News & Events

Miraloma Life: March 2014

  • PDF Version – March Miraloma Life
  • The Housing Element: Poor Planning Without an Appropriate EIR
  • Herbicide Use on Mount Davidson
  • MPIC Board Takes Position on Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP)
  • Why Judicious Use of Herbicides is Necessary on Mt. Davidson
  • Summary of MPIC Board Meeting of February 6, 2014
  • What ís Growing in Our Backyards?

The Housing Element: Poor Planning Without an Appropriate EIR

by Dan Liberthson

Why do we choose to live in Miraloma Park?

So often, residents say that they have chosen our neighborhood because it is safe, quiet, and attractive. These amenities have not been maintained by chance. A primary goal of the MPIC since its founding in the 1930s has been to protect and preserve quality of life and neighborhood character in Miraloma Park. Fundamental to this effort is preserving the single-family zoning (RH-1) status of our neighborhood. In fact, the beauty and the special quality of life in San Francisco as a whole derive from its diverse and attractive residential neighborhoods. Despite population growth, these neighborhoods still offer single-family homes with yards and other advantages appropriate for raising children.

The SF Planning Department, responding to its concept of the housing crisis, has proposed policies that would erode single-family neighborhood zoning and increase housing density throughout SF. The Department ís recently issued Revised Alternative Analysis for the 2004 and 2009 Housing Elements would permit additional units regardless of zoning in wide swaths of RH-1 and RH-2 areas without the public notification and rear-yard open space required by the current Planning Code. This in-fill, planned to house 1 million residents in SF by 2030, the Department justifies as needed to address the housing crisis, but single-family zoned neighborhoods would be devastated by the proposed means of doing so.

Nearly a decade ago, the MPIC joined 15 other neighborhoods from throughout the City in a lawsuit to require that the Planning Department prepare an adequate environmental impact report (EIR) which would comprehensively examine the adverse environmental effects of the Department ís newly proposed housing policies as set forth in its proposed Housing Element. (A Housing Element, required by the State every 5 years as part of the City ís General Plan, sets land-use policy and becomes the blueprint for future growth.) San Franciscans for Livable Neighborhoods (SFLN), including the MPIC, challenged the 2004 and 2009 Housing Elements as potentially detrimental to quality of life in the City ís residential neighborhoods. The challenge was upheld in Superior Court.

The MPIC contributed $1,000 to help pay for the legal costs of that lawsuit. The neighborhoods won on the ground that the EIR did not adequately address alternatives to the proposed potentially damaging plans for building and population density increases. The judge enjoined the City from implementing the policies in the Housing Element, required the City to revise the EIR, and awarded legal costs to SFLN. Nevertheless the Revised Alternative Analysis still will permit the elimination of existing zoning across the City to implement high-density policies, adding nearly double the number of living units requested by regional authorities. Residential neighborhood character and livability could be degraded in Miraloma Park and other R-1 neighborhoods by (1) elimination of required off-street parking spaces from new residences; (2) maximal expansion of new housing projects within wide areas surrounding transit corridors and neighborhood commercial areas (potentially Portola Drive and West Portal Avenue); (3) encouraging new secondary (in-law) units and legalization of existing illegal secondary units; and (4) eliminating environmental review of affordable housing projects, regardless of their size, if they are consistent with the General Plan.

For a court challenge to the Revised Alternative Analysis for the 2004 and 2009 Housing Elements, San Franciscans for Livable Neighborhoods once again must obtain funding for the legal costs. The MPIC has contributed $1,000 toward this effort, but this and the contributions of other neighborhood organizations will not adequately fund representation by a noted environmental law firm which will work for a flat fee. Individual donations are also needed. The Pacific Heights Residents Association, a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization and SFLN member, is acting as depository for all donated funds. Contributions to this cause are tax-deductible as allowed by law. We must file the appeal next month, so the need is urgent.

Please join our effort to preserve residential neighborhood character in San Francisco by making a tax deductible contribution today to Appeal Legal Fund, PHRA, at 2585 Pacific Avenue SF, CA 94115. Or use PayPal:  go to and scroll to the bottom of the page.

