Norman Yee's Coyote Hearing: Can't We All Just Get Along?

Experts Encourage Coexistence at Board of Supervisors Meeting on Coyote Populations Coyote and pup

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors met on March 24th to address the growing concerns about the coyote population in local parks and open spaces. Experts from organizations like The Presidio Trust, SF Parks & Recreation, and Animal Care and Control all agreed that the foremost method of dealing with this is through coexistence between humans, their animal companions, and the local coyotes.

We, as humans, must adapt our behavior as well as that of our pets.” We cannot expect our desire for pleasant and leash-free strolls to overcome the needs of local animal populations.

The local coyote population — which had previously been locally extinct since the 20s — has returned, causing a number of reports of attacks on small dogs and resulting in the deaths of at least two dogs, including 7-pound Malti-poo, Buster in Stern Grove.

Coyote on streetAlthough there have been 69 sightings in San Francisco this year, this problem is not one that is specific to San Francisco or even the Bay Area. Jonathan Young, an ecologist with the Presidio Trust, noted that considerations surrounding the habitats for these animals are being held in cities like New York, Chicago, and Vancouver. Urban coyotes are different from rural coyotes and these distinctions must be taken into account when dealing with the animals.

While local residents are afraid for their pets, there are no simple or straightforward solutions. Much of this is due to the simple fact that our city's open spaces are exactly the habitats necessary for these animals to thrive. There are, however, certain factors that make this less an issue of excessive population growth and rather an issue of understanding and coexistence.

Coyote populations are self regulating. There are only as many as can be supported by the available habitats and resources. Coyotes often live in bonded pairs, with a pupping season between March and September. With the habitat restraints, it has been noted that there is only space for two bonded pairs in The Presidio.

As Virginia Donahue, Executive Director of Animal Care and Control, said, "When you kill a coyote, two come to its funeral". This speaks to the urban coyote's inherent population maintenance. Although there are the limiting factors of available habitats and resources, the death of a coyote in a pre-existing den will only create a vacuum that will soon be filled by another animal from a nearby population.

In order to manage the population and protect families and their pets, as well as this native species, experts like those at the Presidio Trust, Animal Care and Control, and SF Recs & Parks, have come up with plans to ensure safety for humans and their companions, and humane lifestyles for these coyotes who are as native to San Francisco as the California poppy.

Some of the more direct action to be taken has included building fences — not so much to keep the coyotes or humans out, but rather to condition them away from certain areas like well-trodden trails.

Another action is the use of hazing, or recreating the natural fear that animals have of humans. While this may seem inhumane, it is simply a counter-effort to the habituation that coyotes have learned to humans and their food. The fences are a part of this hazing as are the use of paintball guns. The paint has a twofold purpose: to give them the physical sensation that is critical to conditioning and to notably mark the bolder, problem coyotes with paint that will remain visible for some time.

Coyotes, just like beloved family pets and humans themselves, are individuals with distinct personalities. Just as some dogs are more aggressive or confrontational, so too are coyotes. When considering lethal action, which must only be considered in the most extreme cases, experts wish to focus on individual animals and be sure to only take action against those that have continuously caused problems.

These direct action items are all for extreme cases. For the most part, the bulk of control will take place by the education of citizens and better understanding by both local residents as well as the area experts.

Both the experts and the residents will have to work together to ensure adequate and robust reportings of sightings. Websites like iNaturalist as well as open calling policies allow residents to report sightings, interactions, encounters, or attacks. Notably, local outdoors groups will also be creating heavy signage, creating educational brochures online and off, and organizing meeting with dog owner groups like SF Dogs to educate local owners.

Donahue said it best: "We, as humans, must adapt our behavior as well as that of our pets." We cannot expect our desire for pleasant and leash-free strolls to overcome the needs of local animal populations. To the coyotes, we humans are just gentrifiers who have been here far too long. We must take responsibility for our actions and learn how we can live together with our fellow local-inhabitants.  

Maya Lakach is a local journalist.

