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Right Tree In The Right Place: Planting Considerations For Trees
HOST: This is an informal advisory group for the City’s Integrated Pest Management Program. We have been meeting almost monthly for twenty years. It is an inter-departmental group featuring IPM coordinators for the big departments and for whoever else wants to come. And it has always been a really good opportunity to have conversations and to have some great speakers.
So today we actually have a double-header, two for the price of one. We have Chris Buck who was originally scheduled to speak last night and I apologize again for all of the chaos that prevented us from doing that last month.
CHRIS BUCK: I thought we had more chaos when I walked up everybody was loitering in the hallway.
HOST: Well that is a different convergence of meetings. But for those of you who weren’t here, there was a scheduling error and this whole place was booked and we couldn’t even do our presentation so thanks to Chris for being so patient with all of that too. But Chris is back to talk about “The Right Tree at the Right Place.” Chris is with Public Works and to continue the public works theme we also have Brian Peace to talk about—to give a short talk about a case study he has worked on in re-planting some really beautiful median strips with wildflowers. So we hit the jackpot this year if you haven’t seen it yet. And then after that we will have a chance for the usual discussion—problem solving session, I have a few announcements. If I have time I will tell you about the International IPM Symposium which
was last month in Baltimore that I went to and I will turn off my cell phone as everyone else should do. And we have, this month, we do not have DPR credits because there was a different speaker scheduled for this slot in association with the Pest Exclusion Group that is meeting here today we found out at the end of the week last week that they had to cancel due to medical reasons and it was too late to change the DPR credit. So we do have ISA credits and if you are Bay Friendly qualified, of course, this works for Bay Friendly. They just ask if you were here when you renew. So they have a pretty low bar on Continuing Ed. So I guess we don’t have a clicker, a changer.
CHRIS BUCK: I will do the best I can. I have so many images I will drive you crazy. So let me figure this out.
HOST: So thank you. This is Chris Buck from Public Works.
CHRIS BUCK: So I have so many visuals from last week when we had the scheduling conflict—for the moment we were like well should we just like go do this out in the field. And I am not that an exciting speaker. I have like a hundred images and I was like, “Oh, gosh this is going to be terrible.” So I am glad that we can do this indoors in a controlled environment where I get to share all these images. So I will not bore you. There is not a lot of charts and graphs. We are going to do a little bit of a deep dive into Phoenix Canariensis or the Canarien Island Date Palms along the Embarcadero so we will get into some good technical meat. But I also just have a lot of visuals just to keep it lively and entertaining as much as possible.
Ten years ago—I’m a certified arborist and a certified tree worker and a bunch of other things but ten years ago I was looking at the International Site of Arboriculture magazine and in the back it was like oh, call for presentations, the international conference. And I had been an inspector with San Francisco Public Works for a year or two and I thought, “Oh, someone in the Midwest might want to hear about urban forestry in San Francisco.” And so I pitched them on this idea called “The Carrot and the Stick” and it was about how we do find prop inners for excessively pruning street trees but how we don’t want to do that. Really what we want to do is use the carrot, use education outreach. But in that presentation my whole hook was just showing these really cool photos of San Francisco from car chase scenes. And I’m not even a car guy. But there is amazing documentation on San Francisco’s Urban Forest in these old movies. Whether you are a Hitchcock person right;
Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo. So you are like why is the car on the left side of the road, right? We are not in England. Well this is Bullit, this is a chase scene on this alley near Sumner Street near Eighth and Howard and when I was living there, when I couldn’t fall asleep I would like put on the TV and there was this Clint Eastwood movie called, and I will move out of the way here and there but a Clint Eastwood movie and basically there are the model cars that were really popular in the late Eighties and he was being chased around the city with this mini car filled with explosives and he is trying to get away from everything. And I was like literally, “Oh my gosh, this is literally the block I live on right now.” And I thought that was pretty fascinating.
There is the car and there is the alley. What I am showing you is a before photo of the urban forest. This is 1988, probably filmed in ’87, it was this big dramatic showdown and then there is someone controlling that car and in the distance on the right there is a parking lot where my wife and I
it’s her Karmann-Ghia—I know I said I’m not a car guy—but we had parked her Karmann-Ghia in the parking lot on the right and there is roll-up window, roll-up door to a warehouse over there and so there I am with my wife, 10 years later, 1998—I worked for Davey Tree for a year. I was pretty fit twenty years ago and I still found that it was really, really, really difficult work. And I think that IPM is a great career when you realize physically, can I do this day in and day out and you still want to be working outdoors and with trees.
So anyway, the big, exciting, dramatic conclusion—take a look at the before photo no trees. This is what it looks like now Friends of the Urban Forest has planted a lot of Hawthorne’s, Washington Hawthorne’s—and that dead end alley to the right has now been redone
And a funny story when this building was being built on the right and this warehouse is being turned into condos—I had just gotten my first ever tent, where you can—it’s a dome tent, kind of like the homeless use on sidewalks now. Well, I first got one and I would go on my roof on Sumner Street and sleep on a Saturday night on the roof. And one morning I heard someone yelling over at me and there was a homeless guy on the top of that building, shirtless and it was like Mad Max and he was like, “Whoa” and I just looked at him and I realized that I had long hair, I was sleeping on the roof and I just kind of gave him a fist. And I just quickly went back down. I didn’t camp out there again, I was like okay. My wife was like, “Easy there kiddo.”
So bring it back to San Francisco Urban Forest. The reason I showed the before photos that historically—San Francisco has never had, up until very recently much of a commitment to
plant trees across the city. So up until a year and a half ago this was the universe. San Francisco Public Works planted and maintained one-third of the street trees. So any of these highlighted streets are the streets where we planted and maintain street trees. Two-thirds of property owners in all the non-highlighted areas—those folks are totally on their own. So, Friends of the Urban Forest got started in 1981 by comparison, Tree People, the non-profit in L.A., they started in ’74 so they beat us by a few years but Friends of the Urban Forest started in 1981 as a way to help property owners—you know help them plant trees. Basically the community was like, “You know the City is not doing enough.” “Planting a few trees on some of the main thoroughfares is not enough.” And a lot of the thoroughfares were planted because transportation and tree planting mitigation were seen as a connection there.
Now, what that meant is—so in 2000 I started at the Friends of Urban Forest as their education coordinator. So for five years I worked there and I answered questions from the public about whose tree is it, right, we are confused. And so I did that for five years then I became an inspector for the City. Even up until a year and a half ago we would take a call and someone lived on a corner property and we would say, “Okay, the tree on Geary Boulevard is maintained by us the City. The street around the corner on Baker is maintained by you the property owner.” And they are just kind of like, “Is there a sign out there?” Like there is no sign out there that says “Tree Maintained by City” oh this tree, the bill is being foot by the property owner. And it got really technical. Inside this booklet we had
(video skips ahead a few frames) . . . so they don’t have to repair the sidewalk right. And I would say, “Oh, that is a tree maintained by the City.” And they were like, “Ah,
okay well the reason I’m calling is because the sidewalk is really jacked up, the tree needs to be pruned, I love my tree I don’t want to spend $5,000 maintaining it.”
So, long story short, one positive thing that happened on November 8th 2016 was this little do-hickey. Proposition E passed by 79% of the voters in San Francisco which basically said the system is dysfunctional, really the City should be maintaining all the street trees. And there was a lot behind the scenes that went on to make that happen. We of course, the City employees couldn’t advocate for this proposition once it was put on the ballot, but obviously we were there at the party waiting for the returns to come in.
You know if we want more people to plant street trees in San Francisco, you know, there needs to be more of a commitment that the owner is not going to foot all the bills. So we finally have that as July 1st of last year, 2017, the City
is now responsible for the maintaining of the street trees. And we have an urban forest plan now, we have done a financing study and we had completed a street tree census so we now know how many street trees we have—it’s 125,000. We thought we had 105,000 so we were just off by 20,000. So with all of that said Prop E passed—we are now in the middle of implementation and what we are referring to it as Street Tree SF. So it is sort of the new post-Proposition E—we have been referring to Proposition E, but there will be new propositions and new letters this year and people go like, “I don’t know what Prop E is?” So Street Tree SF is basically us implementing Proposition E.
And we are now—we’ve got a lot of private contractors now that are doing work for the city both tree work and sidewalk repair and we are also bumping up our staff 50% and then the other 50%
will be through private contracts. So that is a very exciting thing and I did want to show you this new cross brace—you will start seeing these here and there. We put these on our trees that were planted on Arbor Day in March—so now it’s essentially this partnership with Friends of Urban Forest, non-profit, Public Works and then this is sort of the new deal; Street Tree SF. The marketing people are always getting excited about, “We need new . . .a new marketing tool.” So that is what has been going on. I just wanted to give you a little step back a little bit, like what I have been involved with, with the City over that last little bit.
