Paved Over For Parking (Image Source: MapJack.com)

From San Francisco’s Planning Department:

Code Enforcement Staff is currently working to develop public outreach and downloadable guidelines with information on how to comply with the city ordinance (Planning Code Section 132(g)) requiring at least 20 percent of the front yard to be devoted to landscaping or plant material.

We’ll keep you posted in case you’ll want to slip one under your neighbor’s door. (You’re already complying, right?) No update on the impact of Sandoval’s citations so far.

San Francisco Planning Department: Code Enforcement [sf-planning.org]
Forget About The In-Law, What If The Parking Is (Was) Unwarranted? [SocketSite]
We’re All In Favor (But Wondering If It Will Actually Work) [SocketSite]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by auden

    Welcome to San Francisco. Land of the free. I sure am glad I don’t live in some country where every facet of my life is dictated by the government.

  2. Posted by Gil

    One of my pet peeves – San Francisco’s cemented in neighborhoods -eek!
    I like the idea of reversing this and planting fronts but I can see this turning into neighbors turning in neighbors (whom they don’t like?) for not complying. That would not be a good thing.
    One possibility – at time of sale a home not meeting the guidelines would have to comply. The seller could re-plant the cemented front or, better yet, the buyer getting a cash credit from the seller to so do. The buyer is likley to do a better job for the simple reason they will be living in the house.
    Inevitably these cemented in fronts get turned into paking pads – given that virtually no one uses their garage for parking anymore. Too much stuff to store in the garage don’t you know.
    The fact remains, as is evidenced in the above photo, SF’s grid streets with no front yard greenery are bleak and depressing.
    You don’t have to do “regular” grass anymore. I see a number of yards with ornamental grasses, small Japanese maples and rich green foilage like limelight that do well and take minimal upkeep and look quite good.
    [Editor’s Note: Two Different Perspectives, One Marina Block And An Oasis Of Green.]

  3. I wonder whether there will be a special allowance for those who pave their driveways with grass pavers. And if so whether anyone will ensure that actual grass grows in the apertures.
    This ordinance will definitely improve the quality of some neighborhoods. Now if only something similar could be done to enhance the urban forest.

  4. Posted by EBGuy

    While most people are focusing on aesthetics also note (from the SS link to the SF Examiner article): when the rain has no place to go, it will flow into The City’s storm drains, putting the area at risk to flooding.

  5. Posted by sleepiguy

    I love the idea of the grass pavers, but they probably won’t work in parts of the Sunset. They’re still really expensive and require a considerable amount of irrigation. I think there are some native plants and/or herbs that might do well in the spaces without a lot of water.
    I’m very pro-tree/plantings, but this is one of those issues that could get very ugly.

  6. Posted by young_family_in_city

    As long as ground floor in-law units are allowed, the front is desirable as a auto parking pad instead of having the cars inside the garage. Many of these homes have extended families or in-laws rented out for additional income so virtually all cars are parked outside. These homes were originally designed for 2 adults with children.

  7. Posted by Rob

    Im very pro-tree planting as well and the fact of the matter is that most of what this legislation/ordinance is going to do is to force people to undo what they already did when they took out trees to be able to park second or third cars after converting their garages into in-laws or buying SUV’s that dont fit in their garages. I know in some areas street parking is just not sufficient but in other areas this is par for the course where entire blocks have no green space whether it be a planter or a tree.
    I do know that DBI requires new tree plantings on sidewalks for new building permits, but for built out neighborhoods this is of no help, and the small numbers of those applying for street tree permits will change little. Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF.net) is a great resource but for those people who took out a tree i highly doubt they are going to sign up to plant a tree unless its to escape a pending fine.
    Yes this could get messy among neighbors though, but hopefully will just result in a boost for FUF support and plantings.

  8. Posted by Conifer

    What a great idea it is to harass people who own small houses in the Sunset! They should do what the Party says they should. If they want to have SUVs, the Party will make it hard for them. If they need two parking spaces, the Party will make their lives harder. We need to keep full control over these people. How dare they want to live quiet responsible lives, free of the hand of the wise people in city government. We are so lucky to have the best and brightest running San Francisco. What an evil it is to have two cars! Let’s make them miserable.
    When do the garbage police start work? We can hardly wait for the fines to start up for you putting the wrong thing in the wrong colored garbage can.

  9. Posted by anonn

    Grass doesn’t even belong out there. Not that sort of grass. I can see this being tied up in litigation, and wasteful, right away.

  10. Posted by Mole Man

    All this negativity is really unhelpful. The existing situation is nasty, so maybe there is a creative way to go about this. An increasing fee per front yard parking spot could moderate this situation while providing a new income stream. People could earn money for storm water diverted to away from drains and onto the landscaping on their properties. Simply measuring and disclosing the storm water and solar implications and publishing them might be enough to work through peer pressure–the encouraging and gentle kind that defines and celebrates participants, winners, and champions. There are lots of ways to restructure how hardscape and greenscape are balanced and valued.
    Having a mean argument about a mean law that degenerates into mean squabbling is not the only way to handle this, but if the ugliness and denial are allowed to build into a mountain of stewing sour feelings then that could be the way things go which would be a shame.

  11. Posted by zig

    Conifer- would sort of suck if you lived out there and all your new neighbors starting tearing out their bushes for parking pads
    It would piss me off. In fact it has pissed off many friends and family. Does not appear to me to be over zealous government.
    These barrel front SF homes all have garages large enough for two cars. And they have the driveway too
    Many of these people live in 4-5 car, not 2 car households

  12. Posted by Fred

    Note to all the Republican freerepublic.com types getting hysterical about the jack-booted commies planning to steal their freedom: the above photo illustrates why HOA’s were invented, and in the suburban Republican strongholds no less. At least with government imposing/enforcing rules, you have all the standard protections of due process, right to appeal, fair elections, etc.

  13. Posted by missionite

    God some people here are idiots. And crybabies.
    Yeah homeowners should be able to do whatever they want: send their sewage into the ocean, let their properties become eyesores festooned with graffiti, pile up the garbage in the backyard so that rodents form colonies, run ramshackle wiring so their house is a fire hazard to the whole neighborhood. Free markets! Capitalism!
    Laws like this are for the common good you morons. A little green in the front will stop garbage from blowing down the street in giant waves (a nightly occurrence when I lived on 19th Ave), will help at least a little bit in making the air a little nicer, and perhaps the only thing that might make it into your little peabrains: it will help your property value, or at a minimum will slow the decline. You’ll be amazed what a nice neighborhood can do for overall property values.
    If, after devoting a mere 20% of your yard to greenery, you can’t park your second (or third) car there, then MEMO TO YOU: you never owned a house that was designed to support that many cars, or you did but decided you would convert your garage or driveway to other uses thereby turning your hood into a concrete jungle, for which you yourself can take all the responsibility.
    So I’m not shedding any tears for you. You are grown ups. You’ll live.
    I’m a homeowner BTW.

  14. Posted by Jim

    Lets not forget that these houses were permitted to be built with a minimum of one required parking space per unit. Just because people choose to fill their garages with junk so they can’t put their cars inside, or have built an illegal in-law in the legally permitted parking garage (and end up two parking spaces short) is no reason to feel sorry for them and allow them to concrete their front yards.

