Washington Square Mitigation Plan Finally In Place, Meanwhile, Ten Trees Gone

Park Development Gives Cause For Hope, Cause For Concern

By Joe Bonadio

Things are lively as ever here in North Beach, and we’ve had a temperate but eventful few weeks. And as the neighborhood prepares for Indian Summer temperatures, there is no shortage of news, much of it revolving around Washington Square Park. 

If you’ve been reading these pages, you already know the park faces temporary closure in the coming months for renovations. Here at the SFNBBA, we’ve been lobbying the city and S.F. Parks and Recreation for months. For starters, we’ve been trying to limit the duration of the park’s closure; the agency initially asked for an entire year, and that period has been trimmed to six months. 

Even more significantly, we’ve been pressuring the department to provide a realistic mitigation plan: an outline of the steps needed to offset the many negative impacts this kind of work will have on the area. Those negative impacts are manifold: think dust, increased exhaust, loss of available parking, noise, and visual blight. And that’s before one considers the disruption to our residents, many of whom rely heavily on the park environment. In short, these projects are inevitably a big, fat mess.

Ten Trees Gone

As it stands, we’ve got both good news and bad news to report on this front. First off, the bad news. Due to contractor error, we’ve lost ten Canary Island Pine trees that had been in Washington Square Park for nearly a century. The roots of the doomed trees, on the northwest corner of the park, had been damaged during construction work being done on the playground. According to Parks and Rec, this root damage rendered the trees unsafe for a playground area, and last week they were removed.

Trees are removed at the corner of Powell and Filbert Streets in North Beach. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Trees are removed at the corner of Powell and Filbert Streets in North Beach. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

On balance, it should be noted that the age of these trees was already becoming an issue; indeed, a branch from one of them fell two years ago, paralyzing a young mother and resulting in a $12 million suit against the city. Also, the trees will be replaced by mature trees, not saplings, and the neighborhood will have input on the replacements. 

A Park Closure Mitigation Plan: In Place

Meanwhile, after much prodding we’ve managed to secure a construction mitigation plan from the city. And, our skepticism aside for the moment, it appears to be the real thing. Dust, noise and traffic have all been considered, and nearly in lockstep with our specific requests. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see anything that addresses the homeless. Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of people that see the park as a safe haven at night, and they aren’t going to dematerialize when the fences go up.

The SFNBBA will continue to push for more concessions on this issue, and on all others affecting the daily lives of our North Beach merchants and residents. We are coordinating closely with Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office, and we’ve requested that a representative of his staff attend SFNBBA’s monthly board meetings going forward. We believe this will insure that our neighborhood gets proper cooperation from the city on these crucial matters–and that the voice of North Beach is not lost in the chorus downtown.