The form below may be used to accompany your check. For more information or to help with the SFLNís efforts, please phone 415.922-3572. Thank you for your support!*

Amount enclosed________________________________
Able to volunteer________________________________

*Please also let the MPIC know the amount, date, and form of your contribution to the PHRA by emailing us

Herbicide Use on Mount Davidson

by Anastasia Glikshtern

In mid-November of 2013 the very toxic herbicides imazapyr (Polaris) and aminopyralid (Milestone) were once again applied on Mt. Davidson. On January 9, 2014 imazapyr (Stalker) was used on Juanita Way and on January 22 tryclopyr (Garlon) was applied.

Imazapyr (marketed as Polaris, Stalker, Chopper, Arsenal, and Assault) is classified as Tier II (more toxic) by the SF ís Department of the Environment. It persists in soil with a half-life of 14 days to 17 months. Studies suggest that imazapyr residues damage plants at concentrations not detectable by laboratory analysis. It is water-soluble and does not readily bind to organic material in soils, so it can travel through soil with water and enter groundwater. It can also move with runoff and enter surface water. Therefore, imazapyr is classified as highly mobile. In other words, it spreads. Its breakdown product is neurotoxic to humans and it is also toxic to fish, honey bees, and earthworms. Imazapyr has been banned in Europe since 2007 (in Norway since 2001), and neighbors are fighting against its use in privately owned forests in Northern California.

Aminopyralid (marketed as Milestone, Forefront, Chaparral, and Opensight) is also classified as Tier II (previously classified as Tier I, ìmost toxic,î it was reclassified this year). It is even more persistent than imazapyr. If animals eat and excrete it, the excreta are still poisonous, as is manure made from it. Thousands of gardeners, organic farmers, and commercial growers in the United Kingdom and US have lost their tomatoes, beans, and other sensitive crops to manure from livestock fed hay from fields treated with aminopyralid. Organic farmers have lost their organic certifications. Aminopyralid can damage sensitive crops at levels as low as 10 parts per billion. It is banned in New York State because of its potential to poison water. Mt. Davidson is an area where water contamination is possible.

Triclopyr (Garlon), classified as Tier I, was associated in lab tests with increased breast cancer incidence, increased genetic damage (dominant lethal mutations), kidney damage, and reproductive problems. It is highly toxic to fish, inhibits antipredatory behavior in frogs, decreases the survival rate of nestling birds that ingest it, and can contaminate water supplies. The use of Tier I and II herbicides in so-called “natural” areas, which include Mt. Davidson, has increased by all measures: the number of applications, volume used, volume of active ingredient, and volumes by acid equivalent. These increases were 200% to 400% from 2008 (first year for which the data is available) to 2013. This graph (below) shows Natural Areas herbicide applications by volume of active ingredient from 2008 to 2013.

Natural Areas Pesticide Use Went Up
Natural Areas Pesticide Use Went Up – Click to Enlarge

I assume that the toxins I refer to in the graph have been applied since the Natural Areas Program (NAP) was established, and I know that they were used many times a year in each year after 2001, the year I got my dog, started walking on Mt. Davidson regularly, and began complaining to IPM regularly (using the phone number listed on the Notice of Pesticide Application. At that time, though, I didn’t know how bad these toxins are.

Another herbicide frequently used on Mt. Davidson is Glyphosate (Roundup, Aquamaster). One of the world’s most widely used herbicides, it is classified Tier II, dissolves readily in, and is very persistent in, water. It is listed by the International Pesticide Action Network as highly hazardous and by the European Union as dangerous for the environment. Its maker, Monsanto, was convicted of false advertising (claiming that Roundup is “practically non-toxic” to mammals, birds, and fish) in France in 2007 and the ruling was upheld by the French Supreme Court in 2009. A University of Pittsburgh biologist found that this herbicide caused an 86% decline in the total population of tadpoles. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, short-term exposure to elevated levels of glyphosate may cause lung congestion and increased breathing rates and long-term exposure is associated with kidney damage and reproductive effects. It has been associated with Parkinsons disease. Increased adverse neurologic and neurobehavioral effects have been found in children of people who apply glyphosate. Female partners of workers who apply glyphosate are at higher risk of spontaneous abortion. Some glyphosate-based formulations and metabolic products have been found to cause the death of human embryonic, placental, and umbilical cells in vitro, even at low concentrations. It may be an endocrine disruptor in human cells, and kills at least 76 different species of birds, fish, tadpoles, bees, and worms.

