A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works
In the Works
In designing the new Southeast Community Center in Bayview-Hunters Point, the team of Public Works architects and landscape architects working on the project had an overarching goal: Wanting the community coming away feeling like, “Hey, this is ours.” Mission accomplished.
The new community hub at Third Street and Evans Avenue includes two light-filled buildings and 2 acres of welcoming
open space that transforms this one-time industrial site.
At the northern edge of San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, where wastewater treatment plants, concrete suppliers, auto parts stores and moving companies dot the landscape, the newly built Southeast Community Center rises up into the Bay Area sky almost like a mirage.
Like an oasis of community-building against an industrial backdrop, the new 45,000-square-foot center, located on a sprawling
4 ½ acre campus at 1550 Evans Ave., aims to be a gathering spot for young and old and ages in between, a homebase for local nonprofits and a support system for families with its low-cost daycare, picnic areas and play spaces for children.
The Opening Day celebration of the Southeast Community Center draws a crowd of visitors that enjoys the dynamic outdoor space.
A team of Public Works architects, landscape architects, engineers and construction managers led the design, construction and greenspace creation of the new facility, built from the ground up for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and completed earlier this year.
Members of the Public Works project team that brought the Southeast Community Center to life.
Top of mind throughout the process: community.
“We wanted it to feel welcoming, so a porch became part of the design,” said Greta Jones, Lead Architectural Designer on the project, referring to a slatted canopy that shades the center’s frontside.
“We wanted it to be clear where the public would go, so it's transparent,” she continued. “We pulled apart the community room from the main building so that it could operate at different hours than the whole community center itself – it could be evening events or weekend events for the public. We pulled it apart also so that you wouldn't have to go all the way around the building if you parked at the back parking lot.
“Bit by bit, these things sort of built up, they layered up.”
The center incorporates warm building materials, such as wood and brick, to make visitors feel at home. The lobby is intended to feel both intimate and welcoming, able to accommodate groups of various sizes. A terraced outdoor event space flanks the 5,000-square-foot Alex Pitcher pavilion – the spacious community room named in honor of the longtime civil rights activist.
A key design goal was to create an interconnectivity between the indoors and outdoors.
“We really wanted the community to feel like,
‘Hey, this is ours,’” Jones said.
Generous swaths of interior walls were reserved for public art: two three-dimensional photo-collage murals that commemorate the community activists who fought for the original Southeast Community Center and a large, scrapbook-like mural featuring images and cultural symbols of the Bayview–Hunters Point neighborhood.
Phillip Hua, Building a Better Bayview, 2022. Photo Credit Ethan Kaplan Photography
And greeting patrons at the center’s entrance plaza sits an art installation, called Promissory Notes. The three bronze sculptures – measuring 18 feet, 16 feet and 14 feet – were inspired by West African currency and aim to memorialize the unsung contributions of the African-American community in the neighborhood.
Mildred Howard, Promissory Notes, 2022. Photo Credit Ethan Kaplan Photography
The three-story center includes a café on the ground floor with a grand stairway leading to an open space where visitors can hang out and socialize, work on their laptops, read a book or just people watch. Also on the ground floor: administrative offices for the center itself and a daycare center with access to the outdoors.
People poured into the new community center during the Oct. 22 Opening Day festivities.
The second floor features multipurpose rooms and support spaces. Movable walls allow for the rooms to be subdivided or turned into one big space. The third includes offices for nonprofit and community organizations.
A LEED Gold-certified, all-electric facility, the center has solar panels on the roof, uses high-performance glass to stabilize the internal temperature and features motion-sensor activated lighting inside and outside the building to save energy. Not only does the center take advantage of natural light, but the lights indoors don’t turn on if there’s sufficient daylight in the room.
The glass façade allows Southeast Community Center visitors to soak in the surrounding neighborhood.
Sunshades in the form of slats around the building help keep it cool and the parking lot includes nine electric vehicle charging stations.
A sunshade delights the eye and plays an important role in keeping the building’s interior cool when the weather heats up.
Among the project’s more unique features: Stormwater runoff from the roof is brought down through the building and runs in trench drains across the site and finally ends up as a winter wetland at the south end of the property.
“It's being filtered through planting areas; it's recharging the aquifer; it's really a very, very sustainable project from that perspective,” said Brett Desmarais, the lead Public Works landscape architect on the project.