  15. Posted by missionite

    BTW, as evidenced by the picture above. Many of these people who “need” this space have no such “need” at all. All of the cars pictured could be parked just as easily at the house on the right, which looks like it is meeting the 20% rule.
    Even if there were second or third cars not pictured these people could park exactly the same number of cars simply by parking tandem (which is what I do with my wife’s car). But some people can’t be bothered to move a car if they need the SUV for the weekend.
    It all boils down to selfishness, shortsightedness, and laziness.

  16. Posted by Michael

    Love the fact that in the photo above none of the cars are parked in the driveways or blocking the garage, all are parked where bushs or grass used to be planted.
    This isn’t about the government changing the rules on people, it’s about the planning department enforcing rules that existed when the houses were built.
    I’m with missionite on this one.

  17. Posted by auden

    As many have noted, this provision has as much (if not more) to do with parking as it does making our streets more attractive.
    1) It cuts down on cement pad parking, and 2) it was written in concert with the new garage laws coming through the pipeline at planning that prohibit a garage/driveway being built in a plane where a tree has to be removed to do so, regardless of the type of tree. So it forces those of us with small narrow lots who may one day want to build a garage, but dont have the resources now to do so, to put in a green patch right where our driveway would be. And if we don’t know about the new tree law that is getting enacted, and dare to plant a new tree rather than a shrub, we will never be able to take it down.
    And for those of your using “republican” as a derogatory term, why don’t you use your brain and come up with something original. I doubt you are arguing against any republicans in this thread.

  18. Posted by Invented

    Would be interesting if FUF or the Arboretum or other could get involved in assisting homeowners to undo the paved-over streets.
    Putting guidelines in place is good, offering an easy program which helps homeowners comply — with the help of experienced landscape professionals — would be a model private/public partnership.
    (btw many streets in the Bayview are jammed with cars in the front concreted areas) — far worse than Sunset.)
    But, the “downloadable”(?) guidelines are a start.

  19. Posted by dude

    Crap law… another revenue generation/make union work scheme thought up by a supervisor elected by what, 10,000 people? Most people who bought these homes either bought them with concrete front yards or paved over them themselves… likely that the “common good” is reflected in their choices, not the aesthetic whims of others.
    Perhaps if it were easier to combine lots and build larger multi-story, multi-unit buildings, people wouldn’t have to pave their front yards, covnert their garages to in-laws, etc. (the demand is obvious) and the place would be prettier?
    If people want greenery in their front yards, they will plant there… there’s no real justification for forcing them to plant anything to make the existing already unaffordable housing stock even more so.

  20. Posted by snark17

    What sad little streets you see in the Sunset and Excelsior. I can’t believe some people prefer concrete to trees and greenery. This law seems like a very good idea.

  21. Posted by rr

    Anyone have the link to the text of the ordinance (i’m feeling lazy today). I’m curious what is considered ‘front yard’. e.g.:
    It is simply everything within the lot width from the end of the building to the street? Do you subtract the ground space extending to the curb from the edges of the garage door? Are stairs to the front door part of the yard? If not, what about space to the left/right of them? What about the boulevard on the other side of the sidewalk? If I have a big tree, are they only counting the sidewalk cut, or are they counting the canopy width of the tree?
    There is a house a few doors down from me that used to be a car repair shop (decades ago– beautiful conversion). It has no back yard, but has about 75ft of setback from the curb, with a fence/gate at the plane where the rest of the fronts of the buildings are, on our block. Is that place’s front yard the entirety of the space outside the building, or only beyond the fence?
    etc,etc. The devil is in the details.

  22. “…make union work scheme…”
    That’s a laugh. What percentage of concrete demolition laborers and landscapers do you suppose are on the union rolls ? This is about a $500 contract job.
    missionite is right, allocating 20% of the front setback is not going to present any significant issue. There is still room for 4 to 5 cars which is generous by SF standards.
    And dude, if you think that “common good” is reflected by people’s individual choices then I recommend that you read up on Game Theory.

  23. Posted by zig

    Many of these people tore out their landscaping to create the parking pods. They aren’t helpless
    my grandparents had a very similar row house in the Excelsior which had a bedroom in the garage and space for two cars easily plus the driveway
    Many of these people have 4+ car households and huge in laws in the garages.
    As far as I am aware this is enforcing existing laws.
    For long time American born residents the whole parking pad thing is a blight

  24. Posted by Fishchum

    Am I the only one who noticed all the available street parking in the photo?

  25. Posted by dude

    No, making work for the permit processing / building inspecting / code enforceing folks down on Mission Street… day laborer work is ancillary broken window economics here.
    Game theory hardly applies… you’re just assuming that you know what’s best for eveybody else and that everybody shares your values. That’s fine, most of San Francisco is that way (as these posts attest), but at least be honest about it.

  26. Posted by noearch

    There may be several things going on here:
    1. The property owners may not be aware of the code requirements for NO PARKING in the front setback area.
    2. They may not be aware of the landscape requirements.
    3. They may not CARE. They may be LAZY.
    I do hope these code requirements are seriously enforced. The concrete pads are a true blight on the street and the entire city. The lack of landscaping is outrageous.

  27. Posted by OneEyedMan

    Milkshake has the right idea. As EBGuy pointed out the big issue is storm water control, not necessarily asthetics. Permeable pavements would absorb a large percentage of rain water run off. Look at the picture – where the hell is the rain going now except into the storm sewer, which in many, many areas of the City is a shared system with the sanitary sewers? Heavy rainfalls put a huge load on sewage treatment plants and all the poo poo ends up in the bay/ocean. Much better to have the rain percolate through your permeable driveway/parking lot.

  28. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    dude – sorry, but Game Theory applies to any random population of independent self interested decision makers. It only fails on a group of homogeneous altruists. That’s why military battle training enforces a team dynamic. Otherwise everyone would CYA or desert once things got tough.
    Personally I don’t assume to know what everyone wants, but as you can see from the comments here there are plenty of people here who would prefer a little more greenery. And it really is no big sweat for the property owner to comply.
    Like it or not, what you do with your property can affect your neighbors. Why the resistance to make positive changes to improve the neighborhood ?

  29. Posted by dude

    Milkshake. I don’t think game theory applies in this case as there’s not a specific outcome/mission/thing that these individuals are all trying to accomplish (i.e. they’re not all playing the same game).
    I would also prefer a little more greenery, but I think the better way would be to do your own place then ask/help/volunteer with your neighbor to work on their place. Positive change always comes from the bottom up. Top down laws like these, while well-intentioned, will be abused in the future (not to mention the potential unintended consequences… wait till everybody plants the fastest growing non-native weed out there to comply with the ordinance… then we’re Atlanta and kudzu). I’m definitely in the camp of what you can do with your property affects your neighbors, but I am doubtful that this falls into the camp of things that should be made illegal because it affects your neighbors property (safety/health wise that is).
    If there’s really plenty of people who want more greenery, I’m sure the like minded souls could get together and collect some money to pay these folks to green their yards… the cost would be negligible to the individual donor and the project wouldn’t take that much effort to accomplish?

