with the Bureau of Urban Forestry, talks about what the project means to him – and the City.


Crooked Street gardener Jennifer Board (kneeling, front) with Public Works staff who worked on the project.

The new irrigation system will go a long way toward sustaining the gardens she’s meticulously manicured, nourished and replanted through years of drought and recent atmospheric rivers, which Board saw as Mother Nature’s reward for not bailing on the flora and fauna that populate her patch of paradise. 

“We’ve seen a pretty serious decline in our water supply,” she said. “The past seven of 12 years have been well below average. The plants here – hydrangea – are water-loving plants … so we’re going to need sufficient water for the long-term.”

Board, who studied ornamental horticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and floral design in New York City, received the Golden Gate Award from San Francisco Beautiful in 2017 for her work as the Crooked Street gardener. She said growing up her parents would take her to green open spaces, including the Lombard Street gardens, because it didn’t cost any money. 

“It’s a long time coming,” Board said. “The passion in what I do comes from continuing to maintain a free public beautiful space in San Francisco, for the people visiting, the tourists coming from all around the world, the locals walking through every day and the residents who’ve invested in it for 60-plus years."

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Monument Steps

The revamped stairway features new handrails and recessed lighting.

Stepping It Up – Stairway To Upper Terrace 

For decades, an unassuming concrete stairway – cut into a steep hillside at the foot of Mount Olympus – has provided a vital connection for the neighborhood, linking 17th Street and its public transit options to Upper Terrace.  

But more than 80 years of wear and tear had left its mark. Cracks zig-zagged through the concrete like lightning bolts. Weeds lined the walls, stretching toward sunlight. The walkway tilted along some portions, as if pulled by an invisible force.  

“It was really on its last leg,” said Anastastia Minka Haddad, project manager and acting resident engineer for the Public Works structural engineering team.

Her team took on the challenging task of rebuilding the majority of the 185-foot stairway, known as the Monument Way Stairs, that serves as an important pedestrian connector in the Mount Olympus neighborhood. 

It also was an unusual undertaking for the group. 

The structural engineering team has not done many stairway construction projects of this magnitude, Minka Haddad said. The group mainly does maintenance repair and smaller projects, but not full reconstructions. On this, Public Works led the design and oversaw construction.  

The terrain proved particularly challenging. On one side, crews for the contractor, R&S Construction, Inc., were pressed up against private properties – needing to be careful not to undermine their foundation – and on the other side they faced a precipitous cliff. 


Crews use a small excavator to regrade the soil and prepare the site for the rebar.

That left little room to maneuver.  

“We don’t have a lot of space here … and it’s very steep,” Minka Haddad said on a fall morning as crews laid down rebar and continued framing it for the next concrete pour. “When the whole thing is just covered in rebar, you’re literally having to tiptoe around it. It’s just really uneven.” 

The demolition of the old stairs – among the first tasks in the rebuild – had to be done piece by piece, using small hand-held power tools. The debris had to be dragged to the top to be hauled off by a dump truck. 

“It was very labor intensive,” said Minka Haddad. “I think they all lost like 10 pounds.” 

After a portion of the old stairs was removed, crews began grading, removing soil and digging trenches. Then they laid the rebar to help anchor the new stairs. 


The new and improved stairway has a lot more rebar than its predecessor. The site's steep terrain proved challenging. 

Plywood was then put up to allow for concrete to be poured over the rebar. The revamped stairway also included a new handrail and recessed lighting – features the community were particularly interested in. 

Visibility has been an issue particularly in the winter months when it gets dark early, said Dan Slaughter, president of the Mount Olympus Neighborhood Association, or MONA. Streetlights at the bottom and top of the stairs don’t reach far enough and even when there is a moon, it’s often cut off by tall trees.  


“It's fantastic, it's amazing,” Slaughter said referring to the new lighting. “Makes for ... just a nicer walk.” 