The ground floor daycare has classrooms with doors directly to the outdoors so the teacher can oversee indoor and outdoor activity at the same time. They also all have an outdoor sink for outdoor projects.
To Fara Perez, architect of record on the project, the daycare facilities were some of the best parts to work on. “You're designing everything at a miniature scale,” she said. “I think that’s the most fun about it.”
The center features a childcare center and children’s play space.
A history steeped in community activism
Both the new community center and the original Southeast Community Facility less than a mile away that it was built to replace are rooted in community activism and civic participation.
In the late 1970s, residents in the City’s southeast fought for and won a community center, located at 1800 Oakdale Ave., as part of an agreement to mitigate the environmental and social impacts the SFPUC’s Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant had on the surrounding neighborhood.
The legacy of a half-dozen community activists – known as “The Big 6” – who led the movement for the original center is honored at the new center in the form of the three-dimensional photo-collage murals. The Big 6 include Pitcher, Harold Madison, Ethel Garlington, Dr. Espanola Jackson, Shirley Jones and Elouise Westbrook.
Over time, the facility at 1800 Oakdale Ave. required major repairs. The new community center was developed after an extensive engagement process with Bayview residents who voiced strong support for building the new center at 1550 Evans Ave., just off of Third Street.
“This community center is a historic landmark in our march for environmental justice in the Bayview and all of San Francisco’s southeast neighborhoods,” said SFPUC Commissioner Sophie Maxwell, a former member of the Board of Supervisors and longtime Bayview resident. “As a community, we have fought for years to shut down dirty power plants, upgrade our sewer infrastructure and create inviting open spaces for generations of residents to gather, play and grow. This community center is a shining example of what we can accomplish.”
The dusk light creates a different visual feel of the center.
'Huge Public Works achievement’
Despite its effortless look now, there were challenges abound for the Public Works team bringing the project to life.
The location itself presented difficulties for builders, not only because the site contained hazardous materials in the soil that had to be hauled off, but also because of what’s often referred to as Bayview mud.
“The soils are terrible,” Jones said. “Water table is high. They’re mucky and clay-y. It’s a hard place to build.”
Crews had to drill more than 120 steel piles some 55 feet into the soil to ensure the building would stand on solid ground and be seismically sound. “We had to drill it farther into the ground in order to reach bedrock,” Perez said.
The building’s design, too, was ambitious.
“This is very layered in terms of the sunscreens, the glazing, the different kinds of materials,” Jones said. “And it's got a kind of a delicacy to some of it that is atypical for, you know, institutional buildings one could say.”
Few, if any, previous undertakings compare.
“I don't think BOA, Bureau of Architecture, has designed anything like it in the past,” said Perez, the architect of record.
Jones agreed. The integration of landscape, building and art is a rarity, she said. “I haven't seen a building do that very often and as well.”
When considering the landscape portion of the project, the team stepped back and thought a lot about what was missing in the neighborhood, said Tony Esterbrooks, a landscape architect with Public Works who also worked on the project. The answer: the very busy, very industrial landscape was short on parks and nature.
The idea behind the design was to move away from the hard urban landscape. "And it was really about nature and providing habitat,” said Esterbrooks, adding that nature play and exploration was a “critical component.”
To Jones, being able to pull off such a daunting project is a huge Public Works achievement with the team reaching for a high standard.
“It was kind of the perfect storm,” she said. “We had the right client, the right site, the right program and users. The right team.”
A dance team performs at the grand opening of the Southeast Community Center on Oct. 22.
'One of the most beautiful buildings in the entire city’
The new center welcomed the community in style – with a grand block party on Oct. 22 hosted by the SFPUC that featured food, drinks, musical performances, arts and crafts and a speaking program that included Mayor London Breed.
Mayor London Breed, speaking at the ribbon-cutting event, thanks neighborhood activists
who championed the project.
Red, yellow and baby blue balloons tied to informational signs whipped in the wind as kids (and some adults) zipped down a metal slide at the far end of the property while others danced the Cupid Shuffle at the terraced outdoor event space on the other end of the campus. Inside the center, a choir assembled at the grand staircase and sung to visitors while community members took in the artwork displayed on the second floor. Visitors posed for pictures, hugged each other and shared laughs.
“I want to make sure that you all know this is your facility. This facility should be prioritized for the residents of the Bayview-Hunters Point community,” Breed said. “This community deserves this and so much more.”