  30. Posted by Gil

    It is somewhat of a fine line. IMO the best way to work it out is enforce the 20% front greenery when the house is sold. Like you have to bring other things up to code when a residence is sold.
    I would not report neighbors with cemented fronts with one exception – any new cementing in projects I would report.
    For the rst hopefully neighbors and community groups could work to get voluntary compliance.
    I disagree that enforcing the code is government interference. By that token so would be reporting the neighbor across the street who is running a business out of thier home in your R-1 zoned neighborhood.

  31. Posted by diemos

    Somewhere between the libertarian ideal of being free to convert your SFR into a lard rendering plant and the fascism of HOAs that will dictate every detail of anything that is visible to the public lies a happy medium. We will never agree on where that happy medium is so there will be an endless ongoing dialogue about where to draw the line that will swing back and forth between the extremes.

  32. Posted by Zig

    I think (some) people here are missing the point that people are have been actively paving these pads over the last decade.
    I don’t recall a single “parking pad” on my grandmothers street in the 1980’s. It would have been considered socially unacceptable

  33. Posted by lurker

    The parkers are probably avoiding the street because it is a street cleaning day. The more grass/greenery the better.
    There is also an increased expense in complying with the ordinance where the garage floor is not on a level with the street. Sunken garages in the Richmond and elsewhere would require engineered retaining wall if required to put greenery on the sides of the ramps down to the garages.

  34. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    dude – the only reason I brought up game theory was because you said that individual homeowners were expressing their idea of the common good with their decisions to pave over their front yards. I don’t think that people pave their front yards for the common good and cited game theory as a reason why.
    As for unions, most homeowners are not going to file a permit (and hence fatten the union treasury as you imply) to whack out 100 sq.ft. of pavement and plant. I certainly would not go through that hassle for such a small project.
    I feel a haiku coming on, but I need to repair the boiler for my lard rendering plant first. That loud knocking sound is annoying and I want to be a good neighbor.

  35. Posted by anon

    The concrete is fine. Flowers would definitely look nicer but it would be at the expense of the homeowner.
    I would like to see those ugly power lines get tucked away first.

  36. Posted by David

    Thanks for the picture I can use whenever people talk about how “beautiful” SF is. Give me a break. Take a break and go to my old ‘hood in Chicago and walk down the sidewalks. Beautiful, mature oak and maple trees line the sidewalks. Front yards are green grass or flowers/shrubs. Houses have welcoming front porches.
    There are some lovely neighborhoods in SF, sure, but there is way, way too much blasted concrete and utility poles. Never mind bums, etc.
    Another reason to live in the East Bay. Contrast that block with a nice East End sidewalk in Alameda, for example.

  37. Posted by bornnraised

    having all powerlines in the sunset underground would be a much better visual improvement vs greenery.

  38. Posted by dude

    Milkshake. No, just pointing out that the “common good” is usually just a term thrown around to justify one person’s particular desires. The Sunset/Excelsior/Richmond are not populated by 1950s americana anymore (i.e. nuclear families with 2.5 children), the demographics have changed toward extended families and larger groups of unrelated folks (students in in-laws etc.). SF is not the jobs hub it used to be (i.e. people commute other places besides downtown and need cars), and often more than one person needs to work to support SF’s ridiculuosly high housing prices (thank you again planning department…plus not time for yard maintenance when everybody is working/in school). That being the case, cars, and space for cars, is more important than it used to be… so the “common good” for the actual residents that live there is very likely more parking spaces and limited time spent searching for scarce street parking (which will become more scarce if people can’t park in their yards anymore… and yes, it is hard to park on the street in many of these neighborhoods because of all the curb cuts).
    Laws like this are basically punishment for those on the tail end of a demographic shift… it’s easy for the old homeowners who snapped up these palces super cheap a decade ago to complain about folks who paid $500K for a house and need everybody to work/rent out rooms to pay the freight. If it wasn’t for SF’s antiquated zoning policies it’s likely that many of these SFHs would have been torn down and replaced by apartment properties… the demand for such is obvious. So all the bleating about greenery for the “common good” is easy for the folks for whom it costs nothing to comply, and it is really using the government to force others to comply with one’s aesthetic values that they may not share (or prioritize as highly). It’s simply bad public policy in principle and it will beomce even worse when abused (I am sure McGoldick will be first to file a complaint).
    Again, not against greenery, just stupid laws.

  39. Posted by sfrenegade

    FWIW, dude, I get what you’re saying (as I get what Milkshake is saying), but this seems like the least of the planning dept’s problems. There are a lot more regulations with bigger effects I would fix first before this one in order to make housing more affordable in SF.
    True about the impossibility of parking in the Richmond though.

  40. Posted by LIfe beyond Yelp

    District 10 homeowner here.
    An interesting anecdote about the idea to enforce this rule at the time the house is sold: a house on my block, one of the last to have a tiny 20% green patch in front, came up for sale a few months ago. They had a few open houses but apparently no takers. But the feedback about the front they had gotten must have been clear (and in favor of MORE SIDEWALK PARKING please), because about 2 weeks ago, they had contractors come and rip out the front yard and concrete it over. This is what you’re up against. A sale is actually more likely to *remove* the greenery in front. With Sandoval’s ordinance in mind, I did report the removal to the city — they said they will assign an inspector to investigate. But so far, I don’t see any change.
    As to my own house: the front was completely concreted over when we bought it, but we want to change this. I have been looking into this for a while now and indeed it would be great if the process was easier. FuF is useless to me — they want me to organize about 30 of my neighbors for a simultaneous street planting. That just will never happen. I don’t have the time, and the neighbors for that. Shouldn’t that be FuF’s job? And even if I don’t have 30 other homeowners — I would be willing to pay MORE for a single tree planting than the discounted rate, if only FuF (or someone) would come out and deal with it. Now I have to deal with concrete work, tree selection, nurseries, reading about tree care etc. It sucks.

  41. Posted by missionite

    dude,
    First of all, one of the key concerns here, as has been pointed out already, is not aesthetics per se, but the water system which has to deal with a ton of runoff from all these concrete pads. Simply put, greenery absorbs water, concrete doesn’t. If everybody has concrete, then we get floods, and that is more expensive and damaging for the flooded homeowners, as well as the city than having 20% of the yard be green. That’s the practical reason why we need some greenery in every yard.
    Second of all, as evidenced by the picture above, very few of these concrete pads are fully utilized in the manner you suggest. You can drive just about anywhere in the Sunset, Marina, Sunnyside, Richmond, etc. at midnight and you will find most of these pads are empty or utilized in lieu of tandem parking.
    Third of all, San Francisco is not a gigantic parking lot. Cities with much higher density somehow manage to find a way to have greenery, even NYC which is even more expensive than SF, so what exactly makes SF so special that it NEEDS to have concrete wastelands?
    Fourth of all, most of these homes were designed as single family homes. The fact that some owners have illegally converted them into multi-family/boarding houses with parking lots out front in order to make ends meet does not excuse them from zoning requirements, which I might add, were on the books well before these folks made these conversions. The homeowners did not *need* to buy small homes for large families and multi-tenants, that was an optional choice. Likewise whatever you think of MUNI, it does exist and transportation is not impossible in the absence of a car. Parking pads are, in most cases, a matter of convenience and choice, not necessity. This is not a basic human right, and no one will die because 20% of the front yard was converted to greenery.
    In essence your argument boils down to because they started breaking the law, they now *need* to keep breaking the law, and we should therefore allow them to continue to break the law while our city turns into a concrete flooded wasteland.
    Finally, as an amateur mathmetician, I have to point out that not only is game theory an apt description for the dynamics in play here, but one of the more famous theorems, namely the Nash Equilibrium, can be fairly applied. The Nash Equilibrium states that in certain games if all players know each others strategy, then the best strategy for an individual may become effectively unchangeable, since there will be no individual gain from changing their individual strategy. The irony is that the “best” strategy for the individual may actually return results which are sub-optimal for the group as a whole when employed by all the individuals in the group, but once equilibrium has been established there isn’t going to be any change without an outside force to catalyze it. The application here is that since everyone knows that everyone else has converted their greenery to parking with little punishment or consequence, they have little to gain from de-paving and returning the greenery, since there will be some cost and effort to this process, and a single spot of greenery will not have the same effect as an entire street of greenery. They will only lose their parking with minimal gain. However if everyone was *forced* to return their greenery, then the entire neighborhood will see gains: there will be less (or no) flooding, more people will opt for public transportation or car sharing services over owning a car, the street will be prettier and more pleasant, public transportation will benefit from more users, and real solutions to parking might arise that aren’t detrimental to the quality of life in the city. It’s quite clear to me that if we don’t, in your words, “punish” those who violate code, then the code is essentially toothless.