NAP Herbicides vs SFRPD-Other in 2013
NAP Herbicides vs SFRPD-Other in 2013 – Click to Enlarge

The above herbicides have been epidemiologically linked to several cancers, including prostate, non-Hodgkinís lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and breast cancer. Non-industry funded scientists have found connections between these chemicals and cell death, birth defects, miscarriage, low sperm counts, DNA damage, and destruction of gut bacteria. The “natural areas” are more impacted by herbicide use than other City parks. The graph on page 7 compares Tier I and II herbicide use in 2013 by the Natural Areas Program with use by the rest of the SF Recreation and Park Department (SFRPD), including all golf courses except Harding Park. The data are derived from SF RPD’s herbicide application reports, obtained by SF Forest Alliance using the Sunshine Ordinance.

In 2013, the SF Department of the Environment downgraded Greenmatch , a herbicide based on lemongrass oil, from Tier III (least toxic) to Tier II (more toxic). Greenmatch is a botanical herbicide and is considered acceptable for organic gardening. The compound was downgraded because some people are allergic to lemongrass oil (in designations of herbicide toxicity, possible effects on persons applying the substances are considered). Including Greenmatch, SFRPD excluding NAP used slightly more Tier I and II herbicides than NAP alone in 2013. Leaving out Greenmatch, SFRPD excluding NAP applied fewer of these herbicides than NAP. In any case, the volume used per unit of land is about three times greater for “natural areas”, which comprise one fourth of City parklands.

The assertions in this article are supported by published sources (visit, but space limitations preclude listing every reference here. Following are some online sources:

1. Support for statements about Garlon and Roundup

2. makes 3 main points about Imazapyr with links to studies/articlesó(a) it is slow to break down (Swedish study); (b) it can be extruded by roots of treated plants (Nature Conservancyís Weed Control Handbook); and (c) its breakdown product, quinolic acid, is neurotoxic (Journal of Pesticide Reform).

3. Milestone: is prohibited for use in NY owing to groundwater contamination concerns.

4. and
environment/georgemonbiot/2011/jul/15/vegetables-disease-aminopyralid-pesticide: Milestone remains active even after passage through an animal.

MPIC Board Takes Position on Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP)

by Dan Liberthson

Consequent to an 8 to 0 MPIC Board vote last year approving a motion to ask Mayor Lee to withdraw certain areas of Mt. Davidson from the SNRAMP, MPIC President Robert Gee sent to the Mayor on January 27 a letter to that effect. The letter, which is too long to be printed entirely in this issue, requested that wooded areas facing Miraloma Park including MA-1c, MA-2c, MA-2e, and MA-3aóbe removed from the plan. The decision and motion were supported by a previous letter submitted by Dr. Joseph R. McBride to the Mayor and printed in the October 2013 Miraloma Life, which can be accessed on-line at Professor McBride (UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management) asserted that the eucalyptus plantation on Mt. Davidson is not in danger of demise by inattention (ivy does not smother trees to death, nor does crowding impact them) and, together with its understory of blackberry brambles, the current environment provides better habitat for animals, including birds, than would native vegetation.

Furthermore, he maintained that ìthe tree fall and wind breakage hazard to walkers using the Mt. Davidson area after the [SNRAMP’s] proposed tree removal and thinning would  seriously compromise the use of the area for recreational purposes. Dr. McBride asserted that the SNRAMP is unnecessary at this time for the survival of the plantation, and that thinning the trees and attempting to restore a native understory would not only needlessly destroy existing habitat and the wildlife it supports, but also would be probably unsuccessful, based on the disappointing results of such work attempted elsewhere.

The MPIC Board did not object to keeping the relatively treeless areas on the north and east of the mountain in the SNRAMP. The West of Twin Peaks Central Council is considering a motion to write a letter to the Mayor in support of the MPIC Boardís position.