Now what is exciting is this whole lack of funding and the whole one-third, two-thirds private/city maintenance—everyone was really trying to work on this issue for years—and I have been answering this question since 2000 about—this doesn’t seem right, what can I do? And I would say
to people on the phone, this is going to require a political solution. This is not going to happen with just me saying to my boss, “Hey, we should change the system.” So what’s exciting is there is a lot of work that went into this and this year the National Arbor Day Foundation awarded both San Francisco Public Works and Friends of the Urban Forest this amazing award called Champion of Trees Award. And I’ve got to tell you, my usual shtick with the presentation is to let people know how not like—hey Green-centric we feel at Public Works. When I hear or see the articles about how green San Francisco is and everyone is patting themselves on the back—it basically induces my gag reflex. I’m like really, “Oh, my God another article about how green we are.” And then we this really low canopy street tree cover—so we are always quick to point that out, not in this—like when I’m out of San Francisco I don’t want people to think, here is this San Francisco guy who is going to tell us all how great they are.
So that is a little bit of background of where we are within the urban forest. I didn’t want to just get up and start talking without a little bit of context on street trees, because we will be talking a lot about street trees.
I’m not going to go in a lot on big picture IPM—obviously there is a lot of knowledge here and obviously a lot of it, on some aspects of it, much greater than my own—but there is a lot of information about IPM on the internet’s amazing resources. I just kind of refreshed my mind—a month ago I kind of Googled it and I clicked images and there is just so much amazing information about IPM on the internet. The key thing that I will be talking about today is really—but again we will get into a little more of tactical detail.
And I am a huge fan of Plant the Tree.
And the tree has either got to do well or not do well. I’m not as big into babying things. I am terrible with house plants. House plants I just feel like they can turn on you really quickly. And then when I was first really getting into trees and they were like, “Well, if it is over watered it’s going to yellow and if it under watered it going to yellow.” And I was like, “That does not help me.”
So my brother who is more of a car guy—is a mechanic, he—I mean if you went into his house there is so many indoor house plants I’m like, “What are smoking there bro?” (Laughter) And yet I’m the hippie, right? I have one spider plant in the house. So there is amazing, we talk about best management practices—right tree, right place that’s, we will be talking a lot about that today for sure—a big theme.
A key wherever you are working is to understand the micro-climates. I was doing a presentation last week for the Western Chapter Annual Conference
and it was like the five big challenges in arboriculture—and one of the things I just totally emphasized was the wind. The wind is the predominate issue in San Francisco, greater than anything. There were all these other presentations about—you know the right soil lime—there is this obsession about, you need the right soil lime and I think that was really being promoted by people who are literally financially invested in silva cells, structural soil 2.0. I have no concern or zero worry about soil lime. I don’t care about soil lime. We plant in the worst conditions in an urban environment, south of Market (Street) with bricks and everything and I have yet to say—to look at a tree and go, “Gosh, if the soil lime were just a little bit better this tree would be.” No, if it is not blowing over, we feel pretty good about it. So just a little map on micro-climates.
So ginko, right. We all know female ginko bares a fruit, it’s brutal
but I figure we would just start with this classic—this classic issue. I went to the University of Iowa and on our Pentacrest on the campus we had a female ginko—it was before I really discovered trees. But everyone has got a story—there is news about the fruit drop on the female ginkos that it just has a kind of a rancid smell. So the challenge is that you don’t really discover that you have a female ginko even though the nursery says, “We assure you this is a male, it’s not going to drop fruit.” Well they don’t reach puberty right away. They have to be in the ground for all to get up. And then right when you are starting to enjoy them the canopy is giving benefits to the immediate environment then all of the sudden you are like, “Wait is that fruit that is developing?”
This is up in North Beach. The ginko—this street we on here, that one behind the sign,
that one produces fruit and that owner—I haven’t heard from him in several years, which is probably a good thing. But he worked with people in Chinatown to have the fruit harvested. But that was when the tree was a little bit smaller—and as the tree keeps getting bigger and bigger it gets a little harder and harder to maintain that arrangement. That was amazing.
Speaking of Right Tree, Right Place here is this little side street, you know with a six foot sidewalk and find another ginko right up against the building. We are dealing with stuff all the time. We have a lot of people that want to plant trees in alleys—and we really thread the needle on what our minimum basin size with be on an alley. We won’t get into all of that but I wanted to find the ginko. I remember, I’m like it’s somewhere on North Beach, there is a female ginko, I know it’s there. What is funny about the ginkos is that even in front of our maintenance yards—the Public Works has a few different offices,
but we have a maintenance yard on Cesar Chavez Street—and this little buddy, this little ginko on the left just started fruiting and I couldn’t get an image showing the fruit on the sidewalk, but even in front of our own corporation yard—just the last few years we have discovered we have got a female out there.
This was a funny little article I found—it was not that funny to him, but in Brooklynn, “He’s Mad as Hell and He’s Not Going to Rake it Anymore.” (Laughter) Bayridge resident, Richard Mahoney, is so angry that the city won’t chop down a stinky ginko tree that dumps its foul smelling fruit on the sidewalk, blah, blah, blah—“the tree is a menace,” said Mahoney, who is 74, who is about the same age as the arbor that towers over his home.
(Video skips some frames) I would have just fled and never look back or you just—there is something about this challenge and I think that is where I went from Education Coordinator to Urban Forester. My job
was just largely educational with each person over the phone on a mano-a-mano phone call to try to like save the day or at least salvage them not running out and chopping their tree down. This is what I’ve been dealing with, not the ginko fruit but I notice this also has some sidewalk damage back there, right. So this is kind of what I’m doing and I see his hands and I’m like, “Oh, he wants to strangle the civil servant.” So, you know these issues are a real problem. We have some people that you know want to plant fruit trees and they are complaining all the time—why won’t we let fruit trees be planted in the public right-of-way and then we have other people that want to strangle us. Properties change hands. Somebody who is willing to have a fruit tree in their sidewalk now may not—you know the new owner may not like that whatsoever. What is funny about us saying, “Well we don’t allow fruit trees we plant in the public right-of-way.” Well technically we do because we plant strawberry trees in the sidewalk all the time.
That is technically a fruit tree. It is not a fruit that we are eating. It is edible, it’s not palettable, it is just sort of a bland, mushy texture. But this is an example of one that survived the wind at 18th Ave, so just one block east of 19th Ave—there is our beautis marina and our beautis unito they both produce fruit a lot. This is one by James Wick. We ended up removing a couple of them because the residents across the street were just so upset. What is interesting—so just going back to the fruit tree, our beautis marina, strawberry tree; this owner wanted to remove the tree and you can see there is this front yard set-back and there is the sidewalk—what is really interesting about the avenues in some of the neighborhoods in San Francisco is that
the public right-of-way doesn’t end where the sidewalk ends. When they developed that community, you know, it costs a lot of money to pour a sidewalk. So you agree with the—the City is like, “Okay, give us a six or seven foot sidewalk.” And even though it is still kind of public right-of-way it could be part of your yard. So what we end up doing a lot is when we have to repair a sidewalk or someone wants to remove their tree because it is damaging their sidewalk—we will explain to them, “Look technically your property line is not until way farther back closer to the front of the façade of your building.” So I know it sounds controversial but we are going to need you to give up some of the grass or some of your front yard so we can expand the opening—the sides of the tree basin, so we don’t have to cut roots unnecessarily. And this owner we denied their removal application and they went ahead and they did it. We have to show them a diagram—they are like, “What are you talking about?” We show them a diagram, the parcel map, this is where your property line is.
And it is a little bit hard to see it, but they pushed back, by just a couple of feet, and this is modest—this is hardly a big basin extension whatsoever. We will go as big as we can typically. So they did that. They pushed it back. The fruit drop was never really a discussion. They thought this tree was way overwhelming the site. They thought it was you know getting way to close to the roof. And I was like, “Are you kidding me?” We can’t have any more room than this. Now I can’t say that, that way—and I say in like five sentences—and I always think of Pulp Fiction. There is that scene with Samuel Jackson and there is this white guy doing this robbery, this stick-up, in this diner—and I always say to myself, “Be cool Ringo.” I base them saying, “Be cool Ringo,” to the customers, but I say it like—depending on who they are and what their background it, I say it in a different way, right. I said it like,
“Well, Mrs. Smith you know there are a lot of benefits to trees.” But what really what I am saying to myself is, “Be cool Ringo.” Don’t lose your cool now. But you know, we get a call from Friends of Urban Forest, we see these things, we get call—people from the public that call things in. Topping trees in San Francisco happens a lot. And we are finally now that we maintain all the street trees we are going to do more outreach. And it is just so frustrating. It wasn’t a fruit drop issue so that is a little unrelated, they just couldn’t get over the fact that they had a tree. And at last week’s conference I was joking—you know I’d keep asking my supervisor for a title change. I want to be Urban Forestry Psychiatrist. (Laughter) Because I feel like I know about plants and trees, we need to go deeper. People do not know how to live with trees in their immediate surroundings. It is really a thing.
We are battling it all the time.
So, one thing that we see with our beautis marina everything now and then are these sort of cankerous—the bark really dries out and suddenly the trunk is splitting quite a bit. The wood is really hard but that is just something to bare in mind—we see that happen from time to time.