  42. Posted by Florella the Green

    Rather than exacting compliance through fines, it’s too bad there isn’t enough money for the City to provide an incentive, such as a tax break!
    Or what if the neighborhood associations could sponsor “City-Beautiful” block contests where the winning block gets a really nice sign that proclaims it a “City-Beautiful Block Award winner”?
    Who knows if it would encourage tearouts, but from my own experience, people are competitive and maybe that could provide its own incentive.
    I say this because after we jackhammered our concrete pads, installed planting beds and painted our house, five houses on our street painted and three redid their landscaping entirely. I was really surprised at the ripple effect.

  43. Posted by Po Hill Jeff

    Eloquently stated, missionite.
    If you live in a city (or even a suburb of one) you are choosing to give up some flexibility in terms of what you can do with your property in return for benefits such as proximity to work, public amenities such as parks, connection to water/power/sewage systems, etc. These restrictions are a matter of public policy and are intended to benefit everyone, and residents have the right (through the political process) to change them. I’d like to assure those feeling outrage about this modest requirement that even if you lived in Texas you’d find yourself in the same situation, but with different details.

  44. Posted by Rob

    I live in the Bayview which is far worse an example of this than the Sunset or the Excelsior (where i grew up). In the Bayview there are wide Avenues upon which you might find one or two trees or one home with grass or plantings the entire block and unlike the Sunset, a variety of trees and grass actually thrive in the Bayview.
    In the last few months i have seen at least 2 homes rip out driveways so that they could extend them beyond the width of their driveway in order to allow additional cars to park directly in front their front doors all because garages are cluttered, have been turned into illegal in-laws or simply modified for additional living space.
    In both cases permits were not pulled with DBI I am certain because by regulation driveways are not to extend beyond garage door widths and any sidewalk demolition would have required a street tree planting not to mention a hearing about reducing curb parking by 6 ft.
    It seems to me the majority of cases where these concrete pads have emerged are the results of clutter, people living beyond the constraints of the homes they are in, and or no desire to be responsible for existing trees and plantings, and do what you want inside your home but when it comes to changing the aesthetics of a neighborhood shared by all and regulated by code then that part simply isnt private.
    I dont know what requirements were on the books 20, 30, or even 40 years ago, but if they existed as a requirement just as street tree planting exists today then it should be enforced for the sake of planning and neighborhood design. Fact of the matter is that it may be private property, but it is in the public pervue and for that reason complaints can be issued through DBI to address issues of maintenance and other violations of building code, so if space for landscaping was part of the code then, so be it and so be this regulation.
    I designed and had my home built in 2006 and happily was required to plant a street tree and while it is planted on the public sidewalk, and not inside my property line i am still responsible for its care and its maintenance. So whether it is public or private appears to not be a defining line in the sand. This isnt even to say that people cannot have a patch of dirt, because some are just lazy, unable or unwilling, but at least there is a chance for space to change if it is not covered in concrete.

  45. Posted by dude

    Missionite. Drainage is not the real issue. Front yards are actually only a tiny part of the concrete covering the hinterlands. Paving them all over would not really amount to much of a difference in drainage (as almost all of these houses have green backyards and most of the pavement is on City property.. streets, sidewalks, etc.). If the City really cared about this they could repave the streets with porous pavement or improve the sewer treatment plant’s capcity. The drainage is not what they are worried about, it’s just one of many “justifications” they can use to impose the law (you can’t honestly say that 20% is a scientifically based number and not just one they pulled out of their arses… it’s jsut a number that sounded good).
    Again, with game theory, you are assuming your desired outcome (all green yards) is the “optimal” endpoint for everbody when it very well might not be (see the interesting anecdote from Life byond Yelp). Again, not disputing that more greenery would be nice, just that your optimal outcome isn’t necessarily in everybody’s best interests, or their optimal outcome (assuming that it is your optimal outcome) and, as such, that it is a stretch to apply game theory here.
    You mention the greenery in other urban cities… lucky for them they all happened to be buit prior to the advent of autocentric zoning (as was almost all of the “real” SF). That’s really the only reason they exist that way. In this case I would argue it’s the strict zoning creating the problem… there’s clearly a demand for more density in these neighborhoods, but no one is able to meet the demand becasue the zoning won’t allow it… so the demand is met illegally, and the result is more in-laws, more pavement, etc. We can whine all we want about it being illegal, but most zoning laws are simply cookie cutter copies of Hoover-era proposals anyhow that haven’t really been changed since the 70s (when most of thse areas were downzoned). You are correct that no one truly “NEEDS” the extra parking or space, but the same is true in that non one truly “NEEDS” a 20% green frontyard.
    Again, I’m all for greenery, but this is a stupid law that benefits those with one set of aesthetic values while passing the costs onto others who don’t ahsre those values. It’s also unecessary because of people like Florella and Life BY are already planting greenery in their front yards and beginning the bottom up change that will catalyze more front yard greenery without getting the City involved.

  46. Posted by condoshopper

    the entire neighborhoods of nob hill, russian hill, north beach have 3 story buildings with zero setback from the sidewalk and no front greenery – shouldn’t this be deemed extremely blighted if held to these sunset standards?

  47. Posted by ForeHand

    Dear crabby old people without young kids,
    As 4 and 7 yr old kids, we happen to like our fully cemented front yard.
    We can bike, play scooter, skate, etc without some stupid car running us over. Plus, no overgrown roots and tree branches to trip a stranger and cause daddy to have a coronary because someone filed a claim against his homeowner insurance.
    love,
    your neighborhood kids
    p.s. “Dude” I like your thinking.

