Residents seek greener Tenderloin despite obstacles

The City’s tumultuous political climate can sometimes throw the simplest projects for a loop. But in the case of a neighborhood group that just wants to plant a few trees, it’s the physical environment, as well as the political, that complicates matters.

On Saturday, the North of Market Community Benefit District will plant 30 trees in the sidewalks within San Francisco’s oft-maligned north of Market Street neighborhood, paid for by a $50,000 grant from Saint Francis Memorial Hospital. Six more trees will be installed in planters in the nearby lower Polk Street area.

Because many buildings in the Tenderloin and Polk Gulch areas have subbasements that extend under the sidewalk, there is simply not enough ground in which to plant many more trees than the ones slated for Saturday.

Additionally, an anti-redevelopment activist group has publicly opposed the foliage as a part of the gentrification they say is pushing working-class gay and transgender residents out of a neighborhood seen as their haven.

The Web site of the group Gay Shame features a “wanted” poster that depicts local architect and street tree proponent Carolyn Abst. It accuses her of chairing a “brutal gentrification squad commonly known as the Lower Polk Neighbors.”

Attempts to contact Gay Shame were unsuccessful Friday.

Abst was not available for comment Friday, but Lower Polk Neighbors’ current chairman, Dan Diez, said, “We’re not battling them (Gay Shame). If they want to feel they’re battling us, that’s their business. We don’t want to be drawn into that.” He said tree planting is one component of an overall plan to beautify the Polk Street area.

“All people, including low-income folks, deserve quality neighborhoods, and trees are a part of improving the quality of neighborhoods,” Supervisor Chris Daly, who represents the Tenderloin, said Friday. He said he would be willing to work with the NMCBD to offer aid, “whether it be legislative or working through the bureaucracy of The City,” but so far, the group has not asked.

In July, the Department of Public Works changed its permitting process to exempt greening efforts from most permitting costs. Private property owners who want to make changes to the public space around their buildings normally must apply for an encroachment permit, which can cost $800 to $1,000. A so-called “sidewalk landscaping permit” now costs between $160 and $215.

In 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom called for the planting of 5,000 trees per year on city streets for five years. Department of Public Works spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Friday that The City met that goal in 2004 and 2005. About 1,500 trees were planted by The City and the rest were planted by private citizens, businesses and neighborhood groups.

Friends of the Urban Forest, which is working cooperatively with the NMCBD in Saturday’s tree-planting, offers subsidized help in cutting and hauling sidewalk concrete, boring holes and planting the trees. The responsibility of the trees’ long-term maintenance, however, will fall to the community benefit district.

amartin@examiner.com

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