Road-planting plan runs into hard rock

A community-led project that has replaced concrete in street medians with hardy vegetation has reduced road accidents and given leafy sanctuary to pedestrians caught in the middle of Guerrero Street north of 30th Street.

But project organizers have hit a roadblock north of 26th Street, where deep concrete was poured into the median last century, and they fear planned road-gardens could be lost if a car-friendly proposition passes at next month’s election.

Fed up with accidents, locals began drumming up support in the late 1990s for traffic-calming projects. They shut down a major intersection in 2004 with a protest and raised nearly $200,000 from grants and donations to pay for construction material and desert plants, which have been planted since 2005 in the middle of Guerrero Street as far north as Cesar Chavez Street in freshly excavated medians.

Hundreds of volunteers helped with the plantings, which are designed to change the feel of the road from a surrogate freeway into a residential neighborhood. Organizers have raised money to extend the gardens south to 20th Street.

But some backyards have been filled for more than a year with desert plants waiting to be transplanted from suffocating pots into medians, because the project has been slowed by the difficult task of removing unexpectedly deep concrete from the former path of a light-rail passenger train.

“It’ll take a little longer than expected,” said Miguel Galarza, president of Yerba Buena Engineering & Construction, which is carving the concrete out of the medians at no charge, “but it’ll get done.”

Galarza expects to begin removing the thick concrete next year, once a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. crew clears out of the area.

But by then, organizer Gillian Gillett, who says statistics show accidents have fallen around the planted medians, worries that medians will be removed from some narrow roads, including Guerrero north of Cesar Chavez, to let cars pull safely in and out of new driveways that could be built near intersections if Proposition H passes in November.

“They would cut back the median by 50 [feet] to 100 feet,” Gillett said. “And they would cut down trees on both sides of the intersection to make sure that the sight lines are as open as possible.”

The San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations-sponsored Proposition H parking initiative would radically increase the number of car parks in The City, but critics say it would strip the government of some of its planning powers.

Greening Guerrero

Guerrero Street median plants are hardy in hot, dry conditions

» Swan Hill olive

This olive, which doesn’t produce flowers or fruits, grows up to 35 feet by as much as 2 feet per year. Organizers say the olive plant symbolizes peace on a street named for the Spanish word for warrior.

» Orange libertia

White blossoms appear in spring among the stiff green and orange leaves of this 2-foot tall grass.

» Johnson’s hybrid aloe

Bright orange flowers grow on stems up to a foot high on this South African succulent.

» Blue carpet sedum

This silvery-blue succulent ground cover catches nitrogen from the air and injects it into the soil, where it’s used by other plants as fertilizer.

– Source: The San Jose/Guerrero Coalition

jupton@examiner.com

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