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A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works

In the Works

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November 2023

Nestled between freeway ramps in the South of Market neighborhood, San Francisco’s new street tree nursery took root this month, creating a transformative hub to promote the benefits of urban forestry, climate protection, environmental justice and green jobs.

FEATURE STORIES

New Street Tree Nursery Creates an Urban Oasis

The idea for a public tree nursery in the heart of San Francisco emerged eight years ago as a recommendation in a government planning document. Turning that concept into reality, however, wasn’t easy.

APEC Summit – A High-Stakes Event with Lasting Benefits

This month, San Francisco hosted the APEC summit – a week-long event that brought to town President Biden and nearly two dozen other world leaders and large contingents of notables from across the globe.

Mayor Breed Taps Carla Short
to Serve as Public Works Director

Mayor London Breed announced the appointment of Carla Short as the new permanent director of San Francisco Public Works.

New Tack to Boost Safety Along Mission Street Corridor

The Public Works street inspections team began enforcement of a temporary moratorium on street vending along Mission Street, between 14th and Cesar Chavez streets, this month.

Rainy Day Lesson: Get Involved,
Make a Difference

For the second November in a row, Lick-Wilmerding High School partnered with San Francisco Public Works to practice stewardship of public spaces and host several greening and cleaning projects.

Neighborhood Beautification Day 2023: That’s a Wrap

We held our final Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day of the 2023 season to green and clean Cow Hollow and other District 2 neighborhoods in the northern stretch of San Francisco.

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Tree Nursery
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Urban Forestry Inspector Sara Stacy, center, enjoys the tree nursery’s opening celebration with her Public Works team and community members.

New Street Tree Nursery Creates
an Urban Oasis

Construction on San Francisco’s new street tree nursery began this past June with a muscular shovel scoop of soil to break ground on a barren South of Market lot and culminated this month with a joyous celebration marking the opening of the transformative project.

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State officials hold a press conference at the future tree nursery site in February 2022 to announce new Clean California grant-funded projects.

Construction of the transformative project moved quickly. But the idea for a public tree nursery in the heart of San Francisco emerged eight years ago as a recommendation in a government planning document. Turning that concept into reality, however, wasn’t easy.


When the Bureau of Urban Forestry's Jon Swae first started bringing early funders of the project to the proposed site, his vision of turning the patch of dirt and weeds next to roaring freeways ramps into a vibrant home for young trees and saplings was met with puzzled looks and skepticism. 

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Jon Swae, the Bureau of Urban Forestry grants manager, helped shepherd the project.

“You could see they were uncomfortable; in their faces, they had these uncertain looks,” said Swae, the Bureau of Urban Forestry grants manager who shepherded the project. “To which I replied, ‘Can you see it?’ They’d be like, ‘Maybe?’”


Despite the early reticence, the $6.5 million street tree nursery – the first of its kind in San Francisco – took root.

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Freeway ramps and the San Francisco skyline frame the street tree nursery.

Located on Fifth Street, between Harrison and Bryant streets, and flanked by highway ramps near the western foot of the Bay Bridge, the budding street tree nursery provides space to grow up to 1,000 young trees at any given time. Once they grow big enough, they’ll be planted throughout the City’s neighborhoods – especially those lacking shade and plagued by polluted air.


The nursery is envisioned to deliver a locally based system of tree propagation and care, volunteer and educational programming and workforce development opportunities in the fields of urban forestry, environmental justice and climate protection. It will complement the Public Works StreetTreeSF program, which is responsible for the care of the City’s 125,000 street trees.

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Public Works crews install native plants at the nursery.

“No one could’ve loved this land like Public Works,” said Swae who co-wrote the City’s Urban Forest Plan, which first proposed the nursery concept in 2015.

 

“It was such a challenging project and site. No other city or state department has quite the range of skills, talent and dedication required to transform this long-forgotten piece of San Francisco into a shining example of how community can come together to show that it’s possible to fight for the rebirth of San Francisco.”


The transformative effects of the 14,000-square-foot nursery are already noticeable. Where pigeons and rats used to rule the roost, pollinators – including hummingbirds, butterflies and California carpenter bees – are beginning to show up to stake their claim. 


A key benefit of the nursery is that tree species can be cultivated there that will fare better in San Francisco’s diverse microclimates. They include the California Buckeye, the Western Sycamore, the Coast Live Oak, the Ginko Tree, the Catalina Ironwood and the Strawberry Tree.

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Clockwise from top right: California Buckeye, Ginko and Coast Live Oak are among the tree species that will be grown at the nursery.

The nursery’s slogan, “Justice, Jobs, Climate, Trees,” was carefully honed after considering not only San Francisco’s small tree canopy – 13.7% versus the national average of 27% – but also the need in underserved communities for meaningful work in local ecological restoration. Community members will be welcomed to the space to learn about urban forestry, environmental justice and climate protection.


Three former shipping containers – redesigned by UrbanBloc, a San Leandro-based firm that creates modular buildings from repurposed shipping containers – offer classroom space, an office and a breakroom for tree nursery volunteers and workforce development crews. Their job: Tend to saplings and young trees at the nursery until they are big enough to be planted in San Francisco’s low-canopy neighborhoods. 

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Native plants add life and beauty to the nursery grounds.

The street tree nursery will benefit people and ecosystems in San Francisco neighborhoods with the lowest tree canopy, communities that often bear the brunt of pollution from nearby industry or traffic-choked freeways and have less open space and greenery than others. 
 

