How green a greenhouse?
After several years of study and planning the San Francisco Botanical Garden (SFBG) unveiled plans for an exciting new "green" greenhouse and plant raising facility. The proposed site, on the hill above the old greenhouse and redwood forest, lifts the greenhouse from the coldest spot in the gardens to a much warmer location with better air circulation and much improved access for workers, volunteers and deliveries.
A visit to the area reveals the logic of the choice of location. You find a naturally flat hilltop, stretching north to south; with undeveloped grasslands, sparsely forested with eucalyptus and Monterey pines. Terraces, currently used for housing potted plants awaiting plant sales or transfer to the gardens, step down to the east from the proposed greenhouse site. If you walk north, along the hilltop, it is easy to see how the access road will contour to the site from the gate on Martin Luther King Drive above the succulent garden. The distance is short and the road will be relatively unobtrusive, especially when compared with current greenhouse access by driving through the gardens from the parking lot off Lincoln Way.
Relocating the greenhouse and removal of the current plant rearing facilities and asphalt parking area will allow the extension of the California Native Plant Garden to fill the entire valley leading into the redwood forest.
West of the greenhouse site, the mostly undeveloped "John Muir Natural Area" extends to 19th Avenue. The Children's Garden, developed by visiting school groups as part of the SFBG educational program, is located there. A small pond with alders and willows provides a home for endangered red-legged frogs and wintering sparrows and finches. It is our expectation that the new greenhouse placement will provide incentive for thoughtful development and maintenance of this area that we currently think of as "the back 40". A proposed second pond for the low area in the far west of the SFBG will provide important additional habitat for birds and frogs.
An article in the January-February 2009 edition of the Sierra Club Yodeler, gives the misleading impression that the public will not have access to the new greenhouse: "a chain-link fence would surround the entire nursery complex." Nothing could be further from the plan. The greenhouse will include a sheltered patio area where visitors may sit, use restrooms and enjoy scheduled education programs. The process of plant propagation will be much more available to public view and participation.
Moreover, native plant landscaping planned to surround the greenhouse and growing on the "living roof" will provide an enhanced, more diverse ecosystem, supporting greater variety of insects and birds than can be found in the extant pine-eucalyptus, non-native grassland. In 12 years of monthly bird surveys we have never observed California quail in the area proposed for the new greenhouse.
We encourage persons concerned about this carefully planned enhancement of the San Francisco Botanical Gardens to visit the site. Walk the area, note the existing flora and observe bird activity. Walk the short distance to the road entry gate. Envision the plan on-site. We think it will be quite apparent from such a visit that once in place, the greenhouse will bring exciting new wildlife habitat to "the back 40" as well as supporting the three mission precepts of the Gardens - conservation, education and sanctuary.
Response from Pinky Kushner, vice chair, Sierra Club San Francisco Group.
No one disputes the need for a new greenhouse or for moving the nursery from its damp, shaded, unsuitable present location. The new proposal, however, would create new problems, while violating both the Golden Gate Park Master Plan and the Garden's own Master Plan. The Sierra Club San Francisco Group believes that the Garden can prevent these major problems by following the Master Plans.
The most important of the problems stem from the proposed roadway, which would bisect the western end of the Garden. This new auto, truck, and fire access would pave a 20-foot-wide swath, 483 feet long, starting from Martin Luther King Drive to reach this "ideal" site. In our view, a site is not ideal if it is not accessible. Far from public transportation, the proposed roadway would be the scene of idling school buses bringing children to this remote part of the Garden. Far better to place the Education Center near the front entrance of the Garden, where the Master Plan recommends the revival of demonstration gardens, a great teaching tool.
We disagree with the Ridleys' dismissal of the ecological values of the development site. We have walked the entire site and evaluated it carefully. It clearly is the Garden's uniquely complete native landscape. Grasses are on the southern hilltop upland; coyote brush, ceanothus, coffeeberry, and toyon on the downslope to the north; and the willow and alder (that the Ridleys describe) towards the water, next to Martin Luther King Drive. It attracts a multitude of avian groundfeeders: flickers (yes, even though they are woodpeckers, they are primarily groundfeeders), white-crowned sparrows, song sparrows, and fox sparrows.
Fences may be necessary to safeguard rare plants, but they should be minimized. A fence around the entire nursery would generate a feeling of exclusion. All visitors, including children brought to the Education Center, would have to walk along an extensive length of chain-link and then cross the new roadway.
The proposed plan violates the letter and the spirit of both the Golden Gate Park Master Plan and the Botanical Garden Master Plan.
- The Park Plan emphasizes returning the Park to a more pastoral setting. It prohibits any new roadways or buildings.
- The Garden Plan sites the new nursery discreetly near Lincoln Way and the education component by the main east entrance near transit. No new roadway is necessary.
The proposed design would require amendments to both Master Plans, and a full Environmental Impact Report. This process can be an opportunity for the Garden to reassess and improve its plan. The Garden can and should do better.
How dense a downtown?
The Yodeler identifies the Berkeley Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) as a source of contention. The articles imply that the DAPAC recommendations are "the environmentalists' plan." The fact is that many environmentalists, including Sierra Club members, vigorously disagree with some of the recommendations.
The issues are global warming and sprawl, and the influence of building height on both. The taller the building, the more households it can accommodate. The more households in downtown Berkeley, the more commute trips to campus and to employment shift from automobile to pedestrian, bicycle, BART, or buses. The more households settle in the area, the easier it is for local merchants to offer an attractive array of goods at competitive prices. People then no longer have to drive to go shopping.
Every household that settles close to Berkeley BART is one that does not settle in an automobile-dependent location elsewhere. Settling elsewhere perforce leads to further sprawl development, which the Sierra Club normally opposes.
DAPAC favored lower height limits than proposed by city staff. Some argue that the staff recommendations themselves were already a compromise. The lower DAPAC limits would frustrate commercial development and stimulate more driving.
Transportation, mostly automobiles, accounts for about 50% of Bay area greenhouse gas generation (GHG). In its support of DAPAC, NACG not only missed an opportunity to reduce GHG, it actively opposed proposals by others to do so. The rationale seems to be that aesthetic disapproval of tall buildings is more important than global warming.
The Sierra Club responds:
The Sierra Club shares Bob Piper's support for higher density, but that is not the same as unlimited density.
The Downtown Area Plan (DAP), as drafted by the DAPAC, proposes densities and heights much higher than current levels. The plan respects historic assets and downtown livability. It would require stringent green building features and site design. Any new development would be required to contribute to transportation services fees (for pedestrianization, bikes, and transit enhancements), open-space fees, and truly affordable housing. This approach will create a downtown core that truly encourages people to live there instead of in suburban sprawl, while demanding that this new development be truly green across all elements. Density is one important component of the plan, but so are livability and green building standards.
The Club supports this plan and not the aggressive pro-growth standards that city staff recommended. The staff recommendations were in no way a "compromise". The people (at least on the DAPAC) who say that they are - have been the same ones advocating looser protections for historic buildings (despite the fact that adaptive re-use is by far the most environmentally friendly approach to development) and more and cheaper parking downtown (despite the clear evidence that cheap, abundant parking encourages driving).
The Sierra Club supports greater heights and densities for Berkeley's downtown - but not unlimited ones.