Another trunk issue on a different species that we see a lot is—this is a Chinese Elm, I know it’s kind of hard to see, but you can see the trunk is pretty messed up with this canker—and it is an anthracnose canker. There is anthracnose that impacts the leaves but there is also a canker that will girdle the trunk. And what is amazing about Chinese Elm, elm is part of a folia—it’s really hard wood so something you’re think how is this even still standing. We will have these trees splitting apart and if it was a different species we would run out with the lights flashing. But these trees just really,
they can kind of deal with it. What is amazing is that our Chinese Elms on Folsum from like 21st heading all the way up to Burnell Hill, none of those have anthracnose canker on their trunks, which is kind of nice. And I don’t know what the deal with that is but just a something to note.
I had put some information in here about a month ago about Market Street and I think it was to kind of get some sympathy. As the Urban Forester talking about Right Tree, Right Place; you would think that as the Urban Forester you would get total say, final say over what trees are going to be planted where—and you do obviously have a lot of say and we try to keep species relatively uniform within a block so we can visit the tree and prune it on a given pruning cycle versus fifteen different species. If we are going to maintain all the street trees that means we have fifteen different growth habits
that we are trying to address and you end up hop-scotching across the city. So that was one thing. Like Van Ness, the bus rapid transit—the transit project that is out there—it is a great transit project but I jokingly refer to BRT bus route for transit as “Big Removal of Trees.” Because, a lot of it is like, “Oh, look at that, preferred alternative is right there in the center of the median, where all the really large trees are located. “ It took us about a year and half to get through the permit process to allow the removal of those trees on Van Ness. But at the last second the replacement trees we had everyone and their brother and sister and mother and grandparents give opinions about what replacement species they would like to see. It was good, it was robust, with the Urban Forestry Councils involved and then at the last second the Arts Commission came out of nowhere and they—you know they didn’t change it all, they just had—of the final preferences they just strongly about one versus the other.
I didn’t see that coming—Arts Commission.
So anyway, Market Street, I think what I was thinking about was that some of the Platanus we are serving is a great host for the swallowed tail butterfly and right when you thought everyone is ready to part with a lot of these Platanus, or Sycamore—we jokingly call them “Sick-a-Lot.” You know, it’s midsummer and they aren’t green, right. They look terrible, they’ve got anthracnose and ________ mildew. Right when you think there is some kind of consensus—there won’t be. Someone comes at the last minute and goes, “Wait a minute, the Platanus is an amazing green corridor.” And that is a great point so now we are going to do—we would never do a full-scale removal—it is just going to be the like the weakest trees we will remove and we will keep the ones that are healthy. So there is going to be something for everyone.
But these are all the different teams that are involved with something like the better Market Street planning process. There is a lot of other people. We have Public Works listed there. So this is a little narly for the early morning but it’s a little bit hard to see with this lighting but this not a crime scene. This is Corymbia Ficifolia, what we used to call Eucalyptus Ficifolia--so —Corymbia Ficifolia just talking about Right Tree, Right Place—some of them get this Kina salve. Kina is the kind of plankton produced by the various plants and trees particularly Eucalyptus. It can be in reaction to mechanical damage or tap find incisions but red gummy, blood looking, it’s just an unusual thing. This is right outside of an elementary school in Glen Park. Again, pretty crazy, right?
[00:30:01] FEMALE PARTCIPANT: Is that up in Bosworth?
[00:30:01] CHRIS BUCK: Yeah, exactly. Right around the corner from St. John’s school I think in that little side street there. So, no one was really complaining about that but I noticed and I thought you know I can use this in a presentation sometime.
The other thing about Corymbia Ficifolia is the base foot produces marbles. So, you know this on a steep street we just have people call us all the time, “Hey, I’m going to trip and fall.” And we take it seriously but we are not going to necessarily remove the tree. But that is a real drawback with that species. The other thing too is they get massive and sometimes they’ve been planted in a pretty narrow sidewalk and it’s just Right Tree, Right Place. We don’t plant these in the sidewalk unless it is super wide now.
[00:30:52] HOST: Chris that is the crimson flowering one right?
[00:30:55] CHRIS BUCK: It is. It is. Most of them really a deep red, they flower around mid
I finally figured out when they flower. It’s like mid-August, it’s right around my birthday. I finally remember. It seems like they flower a little bit throughout the year but mid-August is when you will really see them deep red. But there is also a pale yellowing flowering type, so some are different.
I want to do a little case study here on Myoporum, Laytum. You know we weren’t planting it about ten years ago. I don’t know what is was that we didn’t like about it, because when I look at these photos now it’s really awesome. It creates this umbrella canopy, meaning that all the foliage is out on the outer periphery or the perimeter of the canopy. And these can be planted way out in the avenues and still do really well and handle the wind just fine. But they have just fallen out of favor. Maybe it was sidewalk damage but in retrospect the sidewalk damage wasn’t that much of deal-breaker. That’s what I’m working up to.
So then years ago (Laughter) like we literally had a meeting and we are like, let’s get this back on. We were literally walking down the hallway and we sat down to our desks to be like, “Spread the word. Let’s talk to our colleagues at Friends of Urban Forest.” There are so few species that do well on the outer avenues and that was the idea. It was like, “In the outer avenues gosh, look at these trees. This is a great tree.” And I literally like, Murphy’s Law, within a month there was like—first there was someone that came out that was related to the vineyards, like Oakmont, Apple something or other. Maybe it was. So we had an Myoporum right behind our trailer at the maintenance yard on Cesar Chavez and you know the leaves started getting—so basically we were ready to put this tree back on our,
“You know let’s plant some more of this.” And then the thrips came. It was really depressing—and this is a depressing series of photos but I will duck out of the way. I showed you the before, this is kind of during, this kind of how it is now, and that is how it was before. So obviously there were too many, planted too closely together, but when you look at how is used to look, it’s pretty depressing. So yeah, thrips is a big problem and what is amazing of course, we know is that, if it was a cash crop to some degree there would be all kinds of resources thrown at it. But it’s not a cash crop, there’s a lot of great information and I don’t expect you to read this but I just wanted to put out there resources like U.C. Cooperative Extension has really great information about IPM.
And so we really try to avoid planting things that are going to require like a chemical solution. I think you know the great thing about the Bay Area there is like this aversion to using chemicals. So there it’s just a lot of things—again, usually—the wind is the factor, not for me, for everyone. The wind is going to decide what can survive but we really do avoid—it’s just not a good look if the city is going out and needing to use chemicals to get something to survive. So the thrips is an unfortunate situation will not diminish with that.
So Phoenix Carneriansus, Carnerianan Date Palms we have around the Embarcadero; when that was damaged in the ’89 earthquake, it was a change for that area to be re-envisioned.
And I think it is obvious, you know the palms you can transplant them as a large size and put them in and you have this sort of immediate transformation so it is not too surprising that, that is the one that everyone gravitated towards. So for better or for worse the palms are there. I’m mean they are in many ways, they are pretty amazing and I have developed a much better appreciation for palms over the years.
So we have lost some palms due to Fusarium Wilt. This is in 2014, we had eight really dead looking palms out there and it caught the attention of the news people and then; we have—I don’t talk to the media directly, we have a handler, so Rachel Gordon use to write for the Chronicle but she came over to Public Works about five years ago. When she came and joined us I thought, “Oh, my gosh, that is the most amazing thing Public Works has done in a long time. She’s great.
Obviously she worked with the media, she understands what the media is trying to do and she is really good at giving us like, “Hey, (Chris) I want to give you clearance, these are the questions they are going to ask. Let me just remind you, avoid these things—avoid these pitfalls.” An example was in the Tenderloin, a year ago, the Victorian Box Tree is the Potastrium Angeleaum (Sp) were flowering and it smelled nice. And I guess there was enough in the Tender Line that I guess there was online chatter, it was like, “What’s that smell on the Tender Line.” And it was something that smelled nice. So, Rachel was like it is going to be really easy to come across to people on the Tender Line as like, “Isn’t this cute.” So she was like, don’t be tone deaf, don’t get sucked into that. Talk about the species, what it is that makes them smell but don’t make a joke out of it, it is not. And that is a light-hearted good story—usually it’s more,
why is this tree being removed and it’s much more tense. But that is a good example of easy guidance. Whereas if you don’t realize it you think you are talking off-line—I’m just going to joke for a minute with that reporter—some reporters, if you think you are off-record, you are not. And that would be their lead, right? “Urban Forester things it’s funny that something smells nice on the Tenderloin.” So she is amazing and half the time now when we get calls she doesn’t even need to talk to me or our superintendent she knows the answers and she just lays it out for them.