“Scientific studies continue to show a strong correlation between greenery and race and greenery and socioeconomic status,” Jonathan Cordero, founder and executive director of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone, told the crowd of elected officials, Public Works staff, community members and supporters during the nursery’s Nov. 9 ribbon cutting. 
 

“We know that being with nature has a positive impact on one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health,” he said. “The street tree nursery makes a significant contribution to addressing these kinds of ecological injustices present in the City of San Francisco.”
 

The nursery project carries forward the ecological and social justice work of the Ramaytush Ohlone, the original peoples of the San Francisco Peninsula, said Cordero, as he stood in front of a small forest of more than 100 young trees growing in 15-gallon pots. 

“As native peoples, our primary responsibilities are to care for the natural world, and to care for the people who reside in our ancestral homeland, especially marginalized communities,” he said. “Any project at the intersection of ecology and equity counts as a high priority for us, and so it was easy to offer our unwavering support for this project.”
 

Working with its nonprofit grant partner, Friends of the Urban Forest, the Public Works street tree nursery will house the “New Roots” workforce development program, which will draw participants from the Bayview-Hunters Point, South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods for training in arboriculture jobs. 


The nursery “marries art, equity and ecology” into a project that is of service to all of San Francisco, said Swae. He’s particularly proud of the aesthetic elements, including murals and two porch swings, the communal gathering areas and the sweeping pergola over the shipping containers. Additionally, the site is completely powered by solar, so there will be no use of greenhouse gases to fuel operations. 

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 Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor London Breed lead the ribbon-cutting ritual.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, guests admired lush plants – methodically placed by Bureau of Urban Forestry landscape and cement crews – and the new solar-paneled office and classroom structures. Nearby, once drab gray freeway pillars had been emblazoned with bright green and yellow original artwork.


“This property has been pretty much not used,” Mayor London Breed said of the transformed Caltrans lot, as she took in the view of smiling faces gathered at the opening ceremony. “And now it’s going to be made into something exciting, something sustainable and something open and available for the community.”

 

The project received $3.8 million from the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans) by way of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Clean California initiative. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection contributed $1.2 million and the City supported the effort with $1 million.

Public Works Director Carla Short, an arborist by training, said the street tree nursery will serve as an important hub “for elevating environmental and economic justice” through stewardship of San Francisco’s urban forest.

 

Getting the project ready in time was no easy feat.

Timelapse video captures construction of the street tree nursery.

It was a scramble to deliver the project by November, after breaking ground in June, said Ruby Yu, the Public Works construction manager for the project. Caltrans was an indispensable partner throughout, she added.

The nursery will be overseen by Public Works’ Bureau of Urban Forestry, with an on-site nursery specialist and volunteer and outreach coordinator. In the coming weeks, urban forestry landscape crews will be installing irrigation for platforms on which the young trees will grow. The Public Works carpentry and paint shop teams are building tables and seating for the nursery classroom, crafting the furniture from a felled 24th Street ficus tree.

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Public Works carpenters create furniture for the nursery from a felled street tree.

Ramaytush Ohlone culture director Gregg Castro capped the ribbon-cutting ceremony with a blessing song.


"I went around and did a circle around the trees to let them know I’m here, and that we’re back, and we are going to take care of them,” Castro told the small group gathered for the blessing, while beating a rattle in the palm of his hand. “We are going to do that with the help of all of you. There’s only a few of us. We got pushed out a long time ago, but our sacred responsibility to take care of the land is still with us. And we are going to do that through you.”

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Street Tree Nursery Facts

Nursery Concept:


2015, San Francisco Urban Forest Plan, San Francisco Planning Department (see pages 20-21)

 

Number of Trees on Site: up to 1,000

Construction Groundbreaking: June 2023

Parcel Size: 14,000 square feet (0.3 acres)

Nursery Funding: $6.5 million (Caltrans, City of San Francisco, Cal Fire)

Construction Completion: Fall 2023

Environmental Enhancements

  • Reduce transportation and pollution burden associated with distant tree delivery

  • Eliminate transplant shock to imported trees grown in other climates

  • Increase species availability and provide local, green jobs and learning opportunities

  • Grow tree species native to San Francisco, including California Buckeye and Coast Live Oak, with acorns and seeds harvested locally from Yerba Buena Island and San Bruno Mountain

  • Provide space for hundreds of saplings and young trees – including native species and other tree groups known to thrive in San Francisco’s microclimates and heat islands

 

Community Benefits

  • The San Francisco Street Tree Nursery will bring much-needed green space and beautification to the South of Market neighborhood, which lacks trees and open space and is burdened by the freeway’s air pollution and other environmental justice impacts

  • The nursery’s “New Roots” workforce development program, operated by Public Works’ nonprofit grant partner Friends of the Urban Forest, will provide job training and support career pathways in urban forestry for those facing barriers to employment

  • Enhance tree stewardship throughout San Francisco’s culturally and economically diverse neighborhoods, with a special focus on engaging residents in underserved, low-canopy neighborhoods, to establish a connection between community health and growing the urban forest

 

For more information, visit sfpublicworks.org/trees

APEC

A splash of delight adorns this Chinatown crosswalk at Stockton and Washington streets.

APEC Summit – A High-Stakes Event with Lasting Benefits