  48. Posted by missionite

    Dude,
    When was the last time you saw a home flooded from the rear? Using my own eyes every time I have ever seen a flood in the city (and I see them almost every time it rains), it starts from the sewer drainage in the street and spreads outwards. You are incorrect to say that a little bit of greenery would not have a mitigating effect. A plant to catch water before it hits the ground, and a ground to absorb rather than deflect goes significantly farther than you think towards mitigating flood damage. Right now we have ZERO (or close to zero) absorption. A 20% increase in greenery would result in a far greater than 20% increase in absorption in overflow from the street.
    Read this article, where the founder of plantsf.org talks about this exact situation being the catalyst for her involvement in the issue, and this exact scenario led to the Mayor changing the law making it easier to de-pave sidewalks:
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/12/13/HO0L1AOPJM.DTL
    Finally, leaving the realm of anecdotes, let’s take a look at what the actual facts are for urban forestry as determined by scientific research:
    Energy Efficiency
    A study of Chicago’s urban forest found that increasing tree cover by 10 per cent (an additional three trees per building) would reduce total heating and cooling energy use by 5 to 10 per cent . At a national level, researchers estimate that planting three additional trees for each building in the United States could save more than US$2 billion in energy costs annually (McPherson, 1994; Akbari et al., 1988).
    Tree windbreaks have been found to reduce residential heating costs by 10-15 percent, while shade and evapotranspirational cooling from trees have been found to reduce cooling costs by 20-50 percent (Dwyer, 1993; Laverne and Lewis, 1995).
    A study of benefits and costs of tree planting in Chicago found that the projected value of trees (e.g., pollution reduction, energy saving, property value) is nearly three times greater than the projected costs (McPherson, et. al., 1995).
    A recent study found that planting shade trees could reduce the need for power plants. Data from California shows that 50 million shade trees planted in strategic, energy-saving locations could eliminate the need for seven 100-megawatt power plants (McPherson and Simpson, 2001).
    Research reports savings of between 10 and 15 per cent on winter heating costs thanks to trees acting as windbreaks, and cooling cost reductions of between 20 and 50 per cent in summer due to shade and cooling through evapotranspiration (Heisler, 1986).
    On hot summer days, a tree can act as a natural “evaporative cooler” using up to 100 gallons of water a day and thus lowering the ambient temperature (Kramer and Kozlowski, 1960).
    Several investigators have documented dramatic (30 – 50%) differences in cooling-energy use between houses on landscaped and un-landscaped sites (Akbari, 2002).
    Computer simulations using standard building and tree configurations for cities across the U.S. indicate that shade from a single well-placed, mature tree (about 25-ft crown diameter) reduces annual air conditioning use 2 to 8 percent and peak cooling demand 2 to 10 percent (Simpson and McPherson, 1996).
    The ambient air temperature difference between an urban heat island and a vegetated area can be as much as 2-10 degrees F. The temperature measured directly above man-made surfaces can be as much as 25 degrees F hotter than the air temperature beneath a forested area (Akbari et. al., 1992; Simpson and McPherson, 1996).
    Trees in Davis, California parking lots reduced surface asphalt temperatures by as much as 36°F, vehicle cabin temperatures by over 47°F, and fuel-tank temperatures by nearly 7°F. (Scott et. al., 1999).
    Human Health/Social Benefits
    In laboratory research, visual exposure to settings with trees has produced significant recovery from stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension (Ulrich, 1984).
    Researchers have found that in housing areas with more trees, rates of domestic violence are lower than in otherwise identical housing areas with fewer or no trees. Residents from buildings with trees reported using more constructive, less violent ways of dealing with conflict in their homes (Kuo and Sullivan, 1999).
    Symptoms of children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are relieved after contact with nature. The greener the setting, the more the relief. By comparison, activities indoors such as watching TV, or outdoors in paved, non-green areas leave ADD children functioning worse (Taylor, et. al., 2001).
    When 250 residents of Detroit were interviewed concerning their preference of trees in urban areas, eight out of ten respondents stated that trees would have an influence on the choice of a place to live. Ninety percent of the respondents believed that trees increase property values in excess of ten percent (Getz, et. al., 1982).
    Hurricane Hugo devastated Charleston, South Carolina, in 1989. Little was spared: homes, churches, power lines, and the urban forest were all heavily damaged or destroyed. 200 residents were asked to identify the single most special physical feature of Charleston damaged or destroyed by Hugo. People identified the urban forest more often than any other aspect of Charleston ( i.e. more than churches, historic buildings or homes) (Vigo, 1990).
    Researchers report that inner-city girls with greener and more natural views at home had greater self discipline. They were less impulsive and had better concentration. These traits led to better life decisions and better school performance (Taylor, et. al., 2002).
    Compared with apartment buildings that had little or no vegetation, buildings with high levels of greenery had 52 percent fewer total crimes, including 48 percent fewer property crimes and 56 percent fewer violent crimes. Even modest amounts of greenery were associated with lower crime rates (Kuo and Sullivan, 2001).
    A 1998 study found that the more trees and grass in the common spaces of inner-city neighborhoods, the more those spaces are used by residents. The study also found that, compared to residents living near barren spaces, those closer to green spaces enjoy more social activities, have more visitors, know more of their neighbors, and have stronger feelings of belonging. In other words, relationships between neighbors are made stronger simply through the presence of vegetation (Kuo, et. al., 1998).
    Pollution Control
    Poplar and cottonwood trees can breakdown carcinogenic groundwater contaminants such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and atrazine into harmless compounds. As a result, trees are now being planted at remediation sites across the county to help reduce pollutants while improving the environment (Black, 1995; EPA, 1996).
    A major study of Chicago estimated that trees in that city annually removed 15 metric tons of carbon monoxide, 84 tons of sulfur dioxide, 89 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 191 tons of ozone, and 212 tons of small particulates. The estimated value of this pollution removal was $1 million for trees in the city itself and $9.2 million for the entire Chicago area (Nowak, 1994).
    Trees, especially those with large leaf-surface areas, absorb and trap airborne dirt and chemical particles, such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone. Trees also help by reducing wind speed so that heavy particles settle out (Nowak 1994; Harris 1992).
    Trees and vegetation can form a barrier that partially deadens the sound from traffic, lawn mowers, and loud neighbors Trees also create “background” noise of rustling leaves and wind through the branches that can help muffle other noises (Harris 1992).
    Trees can limit soil erosion by helping control storm-water flow. Fibrous root systems hold soil in place so that it is not washed away by rain or flowing water. Erosion can be especially severe at construction sites in urban areas. Research has found that while forested land can lose about 50 tons of soil per square mile per year, developing areas can lose 25,000 to 50,000 tons (Lull and Sopper 1969).
    In Milwaukee, where urban trees cover about 16 per cent of the city, trees reduce stormwater flows by 22 per cent. The city saves an estimated $15.4 million by avoiding the construction of additional retention capacity. In Austin, heavy rains make stormwater management a priority issue. Austin’s tree canopy, almost twice that of Milwaukee’s at approximately 30 per cent, reduced stormwater flow by 28 per cent, providing the city with an estimated $122 million in savings (MacDonald, 1996).
    The canopy of a street tree absorbs rain, reducing the amount of water that will fall on pavement and then must be removed by a stormwater drainage system. In one study, an 8-year old Cork Oak intercepted 27 percent of the gross rainfall, while a 9-year old Bradford Pear intercepted 15 percent. Savings are possible since cities can install surface water management systems that handle smaller amounts of runoff. (Xiao, et. al., 2000).
    Using the city of Davis, California as a model, existing data on the benefits and costs of municipal trees were applied to the results of a sample inventory of the city’s public and private street trees. Results indicate that Davis maintained nearly 24,000 public street trees that provided $1.2 million in net annual environmental and property value benefits, with a benefit–cost ratio of 3.8:1 (Maco and McPherson, 2003).
    Trees reduce storm water through interception and canopy storage of precipitation. Most annual pollutant washoff in urban areas comes during the first flush of storm events. Urban forests have been shown to be most effective at intercepting rainfall from the type of small, short duration storms often responsible for first flush flows (Xiao, et. al., 1998).
    Property Value
    A study of new housing construction in Atlanta, Georgia found that in many instances, careful preservation of existing trees during construction actually cost less than clearing the land (Seila and Anderson, 1982).
    When 250 residents of Detroit were interviewed concerning their preference of trees in urban areas, eight out of ten respondents stated that trees would have an influence on the choice of a place to live. Ninety percent of the respondents believed that trees increase property values in excess of ten percent (Getz, et. al., 1982).
    Several studies have shown that the value of homes in neighborhoods with trees are higher than those of comparable neighborhoods without trees. In addition, neighborhood green spaces or greenways typically increase the value of properties located nearby (Thériault et. al., 2002).
    Now after reading all of this, can you honestly say that a single individual who determines they need a concrete pad for their third car which is rarely used (or just so they don’t have to park tandem) represents the “common good”? Please show me some studies beyond your anecdotal speculation where society benefits from that extra parking space MORE than it would from 20% greenery.
    Finally, 20% is, I think, a realistic number that is not expensive to obtain, but still large enough to deliver benefits. It’s only a fifth of the space in front of the building. Going by the picture above, it does not appear that any significant parking space would be lost by adding 20% of greenery if the greenery was properly placed. For instance the house on the right looks like it has roughly 20% of greenery, yet it appears it could support the same number of cars, despite having significantly more plants.
    I’m not anti-parking or anti-car. We own two cars. I’m just saying they don’t have to be mutually exclusive which is what you are arguing by extension. And I think it’s unrealistic to expect these same people you say are over burdened with housing expenses to do a “faith based” retrofit of their neighborhoods without a significant amount of prodding from the city.