I have way too many slides but I wanted to tell you guys about this report we had done by Henry Donselman. So, you know we’re not palm experts and I’m going to show you a lot of signs that show you or that is Fusarium, or that is not Fusarium that is something else. My approach as Education Coordinator and Urban Forester
has been, even if I’m trying to identify a tree and I’m not sure about the tree I.D., I’m a very humble—I approach from a very humble place. I know what I don’t know and I know what I know. And I’m not a beat my chest, “That is this species and I know.” I’m going to wait until I have all the information. It’s cool it could be this, it could be that but let’s double check. So we hired Henry Donselman and his scope of work is basically, “Hey, these palms are amazing they are a huge financial investment by the City” and you know he has a lot of great information about how amazing palms are—and I won’t go through all of that because I’m going to be running out of time.
So we got a report, an assessment of all of our palms trees along the Embarcadero—and again really talking about how palms are really a grass and Nikki can’t be here, who is our IPM person with Public Works,
But I was talking to her yesterday in her office and she was just saying, she would never plant a palm, because palms are grass and grass is finicky and it can turn on you in an instant. And I was telling her about my house plant phobia—I was like, “Totally. I’m like totally scared of house plants, it’s just like one day they are cool, the next day they’re not.” So we were laughing about that yesterday, but she’s been working really hard to keep the palms as healthy culturally as possible.
So there is information in our report about palms being effected by Fusarium—“It will exhibit general decline symptoms.” If you read through all this, it talks about obvious things but it starts going into the rib, the tissue, the brown tissue, longitudinal, maybe a parent—you can very easily, your eyes will glaze over and you are kind of like, “wait, what was that?” “What did they say?”
But this is an example that Henry took of one of our palms—“Rapid decline from Fusarium in San Francisco on the Embarcadero, note one sided death of canopy.” So on the left sort of side is dead there.
You know the reason I mention this is you can have—maybe you have a micro or macro nutrient deficiency but you have Joe Blow Arborist who comes in and is just telling that homeowner, “Hey, this $20,000 asset you have I’m just going to declare it Fusarium and you better get that thing down because it’s going to spread.” Meanwhile, it’s not really going to spread and that’s not Fusarium and so there goes your $20,000 asset. So, it keeps talking about what some of the things could be that are causing the palm to look sick or ill and it does say, “clear symptoms of Fusarium Wilt can be masked by the occurrence of two different diseases on the same plant,
such as Pink Rot.”
And so that reminds me back to the, “Okay, so I’m not an expert.”—and there is a lot of unknowns, we need to hire an expert. If have the media coming on us about the palms the best thing you can do is to hire one of the best specialists in the world, right? And then follow their advice, that is the other thing.
So, Henry did a really great report for us. It was really educational. It wasn’t just like, “Here is (are) your problems.” It was really to help us and we actually going to meet up next week and do another round of walks out there to check in on the palms. “Progressive frond death from oldest to newest, canopy, one side of foot death on declining frond, prominent ground stripe scaring the trunk extending out for a distance over the frond tip.” So he has a lot of really great information and
he also talked about when you are going to replace it, basically do a contract and have a crane come and replace the entire thing all in one grab. Don’t use a chainsaw. So there is a lot of really great information on there. And he also talked about, “The new palm should be planted at grade. Immediately after planting a root bulb, should be drenched with 10 to 15 gallons of subdue max, this should be repeated at 6 weeks. I had very good success of 90% following these recommendations.” So in his report he gave us some recommendations of what to do. We don’t have our own tree crew remove the palms that have Fusarium. We have a special contract so we can basically take everything from the report and say, “You are going to remove these exactly as Dr. Henry outlined in the report.” Because we don’t want to spread it. That is the last thing we want to do. So Phosphate
is recommended by him. I thought I might end up giving you our exact formula, I don’t quite have that for you but he has some examples of where it is and it’s a soil drench. You know palms don’t have a vascular system the way that “regular” trees do so it is more of a soil drench there.
So basically we have Nikki De Shelia Nixon, she’s out there—what we do is we water the palms so people think that palm trees are this drought resistant plant—well some maybe, but certainly Phoenix Carnarienses are not. They are in these oases where there are these wells and groundwater that is just sitting there. I finally just saw one for the first time about six years ago, in the 10,000 Palms area—it was really neat to see that.
It is literally a lagoon there. So some of the palms at 6th Street near Market (Street) and Mission (Street) those weren’t doing well—and Ken Allen, before he passed away, he said “Get water on them. That is what those require.”
So we have a lot of information on your report and I’m going to move through a few things. One thing that Henry Donselman notices was that the palms on the left side that have the turf with the irrigation—this gantry was a lot fuller than the ones over here that were not getting more directly irrigated. And again, just point out, that actually with the irrigation you can see that they are doing—again I would have to brush up on this to know for sure. And that is basically what we are going to do next week. This one is manganese deficiency and they are saying it is a little bit flat topped—I don’t almost see what they are talking about but again he is
emphasizing don’t just go out there and run rough shot over these. So here he is talking about harvesting the trees intact—digging out the root ball and craning it out—so that is what we do. Now, Nikki, she can only work out there from 2 to 4 in the morning so when she is out there watering and putting phosphate on there its happening at 2 to 4 in the morning, so she has a different shift because MTA can’t have—we can’t be near the trains.
Pruning palm trees—he put this in here, generally I always thought it was like 9—3 and 9 you know degree but he is even saying keep on some of those lower ones—remove dead fronds but even keep the ones that are drooping down.
Pruning equipment and sterilization, he had a really brilliant idea—his was label your saw with that tree. What we do
is we buy—I know that we buy brand new hand saw blades and we use one per tree and we don’t use that again. But I like this idea of using Clorox, cleaning them but then labeling them and then we can actually use them a few years later. But we tend to be—for a long time I’m like, “Well, if we are buying new ones it’s still worth it when you think about how much can go wrong out there.”
He is basically saying we have good baseline data now, we can kind of build this relationship and work on these—and here are some of the results. He then went through all these; Fusarium, yes or no; nutrition and then other recommendations which is really helpful. That first page looks pretty good, right? And then things get a little squirrely. So suspicious—suspicious,
rapid decline, advance Fusarium, apply phosphite; so he really tried to give us a tree by tree recommendation. We ended up removing maybe seven or so of the palms and a lot of the others were still like half the canopy is still green—and we were like, “We are not going to let go of one of these palms unless it is absolutely necessary.” And the good news in this research is the spread, it’s not—leaving one that has Fusarium isn’t this immediate problem where it is spreading. In his report he went through that in great detail.
The other interesting thing about the palms on the Embarcadero is that technically that is all Port property so Public Works is maintaining the palms for the Port. And the director of the Port had an office right across from—in the Ferry Building and so one of the things that
was happening is that she wanted the palms cut out immediately and we had some folks at Public Works who are starting to feel like we cannot wait; this contract is taking way too long and we thinking like, “You think you are getting pressure right now but go cut those down with a chainsaw and have some more of those die and you will see if should listen to us or not.” We held off, we got the contract. Now at the end of the report Henry Domelson wrote; this is really cool, I want to include this; “Extremely impressed with the knowledge and information that Carly Short shared with me about trees and palms in San Francisco.” She is the former Urban Forester. She is our superintendent. Her city Arborist, James DeVinny, he was an inspector with me—the two of us were covering the entire city at one point. “James DeVinny was also well informed and a true palm plant aficionado; I suggest you give him charge of overseeing these palms. He would do a great job.”
So, I really love this and one of the reasons I love it is because James prepared for this site meeting with Dr. Henry Domselman, like a boot camp. He was like really getting into palms. He knew Jason Deweise (sp) over at Flora Grub Gardens and he was getting ready for the Doctor’s visit. He was like—all the plant anatomy, the _____ or rakius (sp), he was ready for this meeting and James DeVinny was literally on cloud nine for the rest of his days with us. He eventually went to go do some farming in Grass Valley. But he was literally, his feet did not touch the ground for months. He was like, “The Doctor told me that I . . . “ (Laughter) But meanwhile he was literally—it was like boot camp he was like, “I think I’m ready.” But this is some visuals of what we dealt with. The director of the Port was literally looking out at this every day and they are like, “Public Works, just
Go out there and cut it down. I know you got the saws. I know you can do it.” She didn’t say it like that—I’m just saying you know, she has got people on her saying, “Why are we coming to this amazing city and this is what we see?” So again, some visuals on what this is going to look like. See, you can see her office is right there. You can see this one and this one not doing well at all.
[00:50:27] MALE PARTICIPANT: When was this Chris?
[00:50:28] CHRIS BUCK: You know this is like 2014—so about 2014. And here is a different view. I have some really fun photos here—so we are really done with the charts and graphs. So Phoenix Dactylifera is the obviously replacement. It is not known to be impacted by Fusarium at all. So the lay person like, “Okay, we’ve got replacement palms.” I personally feel like they are like a shell of their former selves. They don’t get so full and they don’t droop down. The fronds come down
And then they just break at a 45 degree angle and they look broken and then the public calls and says, “Hey, these fronds are broken and don’t look good.” But I put in a bunch of visuals because I want to play this little game of Spot the Imposter, the Dactylifera. So here is—just to give you a little feel for that—and then, I had fun with this but here is another view of the same situation. And then here is the imposters, the Phoenix Dactylifera. So, you know what from a general perspective that’s not bad.