Those who read Jake Sigg on the eucalyptus in the last Miraloma Life and read him on herbicide use and Denise Louie on native plants in this issue, will recognize that there are dissenting opinions about the merits and demerits of the SNRAMP and the best way to address the situation of the Mt. Davidson woods and other plantations in SF. Mr. Sigg, veteran (and former Golden Gate Park) gardener and ex-President of the SF chapter of the California Native Plant Society, insists that without the comprehensive maintenance, including thinning the woods and clearing the understory of invasive ivy and blackberry as proposed in the draft EIR for the SNRAMP, the Mt. Davidson woods will die. He feels that without the funds that would be provided by the SNRAMP to achieve this intervention, we will not have woods on Mt. Davidson in the future. Ms. Louie supports this view, as do others on the MPIC Board and in the community: doing nothing, they say, will doom the woods. Dr. McBride has categorically disagreed, citing the potential for harm and not benefit from the SNRAMP plans, and he was convincing enough in his letter to the Mayor that a majority of the MPIC Board embraced his viewpoint and voted accordingly.

In a letter to Mayor Lee dated February 10, the MPIC Board conveyed the results of another motion that clarified its position, stating that if the final EIR for the SNRAMP, due out later this year, satisfactorily addresses the objections of Dr. McBride and others in the community to the plan, and demonstrates the benefit of the plan to the woods and community, the Board reserves the option to reverse its position and support re-inclusion of the

Why Judicious Use of Herbicides is Necessary on Mt. Davidson

by Jake Sigg*

Anastasia Glikshtern’s critique of the Natural Areas Plan (NAP) in this Miraloma Life issue fails to consider these important facts: natural areas surrounded by intense urban areas cannot maintain themselves; the City does not have endless staff resources; and the program relies heavily on volunteers for weeding. She manipulates the data and uses incomplete statements to support her point. The graphs are worthless for the purposes of discussing herbicide usage, because the data she relies on were incompletely recorded before 2011, and thus data from 2008, 2009, 2010 are not usable. Also, these graphs do not include January to June 2013 data from Harding Park golf course, which uses the lions share of pesticides in the City, thus obfuscating usage realities.

At the Department of the Environments (DOE) annual pesticide review meeting, Chris Geiger, the Department’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) monitor, displayed a colored pie chart presenting the percentages of herbicides used by the various City agencies. As expected, Harding Golf Course used nearly three-fourths of all such chemicals applied in the City; other agencies used nearly 25%; and the NAPs share was a tiny, nearly invisible sliver. The SF NAP effectively and responsibly manages our important original, native landscapes, and deserves our support in its task of preserving them for wildlife habitat and for our education and delight.

Agencies are required to be very conservative, which means they must warn of all possible consequences,  i.e., the worst-case scenarios. Anti-chemical activists seize on these possibilities to grossly exaggerate their danger, partly by assuming the use of quantities much greater than the NAP would ever use, and partly by hanging their case on phrases such as “may cause” and “studies suggest”.  These tactics are tantamount to fear mongering. Applying the same logic, if we lived our lives by the worst-case scenario we would never get on an airplane. At some point, common sense must take over. Incidentally, the home gardener is allowed to and often does use herbicides much more freely than public agencies, ironic when you think of it, because agencies have trained, certified, and experienced staff, and you can’t say that about the home gardener.

The Recreation and Parks Department is charged with managing 224 neighborhood parks and 9 pools, as well as properties like Coit Tower and Candlestick Park. Among the 4,000 acres of land it stewards are pieces of SF’s original landscaped Twin Peaks, Bernal Hill, and Mt Davidson among them. These open spaces, referred to as “natural areas” are rich in plants, animals, and natural processes that have been living and functioning in these areas for hundreds of thousands of years, and as such constitute a living legacy that people treasure. Governments around the world are trying to preserve such landscapes in good health. They are enjoyed for a wide range of animal and human uses, including as refuges from the pressures of the human world. People don’t want their refuges taken over by just a few plant species with little or no value to local wildlife they want a variety of plants and animals. The NAP works to preserve that biological diversity in San Francisco.

In 1928, schoolteacher Mattie Brown had her class bring armloads of wildflowers to a hearing of the Board of Supervisors, asking that Mt. Davidson be saved. Most of those wildflower species are still there, although in greatly decreased numbers as invasive plants continue displacing them. While Mt Davidson does not have flower beds or athletic fields, it still needs to be maintained, first and foremost to ensure public access and safety. Without maintenance, the grasslands would succumb to brush invasion by both nonnative and native shrubs, such as poison oak and blackberry, or become impenetrable monocultures of fennel, French broom or brambles unusable by humans or most animals. In this dense city we cannot afford to lose productive land.