The building itself drew rave reviews from some of the speakers. State Sen. Scott Wiener lauded it as “one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire city of San Francisco.” He added, “This is one of those examples of what it means when we really put our heart and soul into what something looks like and what we deliver to the community.”
The San Francisco Public Works project team for the
Southeast Community Center project included:
Bureau of Architecture:
Julia Laue, Principal Architect and Bureau of Architecture Manager
Michael Pierron, Sr. Architect and Project Manager
Greta Jones, Sr. Lead Designer Architect
Fara Perez, Project Architect
Reggie Stump, Lead Designer Architect
Arfaraz Khambatta, SFPW Disability Access Coordinator
Jane Wan (no longer with City)
Irene Aquino, Design Architect for Interiors
Bureau of Landscape Architecture:
Jennifer Cooper, Bureau of Landscape Architecture Manager
Brett Desmarais, Lead Landscape Architect
Robert Tidmore (no longer with City)
David Froehlich (no longer with City)
Bureau of Construction Management, Buildings:
Site Assessment and Remediation BCM SAR
Sara Stacy inspects trees and the sidewalk on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights.
On the Job with
a Tree Inspector
Public Works’ urban forestry inspector Sara Stacy’s favorite part of the workday is when she can pause and reflect on the greening of the City’s neighborhoods. Driving her pickup truck through the Mission District, down Folsom Street one recent afternoon, she basks in a “cathedral-like canopy” of Chinese elm trees flanking both sides of the urban corridor.
To Stacy, the Chinese elm plantings represent one of the best examples of the strategic development and management of the City’s fledgling urban forest.
“That greenery provides stress relief, and a visual green asset,” she said while out on her pruning and permit inspections. “A species was chosen and planted along this corridor, and through sustained maintenance, this canopy has been allowed to thrive and grow and provide this huge asset of benefits.”
Moments like this balance out the challenges Stacy faces on the job. Hired by Public Works in 2014, she is currently one of four urban forestry inspectors. The City is recruiting for two vacant inspector positions. In the meantime, the four inspectors, all certified arborists, are responsible for documenting dead and diseased trees, identifying pruning priorities, issuing fines for improper pruning and illegal tree removals, responding to 311 calls about downed tree branches, checking sidewalks for trip and fall hazards due to tree-root uplift and issuing permits for tree removals and sidewalk gardens.
A certified arborist, Stacy joined Public Works in 2014.
On an average week, inspectors evaluate more than 100 of the City’s 125,000 street trees either through windshield drive-bys or on foot. One of Stacy’s main duties is to assess trees within “keymaps” or designated zones, in her assigned districts, for pruning or removal. She carries a tablet where she records data, determines locations in need of further attention and sends letters to residents and business owners to correct errors in their sidewalk gardens or tree pruning.
San Francisco Urban Forester Chris Buck, Stacy’s supervisor, noted, “Even though Public Works is now responsible for street tree maintenance, we’re still working to educate the public that they no longer are required to prune the street trees.”
Stacy’s workday usually begins at the office checking emails, scanning 311 requests, prioritizing tree problems that need her attention based on level of severity and preparing for her permit inspections. She then heads out into the field.
Stacy doesn’t just inspect trees. Her portfolio also includes sidewalks and sidewalk gardens.
One recent afternoon in the Bayview, she was inspecting an illegally pruned tree on the 1400 block of Hudson Avenue. The tree had been “topped” – so severely and improperly pruned that its health is put at risk. “It becomes a bush,” she said, remorsefully. “It will take years of revisits to retrain it. It takes a lot of education with the public about the need for proper pruning by certified arborists.”
Her inspection route zigzags from the Bayview to Visitacion Valley and over to Pacific Heights for a keymap inspection. In Visitacion Valley, she checked on a pruning permit application. The owner of a billboard near Raymond Avenue and Bayshore Boulevard requested to prune several Brisbane Box trees in front of the billboard. After examining the trees, and the sightline, she decided to deny the pruning request. The billboard is viewable with the trees as they are, she said. She noted they’d been topped previously. To allow further pruning of their crowns would undermine their health and longevity.
Protecting street trees is important in any city, but of special concern in San Francisco, which has one of the smallest tree canopies of any major U.S. city.
The tree canopy in San Francisco varies a lot by neighborhood.
This map shows which have the most coverage and which have the least.