A quick side note about the palms on the Embarcadero—during the, I was like—what was that called again? During the Occupy Movement we got one call—the mayor is being pressured, what are you going to do, people are camping out, it’s like Woodstock out there and you know—you know and I finally got the call and they were like,
“The mayor wants us to go down and see if anything bad is happening to the palms.” “What is going on underneath there? What is going on underneath those tarps? What are they doing? We are hearing the feces are near the palm, base of the trunk, this is terrible, our palms are at risk.” And they are thinking, “Yeah, that’s our angle,” right? “We are going to clean this thing up if we can say these palms are being jeopardized.” So, I still had long hair then—but I had my vest on, my fluorescent vest and my badge and a clipboard and I just went right in. It was amazing. I went in by Justin Herman Plaza and I got into this network and in the middle of this network there was a library. It was amazing. There was literally like this lending library about The Resistance and it was just really neat to have that opportunity to go in. And I wasn’t infiltrating I was just like, “I’m here to look at the palms.” And there were different people that came up to me and I’m like, “Okay, this must be their communications person
And he is whisking me off.” And I was like, “If the palms are cool,” I’m like “Stay cool Ringo. Be Cool.” (Laughter) You may never see me again and what was amazing is that people were sleeping around the bottom of the palms. And there is that phrase that you don’t do that where you sleep, right? So my report back to the Director and the Mayor was like, “Great news, the palms really aren’t being damaged.” “Well, what about the strings and the ropes around the trunks?” Well don’t have a vascular cambia so a little bit of rope action on the palms, as long as it’s not gauging it, it’s not cutting off the vascular cambia.
So I didn’t solve anything there but it was a little victory. One thing—all this focus on the palms of the Embarcadero and you know the Doctor is out, I was like, “Oh, my gosh. We have palms on Dolores.”
I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” It was like this epiphany. We’ve lost just one palm on the median on Dolores and we have replaced it with the shell of its former self the Dactylifera, but I’m really proud of that. And I think that is because we have been—we have a single crew that we use for pruning palms and it is always him and so fingers crossed we are doing good work out there—not using chainsaws, using individual an individual handsaw and either disinfecting it or literally buying a new one.
One other thing, a great, a new book about palms is with the Flora Grub Gardens; it’s not going to go into IPM but he’s an amazing resource if you ever are like, “Hey here’s a photo, what is this? Is this a micro-nutrient, a macro—what am I looking at?” We call him all the time.
So with that I should do a little bit of time check. I have additional info.
[00:55:12] HOST: We should probably—we need to leave a half hour for Brian.
[00:55:12] CHRIS BUCK: Sure.
[00:55:14] HOST: And at least 15 minutes at the end for discussion—so maybe another 10 minutes.
[00:55:17] CHRIS BUCK: Perfect. Okay, great.
[00:55:20] HOST: I want to have a chance for people to ask you questions.
CHRIS BUCK: Yes, exactly so let’s do that. So what I want to do is go into a few species—some more species specific issues that we have in San Francisco. So Callery Pears get fire blight—and this is Valencia Gardens the new Valencia Gardens which was 10 years ago on Guerrero (St.). We are still planting Callery Pears we are just kind of hoping of the best. Oh, New Bradford—does New Bradford have more resistance to fire blight? Well, you know it turns out not necessarily. So I have this unfortunate series now of healthy, happy to slowly gone.
So that is what we are about to see here. So we started seeing—so fire blight, bacterial disease it kills sections of the canopy and if it’s just impacting some of it, you know we will just prune it out, sterilize your tools and you know that’s it. But some years it will be worse than others and then some years it impacts more critical parts of the canopy. So, I was using Google, a month ago, to go into the story of that. There they are removed and now we have ginkos that are out there starting over. So I feel a little bit like—you know it was a ten year setback.
These are Callery Pears at South Van Ness and one thing that is interesting is that with the drought, the Callery Pears, a couple of years ago, didn’t leaf out—almost at all. They leafed out—cause some of these photos
This photo is taken in July. So that is July 2015 we had a drought that winter before—so a tree that is deciduous doesn’t even have leaves in July. Now Jason DeWeise the palm guy, he hates Callery Pears—and a lot of people really hate Callery Pears—and he was like, “You’ve got to remove these things. They are just useless.” So September 2014 that was the year before—but we found out—this is a the Flowering Cherry, a Flowering Cherry because I thought it was a drought, “Hey, it’s the summer and it hasn’t even finished leafing out.” Again, unscrupulous Arborist who is just like, not bothering to do the research, “Hey, you had some sidewalk repair somewhat recently, you’ve got branches that haven’t leafed out, you know I think your tree is on the way out.” Well, what we found by going to conferences—I was convinced that it was the drought—
But at a conference, someone who knows a lot more than I do, who was a scientist about this stuff, said you know what, “That particular year it was a mild winter.” I was like okay, a mild winter. So now that last couple of years we’ve had a, more cold, couple of cold periods where it got pretty cold and the cherries were doing much better. So I think the drought played a role but it was also this really mild winter. Because this is showing the cherry tree you know a year later in the summer and it’s doing great. So that is a cautionary tale. Sometimes things will happen and it’s seasonal, it’s not necessarily the end of days.
This is a great example—this is Edgewood, over by Franacis.
[00:58:48] Video / Audio skips ahead several minutes.)
[00:58:49] The Blireana, the X-Blireana is the one that gets like aphids and it’s just a smaller, stuntier looking tree. So this one is not on our list of
of recommended species. Blireana it’s just a—you can remember with the X. It has an X and a purple-y plum, it’s like don’t do it. The one that we plant—we really discourage the planting of the purple-y plum and the Flowering Cherry because everybody loves to plant those. It’s a safe little tree. So for years Friends of Urban Forest and Public Works would really try to scale back planting. The purple-y plum it goes about 20 years and then it just starts falling apart.
So Maintane or Maintenance Borea is my wife’s favorite tree. It’s a willow-like—it’s not a willow—it’s a beautiful looking tree—the issue with Maintane are the roots, they sucker. And we’ve had stories of someone having a street tree out front and a basement under their house and having these runners pop up in their backyard.
We don’t plant anymore—not because of this, but because it causes sidewalk damage, the roots do, but they are not tolerant of root pruning. So you go root prune the tree, prepare the sidewalk and six months to a year later have the tree dying back. So for us it is intolerance to root pruning but we are also aware of the roots that sucker up.
Now, my favorite species of trees—it’s not a west coast tree, but it’s the tulip tree, Liriodendron Tulipifera. So these are planted on University Avenue in Berkeley—so when I moved here in ’96 from New York City, it was amazing to go to Berkeley and just be like I can’t believe I’m in Berkeley, USA, this is amazing and then it just got better because my wife was driving and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.” She almost went through a red light and I was like, “They are all tulip trees.” So it was pretty cool. But I soon learned that they were much aligned University Ave because the aphids and the honey doo drop and that attracts black city mold and as you can see, in this image, the sidewalk looks pretty slick. So we just planted them on the side, I’m not quite sure how that happened but our landscape architect just kind of slipped them in. We will see how they do.
Just a couple of final things—so Holly Oaks in the Richmond and in the last couple of years they’ve been really hammered by Oak Moth Caterpillars so that has been an issue for us. And just something separately, more like Siren chasing—but ficus trees and Blackwood acai we don’t plant any more as street trees in San Francisco—and for the Ficus it’s really the branching. We did not do structural pruning back in the day. We do that now and so a lot of these trees have co-dominant stems with
included bark. The blue paint tape is going to hold the tree together. (Laughter) Or whatever those other strings are. I don’t know if they were trying to monitor the crack.
I was on my way to work last year over near here and we had another ficus—it’s a stem failure—so co-dominant stems with included bark—it’s basically where one stem is growing in width, the next stem is growing in width, they are growing apart from each other so in high wind that just—or not even high wind, but under weight they split apart really easily. This image near Joe DiMaggio Playground in North Beach—we got a report of a tree that split in half and—you know, it’s funny like, “Well, did you walk around the tree and you . . . “ Like a joke, right. “What do you mean, of course I walked around the tree.” But I remember being at this intersection and I didn’t notice anything until I got to the backside and I was like, “okay, so half the tree did spit off.”
So that’s why we have not been planting ficus. Ficus also do a lot of sidewalk damage. What is amazing though is that we cut roots on ficus really aggressively and rarely, if ever, see a root failure, so that was like the pro and the con. The bad news is they damage the sidewalk. The good news is we can root prune the tree and still keep it. But because of poor practices by Public Works over many, many decades we started seeing a lot of these fail. Now what we’ve done is on Hyde Street and Russian Hill it’s a bad look for the city to have a ficus down across the street and block the cable car line, so the community along Hyde Street really values the ficus trees and they—( [01:03:48] Video/Audio skips ahead) So we did some judicious heading cuts with very specific pruning objectives—you don’t want to typically head a tree or top a tree if you have a specific objective in mind
and you can document that the right way, you can use heading cuts. Now on Lombard Street as you head up to Coit Tower those three blocks, that community had zero interest in keeping the ficus trees. They had zero acceptance of liability or risk and they really spoke loudly and—it took a few hearings but we ended up removing a good amount of them. Maybe 75% of them and replaced them with Olives. We don’t ever say it’s going to be this or nothing. It is always going to be like let’s try to figure out is there a balance here. It’s never a death sentence for every single ficus. We will still keep them if they have decent branching and we feel like we can continue to manage them.