Even beyond access to public transit for neighbors living along Upper Terrace, the stairway allows residents to walk to commercial districts in Cole Valley and the Castro. The stairs are also part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, a hiking trail that spans the Bay Area, Slaughter said, and the new handrail is a welcome sight for residents who welcome a little extra support. 


A view from the stairway toward 17th Street.

The project, which broke ground in August, wrapped up in March.

To Slaughter, the best part was how carefully managed the project was. 

“It just seemed to be managed so efficiently, done so well, without much disruption at all,” he said. “And planned out so that it all worked properly.” 

Slaughter and his fellow neighbors – about two dozen of them – gathered on a gusty May afternoon to celebrate the new and improved stairs with a brief ceremony at the top of the structure, followed by Prosecco and snacks under a neighbor’s carport.  


Residents and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman gather at the top of the stairs for a brief ceremony

on Saturday, May 20, 2023.

Fog rolling in, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman commended Public Works for its hard work, presenting a certificate signed by his fellow supervisors. 

“It’s been an amazing labor of love by Public Works,” he said.

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Wentworth Alley

The newly installed cobblestones on Wentworth Place create a safe and welcoming pathway through Chinatown.

Chinatown Alley Paves the Way

As you explore the story-filled streets in Chinatown, make sure to stop by Wentworth Place, between Washington and Jackson streets, to appreciate the incredible craftsmanship demonstrated by skilled artisans from Public Works who recently completed upgrades to this charming street. They replaced the old and damaged cobblestone pavers with new ones, showcasing exacting attention to detail and dedication to preserving authenticity.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is renowned for its rich culture, unique history and culinary delights. In this historic community, alleyways provide important corridors for the people who live and shop in the densely packed neighborhood.
Wentworth Place, once known as "Salty Fish Alley," is part of the Chinatown Alleyway Master Plan, authored by the nonprofit organization, Chinatown Community Development Center, and adopted by the City in 1999. Public Works commissioned the plan to beautify 31 of the 41 alleyways in the neighborhood. Currently, 15 of the 31 alleyways have been transformed with fresh paving, lighting, new trees and artwork.


Prior to the makeover, many cobblestones on Wentworth Place were broken and uneven.

The Chinatown Alleyway Master Plan preserves Chinatown's character and history and is used as a blueprint to enhance pedestrian safety, create open space and celebrate cultural identity.
Public Works spearheaded the Wentworth Place renovation project in 2008. Informed then by input from the community, our landscape architecture team designed the project to evoke a nostalgic ambiance with the cobblestones as the centerpiece. However, over the years, the wear and tear from heavy use began to destabilize the pavers and Chinatown residents and activists pressed Public Works for upgrades. We delivered, installing new pavers to give a fresh and vibrant look to this active alleyway in the heart of Chinatown.

















The project required close collaboration among various teams within Public Works, including project management, landscape architecture, street resurfacing and the cement shop.

Rosa Chen of the Chinatown Community Development Center extols the Wentworth Place improvements.

Public Works cement masons install each cobblestone by hand in the Chinatown alley.

Our cement masons showcased their expertise throughout the project. They carefully laid and graded the bedding sand, ensuring a solid foundation, and expertly carved and installed the new pavers. Following the final compaction, placement of joint sand and thorough cleanup, the newly revitalized cobblestone street is built to be resilient while preserving the alley’s original charm. Chinatown community members who kept a close watch on progress from start to finish like what they see – and what they feel under their feet – a newly paved street that is safe, looks good and remains free of loose cobblestones that made walking on them a bit tricky.

A big thanks to the many Public Works employees who worked on the project: project management, Edmund Lee; street resurfacing program, Nilofar Dhapa; landscape architecture, Jasmine Kaw and Claudia Rodriguez; cement shop, Marianna Williams, Ricardo Sainz, Sam Hong, Wei Bo Wo, Ernest Munoz, Scotty Washington, Gabriel Arteaga, Angel Gonzales, Marcos Vera, Art Bud and Diego Chavez; and public affairs, Alex Murillo and Shih-Wei Lu.
Take a stroll down the newly improved Wentworth Place and you’ll sense Public Works pride and Chinatown community spirit.