“One aspect of my role is to make sure we enforce proper pruning and that permits are attained,” she said. “In instances such as this, we must find a middle road that supports the tree’s health and balances that with the billboard owner’s need to be profitable.”
On her Visitacion Valley inspection, she also studied the sidewalk around the base of the trees, which showed uplift from tree roots. It wasn’t significant enough to warrant urgent repair, Stacy said.
Stacy loves her job, especially because it allows her to be outdoors about half of her workdays.
“I thrive on the variety,” she said. “I can go anywhere from inspecting a tree removal permit, to issuing a sidewalk landscaping permit and doing keymap inspections, to managing spreadsheets, talking to a contractor and answering the public’s questions. I can’t imagine doing one same thing every day.”
Stacy’s job takes her all over the City – from Pacific Heights to Visitacion Valley.
Stacy said she decided to become an arborist after graduate school, where she earned her degree in landscaping architecture. “I really enjoy placemaking and design,” she said. “Creating room for people to interact in public spaces.” She began her career in urban forestry in Washington, D.C., working at a nonprofit whose goal is to preserve the tree canopy in the nation’s capital.
Much has changed since Stacy began with our Bureau of Urban Forestry. Proposition E, the ballot measure resoundingly approved by voters in 2016, gave Public Works responsibility for maintaining the City’s urban forest and sidewalks adjacent to street trees. Before Proposition E, now known as StreetTreeSF, which took effect in 2017, street trees were largely the responsibility of property owners, and many went neglected.
Stacy takes great pride in the responsibility she and the other inspectors have corralling the task at hand. “Now we’re in charge and provide the maintenance the trees need,” she said. “It’s challenging. Many trees in San Francisco have had a rough life. We have (a) lot of work ahead of us to improve the health of the urban forest and that’s going to take some time.
“It’s something of vital importance given our climate challenges,” Stacy added. “Trees add shade, they reduce pollution and collect stormwater runoff. They are a very important natural asset to help us meet the needs of that challenge.”
Are street trees blocking a billboard? Stacy makes a visual assessment.
She loves that a wide variety of tree species thrive in San Francisco, thanks to the City’s climate, sun exposure and soil. It gives her hope that one day the Tenderloin, South of Market and other neighborhoods with relatively few trees will be cloaked by tree canopy like her favorite path down Folsom Street, between Cesar Chavez and 14th streets.
“The great thing about San Francisco is that such a wide variety of species do well here,” she said, rattling off a list that included Sweetgums, Southern Magnolias, Ash, Queen Palms, Fruitless Olives, London Plane and Brisbane Box. “From a botanical point of view, the variety of species that thrive here is almost as diverse as the City’s people.”
Take a virtual stroll through the new Skyline Terrace Community Space and Garden on the Carolina Street median.
Sweet Carolina: Neighbors Beautify a Median
Running down the middle of Carolina Street, between 22nd and 23rd streets on Potrero Hill, lies a median 960 feet long and 26½ feet wide that is one of the largest vegetated roadway islands in San Francisco.
“I live right across the street from the median; it’s what I look at through my window,” said longtime neighbor Cathryn Blum. “I saw the potential.”
That epiphany came around 2016 when the landscaped median, once maintained by the City, had become overgrown and pocked with litter. “I felt like the median needed some TLC,” she said.
The landscaped Carolina Street median includes flowers, succulents, grasses
and – Wait! What’s that? – a delightful bunny statue.
Working with Public Works, Blum started getting neighbors together for volunteer cleanup days. In 2018, Blum led the successful effort to forge a more formal stewardship agreement and created the Carolina Green Space street park under the Street Parks Program, a joint partnership involving Public Works, the nonprofit San Francisco Parks Alliance and organized community volunteers.
The program’s goal is to transform underutilized and unkempt Public Works-owned parcels into welcoming green spaces for everyone to enjoy.
Public Works provides tools for volunteer workdays, picks up green waste, reviews maintenance plans and makes sure the sites are suitable to be turned into street parks. The Parks Alliance provides information on grant opportunities and offers practical workshops on street parks stewardship. The community organizes neighbors, devises street park improvements, secures funding and keeps their adopted spaces watered, weeded and free of litter and graffiti. There now are about 80 actively maintained street parks.
Over on Carolina Street, Blum and the other neighborhood volunteers have been steadily beautifying the median. In 2019, the group successfully applied for a $132,000 Community Challenge Grant, a City program providing community groups, nonprofits and others with funding to improve their neighborhoods. The Potrero Hill stewards wanted funding to design and build what they named Skyline Terrace Community Space & Garden, to be located at the end of the median closest to 22nd Street.