The issue with Blackwood Acai—now they are terrible in open space areas—heavily invasive in open space areas, Blackwood Acai—they don’t tolerate root pruning so they would damage the sidewalk—we would
root prune and then like the next day, not really the next day but they would fall over. So we had a lot of Blackwood Acai on Haight and the Divisadero—we still have a few but we do not like to root prune those and it’s not a good look. Hoodline is—I think they exist just to document tree failures in San Francisco. They are so fast and good at that—but it is a really bad look. It really undermines confidence, right, in the Urban Forest. And to a lot of people here we probably feel like we can accept a lot of risk and sometimes there’s too much—the sky is falling and sometimes literally the sky IS falling—and that undermines the credibility.
So the goal of Public Works, obviously, is to be safe, clean and green. We don’t want trees to fail. There is no perfect tree—so if any one of you figure that out you will be more famous than Steve Jobs
and you’ll be wealthier than Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, because this is an international thing—the search for the perfect tree. This looks like the perfect three, the New Zealand Christmas tree but it’s repeatedly damaged the sidewalk, right. So every tree has a drawback. People hate the flowers—these flowers are these little needles and they just plaster someone who has—well, if you are fortunate enough to have parking regularly in front of your own home this is a problem for you. And again that is where I’m like, “Stay Cool Ringo. Be Cool.” But I will just say, “Oh, you know Sir you must live in a neighborhood where you are lucky enough to park under your own tree on a regular basis.” And they are just like, “You are not being cool.”
So Desheilia is our IPM specialist at Public Works—literally she couldn’t be her, she’s had some major meetings to deal with but I did want to give a shout out to her because she is really helping us make sure that our palms on the Embarcadero, or the Ports palms or the public’s palms
are well maintained.
And I’m Kris and I really appreciate the chance to just you know kind of get out of my cave and talk to people about something that isn’t always so negative. Because most people call me every day and it’s about what the problem is—no one ever calls to say, “Hey I just dropped $10K on my tree and I want to let you know I still love my tree.” So I love getting out and meeting folks, so thank you. APPLAUSE
[01:07:34] HOST: Any Questions?
[01:07:36] AUDIENCE MEMBER: Inaudible
[01:07:55] CHRIS BUCK: Yeah, so the question is kind of like, what’s the big vision or plans with palms?
So one thing that we’re—one thing that happens a lot is when we do streetscape projects or capital improvements we have landscape architects for Public Works that work with the community and they start floating different species ideas—we are always fighting this battle of like—for like Market Street, they are like well, “You know on upper Market Street by the Castro we have the palms. If would be interesting to tie them in, in somewhere down there.” And we are kind of like, “Stop, conversation. We are not tying the palms in down there. I want broad leafs—we don’t want palms everywhere.” So sometimes there is this desire and it keeps cropping up again and again. “Oh, we can do palms.” And it’s like at Urban Forestry there are so many amazing. ( [01:08:40] Video / Audio skips ahead)
[01:08:45] AUDIENCE MEMBER: I wanted to ask you if you grant exceptions for _________________________ ? In situations well, sometimes where it is just really obviously in the wrong place
and sometimes not so obvious and often really expensive trees. And what I would like to say because this is the idea of the program is, you probably have the wrong thing there. We aren’t going to give you an exemption to spray this every year, because it’s the wrong plant in the right place but—and that may work if it’s not a $20,000 tree.
[01:09:25] CHRIS BUCK: Exactly. And that’s the challenge.
[01:09:27] AUDIENCE MEMBER: If we had a—do you think we should have a pass?
[01:09:30] CHRIS BUCK: Well, I mean I think that the good news is that everyone at—like anyone at the Urban Forestry Council and they represent all the different, sort of departments and advocates that have a stake in trees in the City—and you know I think the challenge would be, there is going to be an obvious blowback, push back on, “Wait, these are any amazing asset. We put all these resources and are putting them out there.”
But, it could be, again—and no one is saying we’ll get rid of them overnight, but if they are succumbing to Fusarium. For one what is exciting is at least—I guess the point for someone who wants to keep the palms would say, “Well we have Phoenix Dactalyfira and it doesn’t require any chemicals. We are just going to make sure they get extra water.” And so folks would probably say that. But it’s a good—it’s a really good point and it’s one that I’m sure will be robustly debated. But I do like that from a policy perspective is anytime you can move away from the chemical I just think that is always a great thing. And again I’m not an indoor plant person and so I think it’s a really good point and it’s great to know that conversation is being had out there. You know at least discussed.
[01:10:48] (Inaudible exchange)
[01:11:00] CHRIS BUCK: Yeah, and Nikki is not here but I—at some point we can look at what is everything that we use. Because she has to—I know she has to catalog it there are some technical things, I don’t know, she handles but I know that she’s got a catalog and recording it. Yeah, in the back.
[01:11:17] AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have been planning a really small space on the_________ with Japanese Maple you know right on the ocean that we had to replace and I was given a recommendation for the wharf version of the Southern Magnolia, I forget the. . . .
[01:11:33] CHRIS BUCK: Yeah, it’s probably the Little Gem Magnolia.
[01:11:38] AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah, that’s it the Little Gem and it’s done real well and I see some popping up in like the Sea Cliff area, would you recommend that as a _______ tree?
[01:11:44] CHRIS BUCK: Yeah, the Little Gem is a nice little street tree. It’s kind of like a little boutique street tree. It takes a long time but eventually it will be a nice 15 or 20 feet solid performer. What is really ironic, with narrow sidewalks, with small space
Small stature trees, at maturity, don’t do well because they are horizontal and so it’s really tricky but a lot of narrow sidewalks really require a medium to large—like the vertical tree tends to be a large stature at maturity, like a Brisbane Box. So it is one of those things sometimes we have someone with Blue Blossom, like a Ray Hartman and a narrow sidewalk and the canopy is just going to be easier to fix, right? It’s just going to be in your face at all times. So sometimes with a narrow sidewalks it’s just, it’s maddening. Yeah, in the front.
[01:12:34] AUDIENCE MEMBER: A question about maintenance and preparing for that with major installations. Have you guys worked with Silva Cells at all?
[01:12:42] CHRIS BUCK: Silva Cell is installed in some areas, so Mission Bay.
[01:12:47] AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can you tell us what that is?
[01:12:47] CHRIS BUCK: Yeah, so Silva Cell is kind of a subterranean system of allowing—so years ago there was coronel structural soil and the skinny on that
was everything wen gang busters at first, but then it ran soil lime. I was saying that soil lime not an issue. It ran up soil lime, it was too much gravel and not enough soil, so James Urban who had really been promoting Silva Cells which is like this little erector set network below ground where you can put—you don’t have to be packed in soil much, you can backfill really great soil. So some large scale projects do trigger either a trench of like all soil where they literally put in great soil for the whole block. So on Mission Bay, certain large developments, the Planning Department triggers that and they say you have to do a trench install of—you are not compacting the soil as much so there are a lot of discussions about what’s the best way to come up with sidewalk alternatives that will work and so far there isn’t one thing
That is clearly, you know head and tail above the rest. What we typically do is open up the basin size, so we are now preparing that immediate area again we are not cutting those roots over and over again and just leave it as a really large basin. You usually see that more on like Dolores Street where we have a huge opening but a lot of the sidewalks are too narrow to do too much of that. And a lot of the infrastructure solutions, like sidewalks and all these other things there is still drawbacks. There is still—like you’ve got to tie it back into something, you still need like some base to—you know—and then you end up like back where you are. So right now there isn’t anything—root guards that you put around the base of a tree—like 16 inches or two feet, it doesn’t do anything. You know we’ve tried some of these things. We don’t want to say never. So we do try things—different things that are on the market with the hope that one of these things will be the magic answer. But there really isn’t, you know. Just avoiding
Certain species on certain narrow sidewalks, the thing that really hurts though is that we—or at least, I do—I want big trees, you know. And the battle is just finding the right space for them and trying to be responsible. So maybe just a final question probably.
[01:15:18] AUDIENCE MEMBER: What is your policy for dealing with tree roots growing inside sewer lines and impacting all the building systems underground?
[01:15:28] CHRIS BUCK: So that is a great question. So Proposition E, or Street Tree SF, the City is now responsible for planting, maintaining, pruning street trees. We are responsible for repairing the sidewalk that gets damaged by tree roots of the street tree. We no longer—so the question is about roots and sewer lines--essentially our take is this—up until about ten years ago for the streets that we maintained we would reimburse people for their clean-outs if they jet it out or snake it out.