April 2016

Public Uneasy at Balboa Reservoir Meeting

grumpy people at Balboa meeting
Smiles were rare at the meeting to discuss the future of the Balboa Reservoir Photo above: Jeremy Shaw

At the second meeting of the many that are planned for the 17-acre Balboa Land Trust owned by the SF Public Utilities Commission, the discussion progressed from initial plans to specific ideas. It’s been over four months since the community last met with the SF Planning Department and the Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

Attitudes toward the development appeared to have made little progress since four months ago, when the last meeting took up the issues. During the discussion in the overcrowded Multipurpose Room at City College, many indignant local residents continuing to bemoan traffic on Plymouth Street and NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) attitudes were plentiful.

…City officials remained impressively unflappable against the barrage of opinion. A roughly twenty-strong team managed the room of dissenters…”

As the crowded room’s mostly progressive-leaning constituents continued to decry the influx of outsiders into the area, and expressed their worries about the changing social environment, NIMBY seemed to be the word of the hour. The continued use of the phrase, implied a certain self-awareness among the meeting’s attendants as many charged the others with self-righteous and impossible-to-please attitudes, — all evidence of the basic disagreement and the futility of the input . And who could blame them? The reservoir from above

Amidst the seemingly thousands of newspaper articles on rising housing prices (“we’re the second highest in the country!” “No! Now we’re the highest in the country! “$3,000 average rate of a room!”), attendees found it hard to remain stoic in the face of what seemed an impossible problem: how to create more housing for every income level while maintaining the character of the City that encouraged such rapid growth.

Of the demands called for by the voters, only market rate housing was meeting the target, low income was around 30% fulfillment and moderate income lagged at only 18%. Despite all other suggestions, housing is certainly on the agenda for the space — at least at some level — and all other plans will need to work around that.

This consideration for housing was indeed contested, but City officials remained impressively unflappable against the barrage of opinion. A roughly twenty-strong team managed the room of dissenters while also lending an open ear to residents: those who understand the subject firsthand.

These neighborhood locals, especially those that have lived in the Ocean Corridor for twenty years or more, proved to have valuable input on the subject. After years of experience in the neighborhood, their suggestions rang true despite understandably raised tones.

One complaint ran common between both the City officials and the community: traffic. Many were looking to public transportation upgrades as a fix to this problem. Unfortunately, there is an awkward placement of the multiple transit centers that grace the area. In the half mile between Balboa Park Station and the north side of City College, the J K,L and M lines run, as do the 29, 43, and 49 MUNI lines, and the ever-useful BART train (so long as it’s between the hours of 6 and 12am).

Despite all of this transit, nearly as much as downtown, it surprised few that almost all neighborhood residents choose to drive, aggravating traffic and causing conflict. One resident, responding to the most important issue question, said “I hate to say it, but traffic.” This suggestion, paired with the realistic need for more parking, led some to suggest using the space as a parking lot, an idea that seemed unfashionable compared to the more glamorous visions such as open space areas, small-use parks and even an arts center. Despite this, parking and traffic suggestions seemed to be the most necessary, especially when considering that it is almost inevitable that some part of the space will be converted into moderate-income housing with a new collection of commuters (and their cars).

Transit options mentioned included creating a below or above ground center that would unite the disparate stations and bus stops, even something as future-forward as a gondola going from Balboa Park Station to the top of the hill.

As the City inches closer to creating the Request for Proposal (RFP), which they plan to show to prospective developers by the end of this year, it became increasingly obvious that the only agreement was to disagree on everything, and that the problem of a changing City landscape is a difficult one to resolve. Consensus was far away, with everyone seeming to have a different opinion, and some were anxious about seemingly small aspects of infrastructure.

The meeting ended with less fanfare than when it began, as people slowly trickled out without any final closing statements. But nothing needed to be said to the group at large, who already knew that it would be difficult for the City to incorporate the varied ideas of the large group.

As the deadline for the RFP looms, which the Planning Commission plans to submit by the end of this year, the plans solidify as each meeting brings the City closer to understanding the wants and needs of the citizens, mostly by first finding out what it is that they don’t want.