The landscape design, by Terrain Studio, incorporated existing large concrete “stones” used for seating, solar-powered lights, a new permeable decomposed granite walking path and repurposed portions of a previously created concrete pad into steps. The project also added new irrigated landscaping that includes a flowering pollinator garden to attract bees and butterflies.
Neighbors turned a weedy, littered roadway median into a welcoming street park.
“It’s really turned into something beautiful, but there’s more to be done,” said Blum, who hopes the open space will become a favorite spot for neighbors and visitors to hold community gatherings with food, music and activities for kids.
One of the first festive gatherings took place on Oct. 19, when park stewards, neighbors, City officials and others who worked on the project came out for a ribbon-cutting celebration.
“This has been a total partnership of Public Works collaborating with neighbors to turn a once neglected median into an activated space that the community can steward and enjoy for years to come,” said Ramses Alvarez, who manages the Public Works Street Parks Program. “This project showcases the good that can be accomplished when we work together.”
Volunteers gather in the Outer Richmond before hitting the streets to pick up litter.
Volunteers Go All Out
to Help Keep Our Neighborhoods Clean
All Out SF, a weeklong series of events in October to improve San Francisco and spark civic pride, drew hundreds of volunteers at 12 organized neighborhood cleanups.
From Dogpatch, the Mission and the Bayview to West Portal, Eureka Valley and the Richmond, San Francisco residents – young, old and in between – came out to pick up litter left carelessly behind by others.
Dana Bolstad, with a metal grabber tool in one hand and an orange garbage bag in the other, enthusiastically cleaned up the sidewalk and tree wells along Tennessee Street on Oct. 22. Empty plastic bottles, food wrappers and cigarette butts filled the bag. “So many cigarette butts,” she lamented.
Donovan Lucy hands out tools to first-time Dogpatch cleanup volunteer Carolynn Jimenez.
This was the second neighborhood cleanup she participated in. It won’t be her last. “It helps make the neighborhood nicer,” she said.
Carolynn Jimenez was a newcomer to the cause when she showed up to the Dogpatch event welcome table to pick up her cleanup supplies. “I was out in the neighborhood and saw people picking up (trash) and I wanted to help,” she said.
Just about any day of the week, folks working alone or in groups, step up to take care of San Francisco’s neighborhoods. This year, our Community Engagement Team has assisted in nearly 750 events. Staff helps map routes, provide tools and sign up volunteers. Our Street Environmental Services crews haul away the trash-filled bags. We regularly collaborate with the groups Refuse Refuse and TogetherSF to mobilize volunteers.
Dana Bolstad, left, tackles litter in the tree wells in Dogpatch, while All Out SF volunteers get ready to help clean up the Mission.
If you’re interested in getting involved, our Community Engagement Team is here to assist. Go to sfpublicworks.org/volunteer to learn more.
The Oct. 22 volunteer workday wrapped up All Out SF, which ran from Oct. 16 through Oct. 23, with a different theme each day. Among them were days focusing on San Francisco’s small businesses, local government and the arts. Saturday was devoted to neighborhood cleanups.
One of the bigger ones took place in the Mission District and was organized by Manny Yekutiel. He runs Manny’s, a nonprofit restaurant and community gathering space, and was a leading force behind All Out SF. He regularly rallies volunteers for neighborhood cleanups.
“It’s a fun, easy way to connect yourself to others in the community who want to take care of their neighborhoods and be part of making San Francisco better,” he said.
Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day events draw participants of all ages.
#Love Our CitY
San Francisco’s South of Market and Rincon Hill neighborhoods got a big dose of extra love this month when residents, community groups and our street cleaning and urban forestry crews joined together to plant street trees, remove graffiti and spruce up landscaped medians and a community dog park.
Volunteers spruce up medians and plant trees in the South of Market.
The Oct. 15 event was part of our Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day initiative hosted by the Public Works Community Engagement Team that brings out 100 or more volunteers one Saturday a month to green and clean our neighborhoods. With the 2022 season wrapped up, we’ll be back in January. Keep an eye out for next year’s calendar.
Jack-o’-lantern of All Trades
The construction management team from our Building Design and Construction Division gets into the Halloween spirit with this “Pumpkin Works” construction project creation.