We would also reimburse people for the repairs. And then we did this financing study as part of the Urban Forest Planning research and we realized that we are the only large city that was reimbursing property owners and giving them new sewer laterals. So we don’t do that anymore and the theory behind it is, if you have a whole in your roof and you put a branch through the roof—you say, “look at what this tree just did to my roof.” Well the sewer line is—typically it’s old, it’s earthen, it’s 80 years old, it’s terra cotta, it’s cracked, it’s chipped, it’s leaky. So typically what we say is that there is something that starts with the sewer first, it leaks and then the tree roots absolutely do take advantage of that and absolutely destroy it but it starts with an issue with the sewer line first, because if the sewer line is intact it wouldn’t be dripping. So our take is, unfortunately,
That’s still the one thing that is on the property owner. With the idea that it’s an issue with the sewer line and it’s hopefully only one of those things you only repair certainly once in a lifetime if you are the current owner, but like every 80 years or so. But it is expensive. It’s 10 to 15K to re-do the front part of that sewer line.
[01:17:22] AUDIENCE MEMBER: They typically you require that when you sell the property to the next homeowner you have to repair the sewer lateral or have the certification at least now.
[01:17:31] CHRIS BUCK: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’m not aware if they have that in San Francisco but that would be an interesting way.
[01:17:41] HOST: Okay, well thank you.
[01:17:45] (Video / Audio Skips ahead to new speaker, presenter)
[01:18:01] PRESENTER 2: That ended or it is in hiatus right now so when that was over, about two years ago they just said you are doing a great job on the Sunset, just take over the whole thing. You are the lead gardener now. So that’s what I’ve been doing most of the time for the last two years is just being the lead gardener. Sunset Boulevard, most of you know where it is and everything but just to do a little recap it’s 2.3 miles long. It runs all the way from Lake Merced to Golden Gate Park and it has two pretty large landscape parcel on either side of Sunset Boulevard. And here we are going to go back in time a little bit, that is the installation starting in 1931. I believe that is looking south. Yeah, but one thing to remember we are going to talk a little bit about native plants—there were no native plants on Sunset Boulevard. It was all sand dunes. And as far as I know, if somebody can correct me, I’m really an amateur historian
But I heard the landscape installation was designed by John McLaren he also did Golden Gate Park—and basically that is what it is today. So he designed it as basically kind of a grand boulevard. It’s really unique for the City. It’s the biggest single landscape feature that Public Works handles for sure. And it is also, definitely the highest profile, if you added up all the cars that are zooming down it every day. It’s a thorough fare, right-of-way and most people are seeing it at 30 miles per hour. But it was designed with this kind of grand, Victorian architecture of the stately trees, big lawns and then your shrubbery and your ornamentals—and from talking to elderly residents that have been there for a long time, they tell me, “Oh, it was so beautiful in the Fifties, you wouldn’t have believed it.” I think they had about 10 full-time gardeners taking care of it back then. By the Nineties, by the Eighties and Nineties it had gone down to about 5 gardeners. I’d say probably
By early 2000 and then when the financial crisis hit it just was gone. It just became part of a emergency maintenance—you know arborists go out there when a tree branch falls off one of these old cypress and we liter pick it and go pick up the—when people go dump a truck load of garbage on there. So it’s kind of—I just really fell in love with it though—the animals and the plants and the whole sense of this greenway that connects two large green spaces. The animals are pretty cool you know I’ve seen a Blue Heron eat a gopher—I’m friends with the Red Tail Hawks, that follow me around when I’m mowing. So that is the other thing, we mow it, right. So there is no—what used to be lawn is now just an amalgamation of every weed that we have in the city. It all grows together and when the irrigation is working and there isn’t a drought then you know it’s kind of green and you mow it and it looks like of like a lawn at 30 miles an hour. (Laughter) So it’s challenging, it’s a real monster.
So I’m the only gardener taking care of it and I sometimes have a couple kids help me out. So when they gave it to me, they give me a lot of leeway—they are basically like here, “Take care of it. Make it look better or not any worse.” (Laughter) What I noticed was just how many atrocious features there were. It’s hard to capture these things in photographs but basically every block has one. It’s a dead tree—completely dead, it’s been dead for five years, ten years with ivy growing in it. This is a pile of—probably a cypress tree that fell down in a storm, the arborist root ground the stump a little bit, left a pile of mulch, eventually ivy and Himalayan Blackberry will grow over that pile of mulch. So that is why we have stumps, clumps and bumps.
You know when you dig this up you don’t know what you are going to find. It could be a
Samsonite suitcase from the ‘70s or a car battery or whatever, it’s just—when we have to go mow—we are driving John Deer 72 inch mowers, it’s a treacherous bumpy ride. You know you have to go around all these dead trees and stuff—so right away, as a gardener, I have done high end gardening so I’m kind of detail oriented, so they gave me something that I’ll never run out of work. I was like, “Can we just do something about these stumps, bumps?” My boss was like, “Yeah, sure take this machine.” So they gave me this little skid-loader and a flat rack and I just started tearing it up, but I did have a little plan in mind. This is like what I’m doing—just one little 100 square foot area can fill like two or three flat-racks. [01:22:48] (Video / Audio skips ahead frames)
So the inspector was like when we finish inspecting the rain guards we can hire this contractor to come in and squirt hydra-seeding around all the—you know to protect the disturbed areas.
I was not impressed with the outcome of that hydra-seeing, for how much we spent on it, it just didn’t come up that much, you know the weeds took it over again. You know we had the problem with the irrigation not really hitting all the spots. So we got some wildflowers—and I do like wildflowers, but I was looking at it more like, “How can I just do something you know make some of these open spaces look a little better?” So I got my boss to buy me a 50 lbs. bag of this mixed seed. So this is on Brotherhood Way and we just started it as an experiment. So this is last winter. We went out and rubbed it out with a roto-tiller and just kind of lightly raked it out and I was experimenting with how much do you have rake out the clumps of grass and stuff to give the wildflowers a chance--and let’s see what happens—so last year this worked out pretty good. That was only like a couple days work for me and a couple of people. And this is a blooming in April—they were installed in December—so they bloomed pretty much all throughout
Spring and there was no irrigation. We got it in like in December so it still got rained on. That was one key point. We are dealing with a lot of areas that don’t have any irrigation. So this is what makes this fun. It works, kind of—but it didn’t like it all the way because the next year, the weeds just came back. You know we have so many weeds here. So if you can go on Brotherhood (Way) now we you will see we still left a little of these patches because there are some in there but as a landscape feature it’s just not enough to have it look raggedy for me. You know I want to try to get it—you know see what we can get and that will also re-seed itself. That’s kind of the beauty of the native wildflowers. You are doing to let them go until they dry then drop the seeds and come back.
[01:24:52] AUDIENCE MEMBER: What are the flowers, do you know?
[01:24:51] PRESENTER 2: I’m going to show you a list. I just have a picture of the packing slip but I’ve got the list as part of the thing. It’s about eleven different things; poppy’s, blue buttons—I’m not going to try to improvise the list. We will talk about it in a little bit. So, yeah it looks pretty cool but like I said it wasn’t quite enough for me so I kept thinking—this is another example, I had this sack I just carried around in my truck. He had me just go out—he’s like there are some weeds coming out of these pots—you know the pots had a kind of boring display, if you ask me, just the flax and the rosemary, so last winter when I weeded out—like ten minutes, I’m just like pulling weeds and throw some seed—again, wintertime, so I come back like two months later and it’s like, “Dang, that looks cool.” So it does show that wildflowers can work in these certain ways. They do want to come out you know when they get that little bit of water.
So that is where I was grubbing out on Sunset. So that is the same scene that I showed you before where the stump and the clump was—so it’s like torn up, right? This is part of the explanation and the justification for the whole wildflower thing
that my boss was letting me spend the time on was it—we can’t just leave this scar. Now that I got the stump and the clump out you aren’t just going to leave a big mud pile—it’s common sense.
So we got to do that with a little light machinery and have a little crew do a little lite, more cleaning out and raking it and grading it and they raked it out pretty good and then we had irrigation on this one. So what it is interesting about this site which is at Wawona and this is last year, last fall—so it was planting them out of season. You know usually you plant wildflowers in the winter, early spring before the rains—but this was like in an Indian Summer, September-October, but I knew I had this sprinkler and I couldn’t wait to see if they would do anything so I just went ahead and just sowed them and they popped up. It looked pretty cool—for a while. I was like
That started to get me pretty excited. I was like, “There is something here.” But again, right away the weeds just started coming back and as soon as the dock is this tall and the wild oats, it just starts to not look right and the whole thing is that we are trying to eliminate that blighted look because as soon as it looks like a crazy, over-grown area people start calling and then other people come and throw a shopping cart in there. (Laughter) So that was done in the early Fall and now—it doesn’t look too good right now. The weeds took over and we had to start kind of mowing it but I’m trying to let enough of it drop seed and we will just throw more seed on it. So this is extent of the experiments with just straight up sowing and grubbed out soil.