  49. Posted by missionite

    Dear Forehand.
    Highlighted from my previous post:
    Symptoms of children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are relieved after contact with nature. The greener the setting, the more the relief. By comparison, activities indoors such as watching TV, or outdoors in paved, non-green areas leave ADD children functioning worse (Taylor, et. al., 2001).
    Love,
    The not very crabby, and certainly not old father of a 5 year old and a 1 year old, who has no problem letting his kids play in the backyard where they have even less chance of getting hit by a car, or taking them to a park where the five year old can ride his bike at full speed instead of being restrained to roughly a couple hundred square feet.
    PS if it makes you feel any better you can plant a bush which doesn’t have any roots to trip over, and your kids can still bike in small circles to their heart’s content, but since you bring it up I would like to politely inform you as someone with a fair amount of legal experience that it’s highly unlikely an attorney would be willing to take on a sidewalk slip and fall due to a tree root that occurred on private property. There’s not enough money there to get their interest, and it’s too tough a case to win. They want commercial properties, and they will even come out and say so as you can see by googling “sidewalk slip and fall san francisco”. Just wanted to save you from worrying about that coronary in case you did decide to go with a tree.

  50. Posted by David

    Instead of illegally converting everyone’s downstairs & garage, it would be useful if SF actually had a streamlined process for adding additions to houses in the back or *gasp* another story.
    Again, Chicago is quite easy. Let’s say I’m a 1 story bungalow owner, and I want more space. I walk down to local Alderman’s office, hand over $5,000 in 20’s in a brown envelope to him, and voila’ — second story ready for building.
    Absent a re-design of the Richmond & Sunset (involving creating alleyways for access & parking, and then greening the front yard), the next best option would be cutting the red-tape for upper-story add-ons.

  51. Posted by ForeHand

    Missionite, I was only kidding about the fully cemented front yard at my house. That was sarcasm. 🙂
    I happen to like greenery out front and back. In fact, my kids like picking apples from our two trees out back.
    So don’t worry, I won’t be ordering 60-lb bags of portland cement this weekend…

  52. Posted by Life beyond Yelp

    Thanks for your eloquent posts, missionite.
    This post actually motivated me to get my act together. I just filled out the sidewalk landscaping application, and printed out the plan for the front yard. I just have to cut a check at home and I will send it in 🙂
    Now, to all the (well-meaning) people who would like to see incentives as opposed to fines. That will only get you part of the way, but it’s typical SF thinking.
    One of the things that pisses me off without end about this city is that SF never seems to have real balls to take a stance against wholesale flaunting of the law. People feel free to violate basic zoning, construction, noise etc. laws and we never do anything about it, because it is sure to upset [insert some racial,ethnic,cultural group or class].
    People parking on the sidewalks? 4 families crammed into a single-family house? No problem! Don’t worry, the city will NEVER hold you responsible for it.
    Previous posters have pointed out the truth that the problem really mostly originates with illegal conversions. missionite writes,
    “The fact that some owners have illegally converted them into multi-family/boarding houses with parking lots out front in order to make ends meet does not excuse them from zoning requirements”
    SOME???? In my district this is the NORM. I don’t for the life of me, understand why such a wholesale violation of the law was allowed to happen. Cities are supposed to be vigilant about zoning laws. This is not just an environmental issue — it is also not safe. How many of these illegal sheds / units will collapse during a major earthquake?
    I am as liberal as they get however I am in favor of people following the LAW. Being a liberal city and culturally sensitive does NOT mean that people can do whatever they please, no matter what the consequences to the city or others. We live together in a small space and we need to follow the rules set up to make life bearable and as sustainable as possible.

  53. Posted by Willow

    Someone may have already mentioned this (I didn’t read through some of the longer posts) but isn’t a big part of the concrete phenomena cultural? Some cultures value the perceived utility of concrete over the more intangible benefits of greenery.

  54. Posted by anon

    It’s apparently not PC enough to discuss that, Willow, but I’d believe it. A noticeable trend pretty much anywhere I’ve lived — certain people prefer not to have grass, etc. The concrete yard phenomenon is more tailored to SF than other cities, I’ve noticed — usually some form of rock/gravel is used instead. To their credit, usually these groups of people throw in a few native plants (drought-resistant, etc.) along with the rock/gravel yards.

  55. Posted by noearch

    well….Missionite said it very well, albeit a bit wordy..But I do agree with him on every point. Same goes for Life beyond Yelp. well said and congrats for your effort to add greenery. I added a lot of sidewalk greenery to my property here in Noe Valley (a corner house).. we removed over 1000 sf of concrete sidewalk and put in native landscape. It looks amazing. Most neighbors love it. A few complained believe it or not..(too messy they said).. Point is: it takes commitment and yes, some money. It vastly improves the overall quality of life in The City. I support the codes and hope they are enforced.
    As for adding to a house I have a few comments:
    1. Adding a house or unit to a rear yard is generally NOT allowed due to planning code requirement and open space needs. People need rear yard open space and greenery.
    2. Adding an upper level story is possible and most zoning will allow it. Of course you must deal with the Planning code and design guidelines, setbacks, etc. You must work closely with adjacent neighbors to secure approval. But, with the right team, including architect and contractor, and the appropriate budget, it’s possible. Takes commitment and patience.