To continue the conversation with the City apply to join the Citizens Advisory Commission to have direct impact on the Request for Proposal.

The Balboa space itself may turn out to be the ideal place to function as an example for developments in the rest of the City. Even if it does not, these community meetings highlight opportunities for citizens to share in opinions and hear things straight from the people — yes people — who work for the government.

Maya Lakach is a local reporter.

June 2015

Balboa Reservoir Plan Moves to the Next Stage

Back in January, the Public Land for Housing Commission held a community reservoir sitemeeting at Lick-Wilmerding High School to discuss the planned changes to be made at the site of the Balboa Reservoir on Phelan Avenue. What has been a cement eyesore and over-large parking lot for many years is now facing development, like almost everywhere else in the city, although the PLHC is making sure to get community approval and suggestions from meetings like this one in January, and again at the May 5th meeting.

…everyone had something to say and it seemed like no one was saying the same thing. The commonality among the community members seemed to be a strong sense of NIMBY…”

The initial meeting in January could be described as something close to what one might see in a sitcom or small-town drama: everyone had something to say and it seemed like no one was saying the same thing. The commonality among the community members seemed to be a strong sense of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard).

Despite the dissenting opinions of the neighborhood constituents, project manager Jeremy Shaw has moved forward toward a strategy over the past four months to arrive at the plan to be presented next month.

Shaw seems to have taken a more singular view of the myriad opinions spouted in January and is moving forward with plans to include moderate and low income housing, as well as open space and maintained public parks with walking paths.

The next steps for Shaw and company will be to create a Request for Proposal to send to potential designers and developers, and it is this objective that will hopefully be ironed out and prepared at May’s meeting. Although “developer” seems to have become a bad word in the Bay Area in recent gentrify-heavy years, Shaw and the entire Public Land for Housing Commission hope that with the community involvement, the final state of the land will be something to be enjoyed by everyone, both those new to the city and lifetime residents.

At May’s meeting, which will take place on the City College campus in the Multi-Use Building, Shaw will present his plan, blueprints and tentative proposals for a multi-income housing development next to large open spaces and walking paths. What Shaw wants to hear from the neighborhood constituents is how they would most like to use this free space, what they want it to look like, certain activities they have in mind, and other questions of a similar ilk.

What the PLFH Commission would like to achieve is maximum use from a space that has so long been forgotten by the neighborhood and left nearly for dead. In a city where every inch of space in our 7-by-7 mile landscape is precious, it’s time to get to work.

The key element of this project and the accompanying meetings are to create a safe space at the meetings, within San Francisco, and at the future reservoir site. The Public Land for Housing Commission wants to create a place that does not bulldoze over the opinions of the people who have kept this city alive over the past 40 some-odd years.

Hopefully, what May’s meeting will accomplish will be to find those who are ready to accept change (yes, its hard) and are ready to say not what they don’t want in their backyard, but indeed what they do want there.

Maya Lekach is a local reporter.

May 2015

Public Land for Housing: Balboa Reservoir?

meeting regarding the Balboa Reservoir
Photo by: Otto Pippenger

When Mayor Ed Lee surveyed San Francisco looking for unused land that could be repurposed, the site of the Balboa Reservoir on Ocean Avenue was one of the first to be considered.

The newly created Public Land for Housing commission held their first community meeting on the subject of this site on January 21st at Lick Wilmerding High School.

While low income housing is often subsidized by the government and market rate housing is subsidized by hearty paychecks (or trust funds), it is moderate income housing that takes a back seat. If the city carries on at this rate, it will quickly become a polarized environment: the ultra rich and the ultra poor. ”

The meeting and the impending development was advertised as the possibility of 6,000 new homes in San Francisco. While this might have held exciting promise in the Financial or SOMA districts of San Francisco, where many new residents work and play, the reaction was a resounding difference when the local community came out to speak their part at the meeting.

The discussion was an exercise in creating a town hall vibe in the big city. The attendees were mostly homeowners from the surrounding neighborhood, namely Ingleside, Sunnyside, Balboa Park and Crocker Amazon. Many came with their neighbors, some speaking for those who held less of a grasp on the English language.