[01:27:45] (Video / Audio skips ahead frames)
And this is still looking pretty good, a slope. I asked the lady on the train I was like, what about if you tried sheet mulching with the wildflowers seeds and she was like, “Um,” because she hadn’t really thought of it but she said, “Okay, do the sheet mulch on top of this raked soil but you don’t even have to grub it out that bad.” That was one thing I liked. You don’t have to try to get every root out. She says, “Then put the cardboard down and put three inches of compost down on top of that, sow the seed—no mulch.” Okay, so I picked my next site which was at Ocean and Sunset and I always just liked this corner anyway. It is kind of the entrance to Sunset Boulevard if you coming from like Merced. You know that is the slopped overpass where—it’s like Welcome to Sunset Boulevard. This exact location was a big tree stump, it was a Black Pine that fell down about three years ago, you guys might have remembered, it was crazy big tree fell over, they chopped it off—the stump was there for about two more years and then they finally hauled the stump out. So I graded it out and then it sat there for another while, but that was the one I had my sight on and when they told me about the sheet mulching
I’m like okay, let’s do it here. So I picked two sites—because it is not just one long continuous things—it’s kind of like in two blocks, it’s about 2,500 square feet and I just went to town. And I had two guys helping me and again, this comes back to the low cost. It’s like what can we do out there with little resources that we have. This is just two PSCs helping me for two, two and a half days to get these two meadows in. I will just show you real quick. We wet it down and do another layer cross ways, so it’s two layers. I think the way the sun shines and then just put clean compost, very important not using the site soil because of all the weeds in it and that’s installed, right? So this was in December and I watered it in when we first put it in. When they were about this tall I put the Rain Bird, which I had to run with a hose from a fire hydrant across the street, so I did put supplemental watering
on it just when planting and at one other time because it wasn’t quite raining yet. After that it was just nothing but rain to water it. That is the list. We can go back to that later if anyone wants a copy of it. But I developed it—it’s a custom mix from Pacific Coast Seed Company (it got cut off). It cost about $40 a pound and a pound does 1,000 square feet. And I designed it to have some sequential blooming. The ____________ hasn’t even started blooming yet. The akilia will come out a little later too but right now it’s all Lupin and—but that’s—so this is two months after sowing and that is when I knew we were on to something because it is like—if you get in there you can find a weed in there. It is just completely solid
and it’s doing what my dream really was, like can you get these wildflowers to just grow so densely that the weeds can’t get started anyway. Nothing came through the cardboard except for like a dock. That’s a strong one that can pierce through. But really it’s like a 100%, at that stage looking amazing and I didn’t even touch it again. With the rain we got this year we kind of had some late rain. But that is what it is looking like right now. It’s even looking better from—that picture was taken two weeks ago. And you can see it from the road, like when you are driving by Sunset at 30 miles per hour it’s like, “What!” There’s more color than has been on Sunset Boulevard for decades, I’m sure. And I haven’t really seen any other wildflower patches that look that good. So I think the sheet mulch really works and it can work in so many different applications. If I was to do a more capital installation like the classic
native plant restoration effort where you are going out on a hill and planting one gallon backers or whatever, which is always so hard to make work because of the weeds—I would try to do a planting in this because what these things are doing is like really holding on to the soil moisture and it seems they are just thriving off the mist that we get on the Sunset even when it is not raining. They aren’t even looking dried out at all. But that would really protect other plantings. The cardboard isn’t cheap. I would say the materials for this block, which visually it is like a whole block, it was probably like $300, you know and a couple days of labor so I’m like, “You know that’s pretty cool.” Not a capital project, it was just part of maintenance.
[01:32:46] (Video / Audio skips ahead frames)
So that is our seal. And that’s about it.
[01:32:59] HOST: Questions?
(Video / Audio Skips ahead frames)
[01:39:16] AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do you know if the seed mix is pre-treated at all? With any sort of fungicide or insecticide?
[01:39:24] BRIAN LEASE: I don’t think so. I just came up with the variety mix and my supervisor ordered it but I didn’t see anything like that on the packing slip so I don’t think so.
[01:39:39] AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s not done to wildflower seed, only to turf seed.
[01:39:45] AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s with a sterile-fying agent so it will germinate but other than that they are not. Because we do the same thing, we use the Pacific Coast Seed we do the Bay Area Wildflower Mix which is a couple of extra species it’s like 12 I think
and we have similar results but it really does help to clear the area and then sow the seeds because it’s hard to –you know June, July when everything starts drying out we always get calls like, “Hey, it looks like crap.” All your wildflowers. . .
[01:40:19] BRIAN LEASE: Just wait, they are almost dropping.
[01:40:19] AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah, I’m always trying to push, “Just give us a little a more time and let them go to seed and then we will come in and weed wack everything down.” And then we try to keep weed free and then let things come back next year.
[01:40:34] BRIAN LEASE: Well, we will see.
[01:40:37] HOST: Well, let’s give Brian another round of applause. (APPLAUSE) Can you come back and tell us how it goes. Especially since we are working on promoting pollinator friendly landscapes, I’m just imagining Sunset Boulevard.
[01:40:58] BRIAN LEASE: That’s the thing, like I said it was cheap and fast
and it really is doable compared to the old way of, “Okay, let’s get 10,000 gallons out there and wash them back.”
[01:41:08] AUDIENCE MEMBER: It is almost like you need to agricultural grade equipment through and just disc and just do it like, you know like you would do a corn field, where you would annihilate everything and then seed it and then see what happens. But I’m mean this is a pretty big patch. Two miles.
[01:41:28] BRIAN LEASE: Alright, thanks a lot everybody. (APPLAUSE)
[01:41:39] AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can I give for two minutes my elevator speech?
[01:41:40] HOST: Yes.
[01:41:41] AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay, I taught a class called, “Weeds in the Urban Landscape” for many years at __________ College and I turned all my notes and stuff into a book called, “Weeds of the Urban Landscape.” Where they come from, why they are here and how to live with them—live with them can include anything from you know letting them do whatever they want
to you know spraying everyone as it comes up to some sort of intermediate—you know strategy, which is what I advocate really, all based on knowing the plants, knowing how serious they are, making priority lists, practicing good IPM. I’ve got a chapter in here on IPM and I’ve also got a chapter called, “Pesticide 101” which tells how you should do it if you must use the pesticides. (Video / Audio skips ahead frames) The book is available. The thing I advocate is to get your local bookstore to order you one. They can be ordered from Penguin Random House which is the distributor, the publisher is North Atlantic Books, or if you must from Amazon. But your local, independent bookstores will have it.
[01:43:03] AUDIENCE MEMBER: What is your name again?
[01:43:03] RICHARD ORLANDO: My name is Richard Orlando.
[01:43:09] HOST: And Richard has been part of this group for many, many years.
[01:43:13] RICHARD ORLANDO: I live in Oakland.
[01:43:15] AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oh, you live in Oakland. But do you have a section in there for jewelry making with English base?
[01:43:19] RICHARD ORLANDO: That I don’t. (Laughter) But if you provide me with the information that can be an addition, I’ll do it.
[01:43:37] HOST: Okay, thank you Richard. (APPLAUSE) We should have had the wine and the o’deuvres. (Video / Audio skips ahead frames)
[01:43:55] HOST: Drink the coffee. Drink it quick. (Laughter) We have the other group coming in, in exactly two minutes and we have to kind of make the move
fairly soon. But I do want to tell you also and Luis asked me to remind you of this there is a bill in the works, AB 24 or 22 by Richard Bloom who is from Santa Monica, who is one of our—he put out a lot of good legislation in the past and he’s been a big ally on a lot of issues. This is about restricting Rodenticides and it is—it’s, without getting into the politics of it too much it’s a very well intentioned effort to put some further restrictions on the second generation rodenticides which—those are the single feed anticoagulants that are most directly connected to wildlife deaths, which we banned for most uses way back in 2008 here on the City properties. But statewide it is still—it has been restricted to
professional use and agricultural use actually. They are still not seeing, which is my understanding, a reduction in the wildlife deaths and so this bill—well it was being kind of advertised as being style after our approach to rodenticides which is we don’t allow it, except in sewers which there is no other choice in sewers, unless there is an eminent public health threat and we have to have our Department of Public Health sign off on any exemptions for use of these products before we give them an exemption. I think they went a little farther than that and they started off as a complete ban on anticoagulants, which I don’t think is ever going to go anywhere because there is a huge public health element to rat control and a lack of tools for some situations.
The Agricultural Commissions Organization, Cacasa came out very strongly against it, I think, probably because it was worded as such a broad ban. So I’m just bringing it to your attention because it is something worth watching as it progresses. I’m hoping it will get a little bit more nuanced, for example, they tried to introduce some wording requiring local public health authorities to give approval for use of these kinds of products, which is—might work, I don’t know—so it is something that does affect operations here and all over the state so it’s worth watching. Especially since we had a whole campaign on those products ten years ago.
Next month we have Scott Portman from the USDA who is going to talk about control of Cape Ivy which is an interesting topic and we are going to get into the nitty gritty of some etymology which is always the best kind of presentation, bugs. So thank you for coming and we will see you next month. (APPLAUSE)