Even with the staff and volunteer time spent maintaining the land by hand, on occasion it is necessary for land managers to use other methods to manage the landscape. These include the judicious and carefully controlled application of certain herbicides. SF’s Department of the Environment (DOE) runs an award-winning program that regulates and monitors usage of herbicides, which readers can explore by visiting The NAP complies with the DOE’s very strict criteria and reports to it. There are tasks herbicides are able to do for which there is no alternative. Just as humans are unable to pick insects off acres of lettuce or pluck microbes out of their body by hand, and therefore resort to antibiotics, there is a unique role for herbicides that cannot be ignored.

While earning my living as a gardener, I needed to use herbicides in order to cope with the weeds in the several acres of parkland that were my beat. Modern herbicides are very cleverly designed to work along certain pathways. There are broad-spectrum sprays, such as glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup), that work by being absorbed into leaves and translocated to the root, there interfering with the production of an amino acid that is essential for plant growth. That amino acid does not occur in animals. Toxic it is to the target plant, but not necessarily to other organisms, such as animals and humans, and it is widely used by home gardeners. Other herbicides, such as triclopyr (the active ingredient in Garlon), are designed for a specific group, such as broadleaf plants known to botanists as dicots like thistles, brambles, and brush. Triclopyr will not affect the group of flowering plants we call monocots such as grasses, lilies, irises, and orchids. Such a selective herbicide is a valuable tool, because it can be used to eradicate noxious broadleaf plants without killing the grasses and other plants we want to keep, like mariposa lilies, rein orchids, blue dicks, and Ithurielís spear.

When you look at the subject of herbicide use without the emotional freight usually loaded onto it, you get a very different picture. We daily ingest all sorts of toxins, such as aspirin, salt, caffeine, and a huge variety of drugs. We know to use them responsibly. Those who cause the public to become needlessly anxious regarding use of a necessary tool do a disservice. Without herbicides in our toolkit we would be unable to save our natural heritage. In addition, after the native soil structure has been disrupted, that ground will be henceforth occupied only by invasive plants, such as thistles and brambles. For this reason, in removing invasive plants, properly used herbicides are preferable to digging. An army of trained chimps, even if possible, would not be desirable to control exotic flora.

*Jake Sigg is a veteran (and former Golden Gate Park) gardener, ex-President of the SF chapter of the California Native Plant Society, long-time advocate for native plant restoration, and, according to his article in the February Miraloma Life, a man who loves and wants to save the Mt. Davidson woods.

Summary of MPIC Board Meeting of February 6, 2014

by Dan Liberthson and Kathy Rawlins

Presentation: Steve Kech, Public Relations/Communications and Crispin Hollings, Finance Dept., Public Utilities
Commission (PUC) described proposed upcoming raises in water rates (about 30% over 4 years) to implement infrastructure repairs and upgrades. Public hearing this Spring.

Treasurers Report (T Sauvain): MPIC net worth decreased by $1724.49 from December to January, to $22,938. Rental income, which was $3040 in January vs $3490 in December, is consistently averaging about $3000 per month. January income included $889 in dues; outlays other than the usual were $1600 for landscaping for the last 4 months and $324 for additional holiday party reimbursements (for a party cost grand total of $2003). The current reserve total is $14,448.

Committees: Membership (R Gee)óMembership was 540 on 12/31/13 and 501 on 1/31/14 (decreased due to delayed renewals). There were 10 new members and 190 renewals in January (14 with $50 contributions). Many thanks to Vivienne Antal for help with processing dues checks. Resiliency (D Homsey) Need date for Resiliency Fair and target dates for projects. Diamond Heights working with the Bay View Sports Center to coordinate activities. Walgreens manager at meeting and working to assist with plan. Seven community managers for the City to address situations such as water main breakage and fire. Clubhouse Maintenance (K Rawlins) Gutter cleaning and replacement project almost completed except installation of new downspout and front gutters and painting new areas. Cost overrun $200 due to unknown deterioration of part of old gutter. Stolen photo printed and framing being done pro bono by A Photography Place (, a new photo and framing shop on West Portal. We thank them! Planning (T Armour) Motion by D Liberthson: MPIC to contribute additional $1000 to San Franciscans for Livable Neighborhoods (MPIC is member and has contributed $1000 in past) to support legal team in appealing the environmental impact review (EIR) for the Housing Element (passed unanimously). See article in this issue. Events (S Chu): Event needed for June Election: Resource Fair, History of Mt. Davidson, plant talk discussed. Discussion
of Assembly District 7 election debate.