Before the real hubbub began, project manager Jeremy Shaw politely outlined the plan - both for the meetings and the development. He stated the planned goals of addressing public needs that the commission feels could be solved through the development of this large patch of land that has often been deemed an eyesore. possible sites for increased housing in SF

Although the need for housing and public land is real, understanding the feelings of the nearby community is crucial to taking correct action with this plot of land now that it is in the city’s hands. The meeting was thus intended as a way for the community to understand the facts but also for concerned parties to help guide the process of development from the plethora of current options into an actual proposal and plan.

To outsiders, of either the city or neighborhood, the proposed goal of increased moderate income housing seems like a great idea for a city that seems to be bursting at the seams.

While low income housing is often subsidized by the government and market rate housing is subsidized by hearty paychecks (or trust funds), it is moderate income housing that takes a back seat. If the city carries on at this rate, it will quickly become a polarized environment: the ultra rich and the ultra poor.

Local residents were strongly wary of any sort of development that might impinge upon local character and, most of all, local traffic patterns. Whether those present at the meeting were suffering from a severe case of NIMBY (not in my backyard) or if their concerns were valid arguments amidst San Francisco’s rapidly changing urban landscape is up for debate.

Balboa Park Station Area Plan is part of a larger SF Planning project.

As participants broke off into smaller groups from the nearly 200 who attended, personal issues were discussed and priorities were ranked, allowing the maximum amount of voices to be heard by commission proctors.

Many in these smaller groups voiced concerns over the already intense parking situation in the neighborhood. The influx of cars daily for use of the City College campus as well as the new Ocean Avenue Whole Foods is already overburdening the neighborhood for parking. The belief was that a loss of this massive parking lot, eyesore or not, could only harm this problem.

Janet Lehr, a City College ceramics teacher and longtime neighborhood resident, had much to say on the subject of the college itself.

“We need to recognize the importance of City College to our community. [Roughly] 1/7 San Franciscans have taken classes at City College.” Lehr said. And, it is true, that many of these student commute by car.

Traffic problems may not seem a good enough reason to maintain a large parking lot, although it may provide an impetus for bookmarking some of the space for a multi-level parking lot. site of the Balboa Reservoir today

Many attendees argued that nothing could truly change unless the transit system was improved, allowing for less car traffic and a decreased need for housing in some of the hottest spots in the city, including this one.

What the traffic debate brings to light is the chicken-and-egg situation prevalent in such parking versus transit issues. The transit cannot grow without demand as students and other city residents continue to use their cars as they wait impatiently for busses that never arrive and trains that do not extend to their corners of even this small city.

To many, increasing public housing seems a band-aid on a citywide problem of poor transportation, causing congestion at certain hot spots. The meeting heard many a cry of “first the Mission, now here!” These BART-adjacent neighborhoods have gone from quiet residences and ethnic communities to areas highly sought after by a the new influx of local elite who would not fit into the description of moderate income.

Discussions of housing and parking made earlier ideals of creating an open space and public activity space seem like more of a utopia amidst more pressing city needs. Although arguments for a development that focused on sustainability, even going so far as to request an actual reservoir be created on the land for which it was originally intended, were hard to ignore.

Despite smiling in the face of criticism, the planning commision faced a variety of voices - many of them strong - in regards to what their priorities should be for the space.

suggestions from the public
Photo: Heidi Alletzhauser

Choosing between prioritizing local residents’ traffic and parking concerns, the need for City College expansion and maintenance, urban beautification, and the pressing need for more housing can’t possibly be an easy task for those in charge of the commission. Faced with the option of sectioning off the land into small parcels for each initiative or prioritizing some over others will be certain to anger members of the community.

It is these difficult decisions, however, that need to be made in order for progress to be made. Much ink has been spilled over those who want the city to remain the same amidst the sea of changes, but what is most important now is how the city will respond to new needs and create new solutions.

