Ocean Friendly Gardens, GAP
April 18 2014

Surfrider Un-Paving San Francisco & Scaling-Up Ocean Friendly Gardens

by Paul Herzog

San Francisco is known for its row houses - and its lack of plants and parking spaces. For decades, row house owners have been paving over sidewalk planter area to create parking spaces. Now the City is offering to help green up those spaces to absorb stormwater and runoff, which can irrigate plants and re-charge groundwater, and prevent it going into the combined storm-sewer system.

It's called the Front Yard Ambassadors Program (FYA), providing incentives, organizing and technical assistance, rather than levying fines. The program is expected to break at least 2,500 square feet of concrete in 6 to 10 blocks of San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang's 4th District, absorbing 30,000 gallons of stormwater in its first year. The program got $85,000 in funding: $75,000 from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and $10,000 from District 4 funds.

The Surfrider-San Francisco Chapter has been running its Plant-Don't-Pave Program for several years. So when they got a call from Supervisor Tang's office to join in on FYA, the answer was "yes!" It presented a way to scale-up PDP, joining with the resources brought by the Supervisor, SFPUC and Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF).

On a Saturday, PDP Chair Sachin Ganpule and crew of fellow activist led 12 volunteers through planting 4 of the 10 houses who signed up in the Sunset District of the City. In addition to the environmental benefits, the street looks more beautiful and people got to better know each other. The event got good local media coverage in The Examiner and Surfrider is listed as partner on the FYA website!

Here's how FYA works, according to the City's fact sheet:

  • The City provides a video on how to become an Ambassador as well as a professional to sit down and discuss design ideas (after residents have chosen the plants - which must be climate-approriate);
  • 5 residents on the same street submit an application with one identifying as a "block captain;"
  • The residents pay a collective permit fee of $182-$245;
  • Sign a Letter of Agreement to maintain the gardens, explaining how you will work together to do so (FUF will provide support).

Sunset residents with at least five homes on their blocks that are interested in participating can apply by March 31 on Tang’s supervisorial website for the second round of planting. The program has $85,000 in funding — $75,000 from the SFPUC and $10,000 from District 4 funds. Applicants pay a permit fee ranging from $182 to $245. The hope is that FYA is replicated in the other supervisorial districts.

While FYA is a way for residents to take action, it's part of a plan by the SFPUC to retrofit the City's 8 watersheds with "green infrastructure:" using permeable materials and creating gaps in existing curbs, gutters and parking spaces to capture, cleanse and absorb runoff. The Sunset Boulevard Greenway, one of the GI projects planned by the City, may include rain gardens (aka Ocean Friendly Gardens) that allow stormwater to soak into the landscape before it enters the sewer system. Almost 2/3rds of the Sunset District's area is impervious, according to a spokeswoman for the SFPUC’s sewer system improvement program. A lot of stormwater "sponges" can go a long way to solving the problem.

- Co-written by Sachin Ganpule