Hold on tight for a fast-paced trek down Wentworth Place.  

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FS 49 Gate Art

The decorative fencing and gates at Station No. 49, created by artist Michael Bartalos, pay homage to the EMS profession.

Honoring Our EMS Crews Through Public Art

The San Francisco Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services Station No. 49 came online two years ago, providing a new, state-of-the-art headquarters for the City’s ambulance crews. This month marked the final piece of the capital improvement project with a ceremony celebrating the installation of the facility’s public art centerpiece titled, “Serving the City.”

The artwork, by San Francisco-based multimedia artist Michael Bartalos, is comprised of layered cut stainless and painted steel panels. They’re installed on the facility’s street-facing fencing and entry and exit gates along Jerrold and McKinnon avenues in the Bayview neighborhood.

The piece depicts emblems, insignia and badges of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) profession, as well as San Francisco icons.


The panels highlight San Francisco landmarks and the work of the City’s ambulance crews.

“What I love most about this piece is the story it tells, reminding us of the dedication our emergency service providers bring every day in service to others,” said Mayor London Breed.

The San Francisco Arts Commission managed the artist selection and installation process. 

Funding for this public art project was made possible through the City’s Art Enrichment Ordinance, which allocates 2% of eligible construction costs from capital improvement projects for the commissioning of new public art.

San Francisco Public Works managed the $50.1 million Station No. 49 rebuild and hired MEI/MarJang Joint-Venture Architects for the design of the building. S.J. Amoroso Construction served as the general contractor. Construction on the facility began in October 2018 and was completed on May 7, 2021.


Station No. 49, a project managed by Public Works, serves as the City’s ambulance deployment facility.

The Station No. 49 replacement project was funded by the voter-backed 2016 Public Health and Safety Bond. The facility serves as EMS headquarters and ambulance deployment center.
Public Works staff joined our colleagues at the Fire Department and the Arts Commission, in addition to elected leaders and Bartalos, at the May 24 art installation celebration.

“At the end of the day,” said Bartalos, “if this work brings joy or even a brief moment of comfort to the hard-working EMS personnel that work here at Station 49, then my work is done.”


The new fencing and gates double as the public art component of the capital project.

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Merced Heights

Neighborhood pooches enjoy the new dog run at Merced Heights Playground.

Dogs, Butterflies, Birds
and Humans Rejoice!
The Rebirth of a Park

The Merced Heights community – both human and canine – came out this month to celebrate the latest transformation of a neighborhood park into a more welcoming spot with a new picnic area, terraced lawn, plaza for public gatherings, outdoor exercise equipment, a lively dog play area and freshly planted habitat for birds and butterflies.

“We’ve created an all-age, multi-use park space,” said Public Works Landscape Architect Bill Bulkley, who worked on the project. 

Public Works led the design for the reimagined Merced Heights Playground’s lower lawn terrace and provided construction management and engineering services to deliver the project on behalf of the Recreation and Park Department. The park is bordered by Byxbee, Shields and Monticello streets.


A colorful tile mosaic at the new plaza pays tribute to individual community members

who championed the park renovation.

The $1.67 million renovation transformed a once underutilized grassy field on the lower portion at Merced Heights Playground into a feel-good, functional recreation space that encompasses some 17,000 square feet. 

The makeover follows the renovation of the rest of the park and playground. Those upgrades were completed in 2021. A California State Parks Local Assistance Grant provided the bulk of funding, with help from the City’s General Fund and local bond revenue.


The newly renovated lower lawn terrace boasts landscaping to control erosion, attract butterflies and birds and provide a pleasant urban respite for park visitors.

The most recent work had its challenges, Bulkley said. The design needed to account for a steep slope and ensure erosion control. Native plants were added to stabilize the hillside and a pollinator garden was included to attract birds and butterflies. Joining him on the project’s landscape team were Ed Chin, Andrea Alfonso, Andrew Saephan and Tony Esterbrooks.

