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History of Edgehill Mt. Park

Site: Edgehill Mt.

A synopsis of the complex political machinations behind this park’s existence.

Edgehill Mt Park exists because of a combination of its topography and adroit community activism. The park encompasses the steepest slopes of Edgehill Mt, which is why this part of the hill escaped development for decades. A “road” had been platted through the middle of the parcel and lots drawn above and below the “road”, but homebuilders never had the courage the try to build there. So for decades the land remained safe despite being in private hands.

Then in the 1990s, two community leaders — Joan Kingery and Mary McDonald — organized neighbors to lobby for acquisition of these lots when the Open Space Fund was approved by voters. Because of its unique terrain, the lower portion of the land was deemed ideal and was acquired — despite fairly robust opposition from then-supervisor Tony Hall who represented the owning developers more attentively than he did the rest of his constituents. The upper part was listed as a “highest priority” target for the next round of acquisitions but wasn’t purchased with the lower slope because of limited funds. Still, the lower slope was now officially Edgehill Mt Park and became one of the officially-designated Significant Natural Resource Areas within RPD’s holdings.

Subsequent acquisitions were put on long-term hold when the Open Space Fund was raided to the tune of about $20M in order to refurbish the Harding Park golf course. Joan, Mary, and other neighbors continued to work on alternative ways to bring the rest of the lots into the park. Eventually, a revenue-neutral land swap was worked out — again despite Hall’s obstructive efforts — and made more urgent by the fact that the developer had received permits to build six 5000 square foot homes on the sixty-degree slopes at the top of the hill. The developer made quite clear that he intended to move ahead with his plans unless the City swapped immediately by constructing a fence along his “property” line that, as it turned out, illegally crossed into the City’s land and blocked public access to the park.

The City Attorney eventually forced the developer to remove his gate and part of the fence. About then, final hearings were held to approve the land swap — but by this time, circa 2003-4, the swap was not only opposed by Hall but also by Isabel Wade, executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council. Wade claimed her objections were based on concerns about “park access justice” — described in a remarkable screed titled “Green Envy”. (Interestingly, she had no similar scruples when it came to elevating the priority for Buena Vista Park — across the street from her personal home in one of the wealthiest parts of the City — from dead last to the top of the capital improvements budget in 2004. As far as anyone can tell, the magical revision of the priorities was largely a side effect of her major support for Gavin Newsom’s successful mayoral campaign. This is San Francisco, after all.)

In any case, one beneficial effect of Newsom’s election was that he lured Tony Hall away from the Board of Supervisors and installed instead Sean Elsbernd, who did support the land swap acquisition of the upper slope. Unfortunately, by that time a completely new obstacle intervened. The target of the swap was to be a triangular parcel owned by DPW near Portola and Clipper. This parcel was nothing but a weed patch used by local dog owners as a latrine, but these people lobbied their supervisor Bevan Dufty to “save their park.” They claimed that they were going to transform their “park” through major donations of time and materials. So the ever-compliant Dufty dynamited the fully-worked out swap and forced the City to look elsewhere.

Eventually another chunk of DPW land near Gough was found, but for never-clear reasons, this swap would no longer be revenue neutral but instead would cost the City $2-3M. Wade and her NPC went ballistic in their opposition now, given the cash the City would have to expend in addition to the value of the land. But despite her objections and because of the support by Elsbernd (plus the exhaustion all parties felt after more than a decade on this issue), the swap went through. So, the RPD now officially has title to the entire Edgehill Mt Park. (And of course, the Clipper Street “park” remains a soiled weed patch for off-leash dogs.)

Through all these political moves over the past decade, regular monthly volunteer workparties at Edgehill Mt Park have truly transformed the park. The original overburden of ivy, cape ivy, blackberry, and ehrharta grass has been completely removed in the central and western parts of the lower slopes. Simply eliminating the weeds has allowed a remarkable resurgence of native plants from the residual seed banks there, plus we have augmented the plant populations with targeted plantings.

Now the Edgehill Mt Park Significant Natural Resource Area is a virtual arboretum for San Francisco native plants — with eight species of native bunch grass, five species of native ferns, ten species of native shrubs, four species of native ground cover, and three species of native trees. Edgehill Mt Park is one of the smallest of the Significant Natural Resource Areas in the system, but it probably has the most concentrated community of native plants — in a spectacular location that visitors can easily explore.

And all this has been accomplished largely by neighborhood activists. The RPD allocates only two person-hours per month to maintaining the park. Imagine what could happen with the rest of the park if RPD provided resources commensurate with the park’s value!

Created: 25 February 2009 - 12:38
Last updated: 25 February 2009 - 12:38

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