Community Organizations: West of Twin Peaks Central Council (WOTPCC, 1/27/14, K Breslin). 2013 draft Recreation and Open Space Element (ROSE) produced by Planning Dept. discussed (Sally Stephens): Concerns are ROSE’s prioritization of new open space and recreational facilities in projected high-population growth areas over areas that need this now; most of the Draft ROSE is about restoring native habitats balance with preservation of existing non-native habitats needed; few protections for recreational facilities or standards for recreation; some building in open space allowed (e.g., cultural buildings), which should be forbidden; no protections for continued public access and no requirements for transparency and accountability in public-private partnerships.  Motion passed to send letter to Planning Dept. requesting concerns be addressed.

New Business: Consequent to R Gee’s Jan 27 letter (per motion) to the Mayor requesting that certain wooded sectors facing Miraloma Park be removed from SNRAMP (see above and article in this issue), D Liberthson moved to write to Mayor reserving the option to re-include these sectors if the final EIR addresses community concerns (passed).

What is Growing in Our Backyards: Answers to Common Questions?

by Denise Louie

Q: Why be concerned about what ís growing in our backyards?

A: Short answer: we have a responsibility to manage the land we live on. Longer answer: our City is home to local native plants and wildlife that co-evolved with them. By restoring habitat for these species, we preserve what remains of our natural heritage on both public and private land.

Q: What is important to know about local, native and invasive plants?

A: Local native plants evolved in response to specific environmental conditions without human interference; the DNA of a species depends on those conditions. To preserve gene pools, we should avoid planting plants that can cross-pollinate with local native plants. The definition of “native plants” has to do with location, location, location. Plants native to inland or southern California can be invasive in SF, including Monterey pine and cypress. Invasive plants that outcompete other plants include the ivy and Himalayan blackberry, the understory of the eucalyptus trees on Mt. Davidson. Another reason not to plant nonnatives is that soil on their roots may introduce viruses or bacteria, causing diseases, such as sudden oak death, that harm native plants. Furthermore, a habitat has a defined amount of space, water and sunlight. Adding non-local specie even non invasives consumes resources otherwise available to native species (see Barnosky & Anthony, Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming, 2009, p. 186). For all these reasons, best practices are to avoid planting or remove invasive plants and to plant natives local to San Francisco.

Q: What should we do about tree plantations in the City?

A: Mt. Davidson was planted with eucalyptus trees by Adolf Sutro in the late 1800s. These trees are near the end of their expected lifespan. Besides being crowded and, in some cases, old or weakening, these trees are invasive and hazardous in a fire. A prudent course of action is to manage the crowdedness and diversify the understory, which are the ideas behind the Recreation and Park Department ís proposed SNRAMP. Contrary to vocal opposition, there will be no clear-cutting of eucalyptus trees, unless you consider the removal of three trees in a single specific area clear-cutting.

Q: Where did you learn about plants?

A: I studied ecology at City College, volunteered with the National Park Service in Yosemite, with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in Marin County and the Presidio, with the California Invasive Plant Council out of Berkeley, and with various groups in SF, including Recreation and Park’s Natural Areas Program, the California Native Plant Society, and Nature in the City. I learn best by reading, followed by hands-on experience and questioning experts.

For reading, I recommend: San Francisco: A Natural History, by Greg Gaar (2006); Californiaís Wild Gardens: A Guide to Favorite Botanical Sites (or California’s Wild Gardens: A Living Legacy, edited by Phyllis Faber (1997), and A Natural History of California, by Allan Schoenherr (1992). For doing, explore groups like the Natural Areas Program (email, the CA Native Plant Society, and Nature in the City.