This meeting was the first of a series, with the next arriving in Spring 2015. As San Francisco takes it’s next steps, this is perfect opportunity to have your voice heard and shape the future of our city. It is these decisions that will affect the city for years to come.

Maya Lekach is a local journalist

February 2015

 

Rain Please—A.J. at Farmers Market
But Some Other Day?

Farmer’s, who have been praying for rain for months, would nevertheless have preferred it on some other day—any other day than market day. Although it’s February, it surely feels as though it is November at Stonestown Farmers’ Market on what has to have been one of the few rainy days of the past couple of months.

Although you’re surrounded by cars at the nearby mall, there’s also the banjo-pickin’ country singer, the smell of freshly-cooking Indian truck food, and the sight of a veritable tent city in the form of booths from various farms and ranches coming from as far as three or four hours away. 

Step into the streets of what seems to be an almost mini village, and you’ll be greeted by a collection of colors and shapes, vegetables and fruits - not to mention friendly faces. This is the moment where you’ll start to realize that you’re really grateful that you live in California. While other regions of the country and the world are suffering from snowed-in fields, it would seem as though our only loss of produce is that the strawberries will soon start getting too wet. While we’ll miss these sweet treats, there is a whole other cornucopia to enjoy.

This cooler weather, she tell us, is better for leafy greens, like chard, kale, and all variety of lettuces. Instead of tomatoes and cucumbers, you should be focusing on some green salads and orange squash dishes. ”

It is indeed lucky for us Californians that we have locations like Fresno, where the weather is currently about 80 degrees. This is what Janet Vue, of Vue Farms, calls the cooler season. This cooler weather, she tell us, is better for leafy greens, like chard, kale, and all variety of lettuces. Instead of tomatoes and cucumbers, you should be focusing on some green salads and orange squash dishes. 

Another exciting winter option is the sugarcane, which was purveyed by a number of booths. The sugarcane is a crop that is grown over the course of a year. Winter is when it is most frequently harvested and it’s found all around the market. While the cane looks like a large bamboo, and could look a little intimidating to some, it is often consumed as a snack. This could prove to be pretty fun, biting off a chunk of the thick stalk and spitting out the bits of pulp that come along with it. You could also juice the cane for drinking or use in a variety of recipes. 

It also becomes clear that citrus season is among us. Rows of oranges of all varieties and sizes, as well as beautiful big Oro Grapefruits, are tempting to both the eye and the taste buds. The samples surely don’t hurt either.Oranges at Farmers Market

Also, you cannot fail to notice the recognizable root vegetables so often associated with this season. Gourds and pumpkins abound, not to mention almonds roasted and toasted and the beloved chestnuts. It’s not too late to get some of those roasting on an open fire! Beets, squash and broccoli were also popular among the booths. There was even a sighting (and tasting) of yogurt cheese.

It wasn’t all sunshine and peaches though, as some of the farms, depending on their location, were forced to declare that this would be their last weekend of the season. Many farms from Suisun Valley and Lincoln, CA were beginning to experience weather patterns not conducive to their harvest, causing them to take their booths into hibernation.

Speaking with any of the vendors at the market, you will be surprised to find that this farmers’ market thing is totally a full time job. Traveling here from as far as the Feather River Valley and Fresno, these farmers also make trips around the Bay to places like San Rafael, Petaluma, and other popular San Francisco farmers’ markets, like the one on Clement St. 

shoppingThe market, however, is more than just a shopping trip, its much more like the perfect Sunday event. Why not take your family outside for a walk among the flowers (literally)? The sights and smells alone will get rid of your Seasonal Affective Disorder. Additionally, the market is a breeze to get to. Not only is there more than ample parking - it is located outside of a huge mall after all - but there are also Muni trains, and multiple bus lines serving the area. Located on relatively flat land, it is also conducive to riding your bike.

The farmers’ market continues year round as a place to gather with family and friends, get in touch with your grander neighborhood, and take pride in many of the natural wonders that California has to offer. And probably sampling yogurt cheese too. Enjoy the winter months!

Maya Lekach is a local free-lance journalist in San Francisco

February 2014