The improvements feature a natural lawn area, fenced-in synthetic turf dog run and exercise equipment for adults to augment the children’s play structures nearby. Accessibility upgrades now make the space easier to navigate for all visitors.

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B2B Cleanup
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With the big trash items cleared, a contingent of Public Works block sweepers end their Bay to Breakers cleanup duties by removing green waste.

On Your Mark,
Get Set, Clean!

Nearly 20,000 people took part in this year’s Bay to Breakers race – some sprinted to the finish line with the goal of winning while the vast majority treated it like a moving party through the streets of San Francisco.

And following behind was a well-choreographed contingent of Public Works street cleaners — nearly 50-people strong — to clean up the mess left behind by runners and the throngs of people who came out to cheer them on.

The May 21 race, which started at Main and Howard streets near The Embarcadero, ended at Ocean Beach, navigating runners up the Hayes Street Hill and through Golden Gate Park. As soon as the runners passed, our crews got to work, picking up water bottles, lawn chairs, discarded sweatshirts, pom-poms, energy bar wrappers, pizza boxes and hand-painted signs espousing words of encouragement. 

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Public Works crews picked up more than 12 tons of debris from the race route.

When we finished cleaning a block, that stretch of road was reopened to traffic.
In all, we hauled off 25,020 pounds, or more than 12 tons, of trash from the 12-kilometer race route. Crews used brooms, rakes, blowers and mechanical sweepers to get the job done, wrapping up at 2:45 p.m., just shy of seven hours after the first racer took off.

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Before the streets reopen, a fleet of Public Works mechanical sweeper and flusher trucks clean each block.

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Love Our City

Mayor London Breed delivers her State of the City address at Pier 70.

 Volunteers spruce up the planter boxes at John Muir Elementary School. 

The Volunteers’
Mantra: #LoveOurCity

A bounty of goodwill and community spirit played a starring role in this month’s Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day volunteer workday in the Haight and Western Addition.

Working alongside our urban forestry and street cleaning crews on May 13, volunteers – including an enthusiastic group of grade school, middle school and high school students – planted trees along Fulton and Waller streets and added new plants to the Divisadero Street median. In addition, folks spruced up the John Muir Elementary School campus, putting a fresh coat of paint on the schoolyard benches and flowerboxes and weeding and mulching the garden beds.


A volunteer works his magic giving the schoolyard bench a fresh coat of paint.

The monthly events bring together City workers and community volunteers to care for our neighborhoods and advance civic pride. We continuously rotate Neighborhood Beautification Days through San Francisco’s different supervisorial districts.

Our crews and volunteers plant new trees in the Western Addition.

On Saturday, June 10, we’re heading to the Bayview, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch and other District 10 neighborhoods. The day gets started at 8:30 a.m. Meet at 1106 Wisconsin St. at Starr King Elementary School. The work can be hard, but it’s also fun and rewarding.

Sign up for the June 10 event.


We hope you can join us.

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PWW 2023

Mayor London Breed joined us at our annual Public Works Week employee recognition awards and years-of-service pin ceremony.

Public Works week 2023

We celebrated Public Works Week 2023 from May 21-26, recognizing the department’s outstanding projects, services and employees. We also conducted project tours and hosted an open house at our Operations Yard for students to gain a better understanding of the work we do to clean, green and maintain our city.

Public Works Week, held annually in cities across the United States and Canada, showcases the importance of public works departments caring for and improving our communities – from paving roads, cleaning streets and pruning trees to designing civic buildings, shoring up hillsides and inspecting the public right of way.

San Francisco Public Works is a 24/7 operation and we take great pride in serving the people of San Francisco. Public Works Week provides us a great opportunity to reflect on our work and show appreciation for the 1,400-plus employees who get the job done.



Southeast Community Center Team


Bureau of Street-use and Mapping
Illegal Vending Inspection Team 
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Guillermo Perez Jr.

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