  56. Posted by dude

    Missionite. I am definitely not arguing that parking and cars are mutually exclusive, just that this law is the wrong vehicle for the desired effects (i.e. green yards). The founder of plantsf and several posters on the site are all the proof that is needed because they are going ahead and greening their sidewalks without any law or any funny business… you seem to think the law is necessary when it most certainly is not.
    Thank you for providing links to all the studies, but honestly, most of them don’t apply here. We are not talking about trees, we are talking about 20% green areas (dirt, grass, bushes). The Sunset does not suffer from the heat like Chicago and Davis so the cooling effects are neglible(perhaps the windbreaks apply though) and SFs air pollution, literally, blows into the Central Valley. Does stormwater drainage apply… absolutely yes. But again, the absolute majority of unpermeable pavement in these neighborhoods is publicly owned property (primarily made up of streets). Getting the City to use permeable pavement would go a lot farther than forcing some homeowners to green their driveways (also note that some homeowners are doing this vlountarily). I really do appreciate your attempt at trying to backstop the 20% figure by using terms like “realistic” and benefits outweighing the costs (for whom is the real question) when I think you know just as I that it is still arbitrary.
    So, I don’t think those studies don’t apply in this case, the City is the main source of unpermeable pavement, 20% is an arbitrary number, ceteris parabis, people prefer to live near trees and many folks are greening their sidewalks without a law. I still don’t know why supporters of this law simply can’t admit that this law is all about aethetics? Some people want green yards because they like green yards and are angry that others aren’t doing what they think those others should be doing. The “common good” is simply (and always is) a proxy for individual desires. Fine, I totally get it, and all concrete yards/blocks are hideoulsy ugly… but I am still not convinced this law is the correct way to go about changing the status qup here, and many people are making changes without the reactionary prodding of the long-arm of City Hall.
    Also, thank you for your passionate and non-deragatory arguments… always refreshing to have a nice online debate without it getting all crazy.

  57. Posted by Life beyond Yelp

    Don’t use me (=the fact that I am going ahead with greening) for proof that no laws / fines / fees are necessary… While I hope that the front of my house will look great, I have no illusions about the rest of the neighborhood(s). For every one like me, there are dozens who (illegally) rip out the greenery in front of their houses, without being stopped by the city. The streetscape is absolutely blighted and a whole lot more will need to be done if we want to turn the trend around wholesale.
    ———–
    The “common good” is simply (and always is) a proxy for individual desires.
    ———–
    This is an almost quaintly cynical view but it is incorrect. Somewhere along the way a lot of Americans mistook democracy for hyper-individualism and the idea of common good for Communism. In fact, so often, people’s selfish, lazy, short-term thinking actually makes them act against their own best interest. To me, “common good” is a shorthand for a more open-minded, longer-term way of thinking that considers more factors than just the involved individuals’ short-term interest.

  58. Posted by joh

    isn’t a big part of the concrete phenomena cultural? Some cultures value the perceived utility of concrete over the more intangible benefits of greenery.
    The only culture I can think of that prefers concrete over greenery is the skateboarding one.
    But seriously, I can’t think of any cultural groups that prefer concrete over greenery.

  59. Posted by david

    Noerch. Of course. That’s why I pointed out “less” red tape/more streamlined. Getting everybody from government to planning to neighbors to the bum down the street is ridiculous and the prime reason people convert spaces illegally. As for “green space” rules, I presume you mean the percent of a lot covered by building. Well, a pretty standard Sunset lot size is 3000 sq ft. Not too much different from the standard Chicago city lot size of 3125 sq ft (25X125). I know from experience, you can easily fit a 2000 sq ft house on that lot–2 stories of 1000 sq ft each, and again, Chicago has more green than SF, by far….so…change the rules!

  60. Posted by noearch

    @david: you seem to confuse quality of living with quantity of house.
    If the planning codes were changed to allow everyone to build a second house in the rear yard, we would lose a LOT of green space, open space and the quality of “niceness” to our rear yards. There would be much less natural light to our homes, more shadows…overall, a more unlivable city. Current planning codes are a good thing; they balance the needs of more density against quality of life issues.
    Red tape/process is really a different issue. I would agree it is somewhat cumbersome of full of too many rules. Some rules are changing for the better, including streamlining the DR (discretionary review) process. Overall, I do believe that neighbors within a certain radius have a right to comment on a proposed addition.

  61. You may be interested in the new SD Department of Sidewalk parking, which documents and fights sidewalk blight in San Francisco. http://www.sfdsp.org
    Sincerely,
    Commissioner Concrete

  62. Posted by missionite

    dude,
    I think it’s naive to think there is a kind and gentle way to manage code enforcement. If “bottom up” worked, then we wouldn’t have a problem anywhere near the degree we do now. For example, telling people that speeding will *kill* them does very little to slow down the amount of speeders on our highways – so even the threat of life and limb has little effect on human behavior if a short term benefit is perceived. But if a cop is spotted on the side of the road you can watch the brake lights light up like Christmas trees. In the human species as a whole, fear (sadly) trumps logic. So if compliance with a law is desired then there needs to be some fear of consequences from lack of compliance with the law built in to the process or the result will be what we have right now which is flagrant violations.
    As for the studies, that was a cut & paste from a tree-centric website, but I think there’s plenty of empirical evidence in there that greenery in general is a net positive that generates benefits in excess of costs. You haven’t yet provided any empirical evidence that concrete parking pads en masse offer any similar net positives, or that these benefits outweigh the benefits of having a modest amount of greenery, but if you can provide empirical evidence to that effect I will certainly give it consideration. I am, admittedly, skeptical that such empirical evidence exists.
    Your lack of concern for air quality in the Central Valley is duly noted (if that’s not a case in point about short term localized thinking trumping long term broad public policy I don’t know what is).
    Your suggestion that the city repave all the streets with permeable pavement strikes me as unrealistic. How many billions would that cost? And how likely will that be to happen when the city is running a substantial deficits? And how disruptive would it be to completely repave the entire city, and how long would it take?
    Wouldn’t it be substantially quicker, easier, cheaper, (dare I say it?) more aesthetic, and ultimately more beneficial to simply enforce *existing law* that homeowners devote a fifth of their front yard to greenery?
    Finally with regards to your suggestion that 20% is “arbitrary” I think you are employing an overly liberal definition of the word “arbitrary”:
    “Determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle”. An alternate definition is a decision imposed by a sole individual (such as a judge) and not by legislation.
    As I stated previously, a number larger than 20% might be unreasonably onerous. A number smaller than 20% might not deliver the intended results. Thus I disagree the number is arbitrary in the sense of the first definition. There clearly is an attempt to employ both reason and principle in enforcing the code. We can agree to disagree on necessity, but you can’t reasonably make an argument that chance, whim, or impulse are at play here, particularly when viewed in light of the secondary definition, as the code was written into law by the BoS, signed by the Mayor and presumably went through some legislative and public review process prior to becoming law. If this was written/enforced by a single planning department commissioner I would be more inclined to agree with you, but this is existing law that has been on the books for quite a while.
    To address some earlier posters, I don’t think actions in pursuit of short term individual gain at the expense of long term public policy know any cultural boundaries. That’s a human trait, not a cultural one.
    The Sunset has a substantial Asian population. The Excelsior has a substantial Latino population. The Marina has a substantial Caucasian population. And Bayview has a substantial African American population.
    They ALL have a substantial amount of concrete parking in lieu of yards.
    I sincerely hope this will encourage you to reexamine you prejudicial biases.

  63. Posted by dude

    LBY. I used you because you are proof. You are going ahead with greening your front yard and had planned to without any law becing in palce requiring you to do so. Although you harbor no illusions about it changing your block, it stands to reason that are not the only one with this idea (as Florella and her neighbors show, or the founder of plantsf shows in the link provided). Are more people tearing their greenery up for parking spaces than putting greenery in… likely yes, but not all. Plus, the defintion of blighted is in the eye of the beholder (I am sure many victims of SFs redevelopment agency though their places weren’t blighted until the bulldozers took them down… not nearly the same degree here) and neighborhoods change over time.
    I can also see that a lot of our dialogue here revolves around the term “commom good”. I am by no means advocating hyper-individualism at the expense of all else. But the phrase common good gets tossed around a lot by people (and I believe this is the case here) who are simply seeking to impose their point of view on others for their own benefit at the expense of those others. In this case, everybody greening their yard provides you a benefit at their cost. It’s easy for you to say that this is for the “common good” because it benefits you and costs you nothing (as you would be greening your yard and paying that cost regardless… and you don’t seem to care if others “free ride” of your greenery because you still would it anyhow… I am presuming that aanyhow). I doubt anybody can presume to know all of the individual decision factors for everybody to presume that one can know what is best for everydoy else in the long-term. As such, when I hear the term “common good” thrown around as a justification for laws such as this, I assume that those pushing for the law are going to gain a benefit for free at the cost of others… reading the dialogue of the supporters here supports that view. This law is about imposing one’s aesthetic sensibilities on others who might not value those sensibilities as highly (and in doing so gain a benefit at the cost of others). If the majority of people are tearing out their yards for concrete, clearly the majority value concrete more than greenery in their front yards (this has nothing to do with vlauing parks nature or their bakyards) and forcing them to do otherwise isn’t for the “common good”, it’s for the good of the minority that doens’t like it… it’s not one individual with a nuisance or something dangerous to everybody else (no one is going to die because a portion of some people’s front yards don’t contain an arbitrary percentage of greenery), which really does force action.
    Anyhow, again, to reiterate, I’m not against green front yards at all, just stupid laws. I am actually highly against hyper-individualism, and have a faith in people that tells me that if more folks like you (who are tearing up their concrete and planting their front yards) simply do what you plan to do, then reach out to their neighbors to help them, or ask them about doing it, the change you seek will happen and many will follow. Will everybody… definitely no, but some will… and I think you’d be surprised at how a little small change can preclude a much large one. An arbitrary law is simply the wrong way to go about this… as the law will be abused by those in charge.

  64. Posted by dude

    missionite. It’s all about who benefits and who pays. I agree with you that all things being equal, greenery benefits everybody. But in this case, we are only talking about front yards… there’s plenty of green in the back yards and in nearby parks… so it’s not like we have to choose between an absolute absence of green and green all around (as many people still ahve green front yards). And, all things aren’t equal, apparently the majortiy of people value concrete over greenery. It’s simple math… if the majority of people value concrete over greenery (i.e. it provides them more benefits than costs) then the net benefits outweigh the costs. These are the actual people who live there (and make up society and for whom the “common good” is legislated). Now, are there some extenalities, perhaps, ugliness is apparently the #1 factor, but again, these people live there and are choosing the benefits of ungliness via concrete over the benefits of prettiness… Now some people value greenery over the utility of concrete, but clearly not the majority do not. Empirically, the cost/benefit analysis is right in front of your eyes.
    As far as drainage goes, again, this is a tiny minority of the pavement surface. If the benefits to more drainage are so substantial, it would be an easy choice for the City to begin repaving roads with porous material as the costs of the sewer system would decline dramatically. The thing is, the benefits aren’t that substantial and the costs are high… so yes, it is cheaper for the City to make other people pay to provide benefits to you and I (again, legislation to benefit some at the cost of others… it’s the San Francisco way)… doesn’t mean it’s right.
    As far as arbitrary, I think we are both working from the same definition, but you and I have different outlooks on the political process and government in general (can’t help that). The whole law itself was determined by impulse… constituents called their supervisor and he passed a law… I guess he employed reason and principal in coming up with a politcally correct number, but laws that benefit a politically connected minority at the expnese of a majority can hardly be said to be derived from reason and principal (unless you assume that that’s just what government is in the first place).
    As far as compliance with the law goes, the more and more people attempt to legislate their specific beliefs onto others, the more and more lawbreaking you are going to get. I think in this City, State and Country, there’s a growing general disrespect for the law because it’s becoming obvious that the law only applies to certain people… and obvious that many specific interest groups are simply using the law to benefit themselves at the cost of everybody else. Yes, I am cyncical.

  65. Posted by noearch

    god, some of you people just talk too much.
    1. It’s illegal to park on the sidewalk. It’s not nice.
    2. It’s illegal to pave over your front yard. It’s not nice.
    3. Adding landscape to the front 20% minimum of your front yard is a NICE thing. It makes The City a nicer place to live. We all benefit.
    end of story.

  66. Posted by Life beyond Yelp

    ———-
    But the phrase common good gets tossed around a lot by people (and I believe this is the case here) who are simply seeking to impose their point of view on others for their own benefit at the expense of those others.
    ———-
    Nope. The “others” are in a violation of code and as is always the case, it’s their responsibility to bear the costs for becoming compliant. A green sidewalk benefits all, BTW. However, I can easily turn around your argument and say that it’s those who rip out the front yard on the sidewalk in front of their house and park their cars there, that impose their point of view on others for their own benefit at the expense of others. They are the **only** ones to benefit from it at the expense of the neighborhood’s looks and value, whereas everyone benefits from a new front yard.
    You can say that the previous owner of my house concreted over the front yard and parked his cars there at my expense, as it will be many hundreds if not thousands of dollars to restore it. It’s not the only thing in or around the house that he destroyed or fat-fingered in illegal / permit-less ways. To bring all these up to code will be a large effort. The bottom line is: if you do things as you please without considering the law and your actions’ effects on others, then usually it’s the others who will pay.
    The sidewalks in the streets are public space. They are not owned by the people whose house it is next to. The expectation to care for this space in front of your property is a responsibility that comes with homeownership in this and most other cities. You are expected to care for this space in a way that benefits everyone, not just you.

  67. Posted by EBGuy

    Three words: Stealth nighttime resodding.
    I bet these folks would take up the cause.
    Please note: trespassing may result in loss of life or other serious injuries.

  68. Posted by noearch

    hey LBY: isnt that what I just said?

  69. Posted by dude

    Yeah… I am probably talking too much.
    Granted, the concrete is illegal… but so is everything, so the legality of act does not really convern me. In actuality, if those who concrete their sidewalks are doing so on their property, so it really doesn’t affect you as you can keep your greenery, or add it back in this case. True, maybe it affects your your property values if others that want to purchase it someday value the greenery nearby as much as you… but maybe not if your previous anecdote is true… nor are an individual’s property values something the law should be concerned with. So flipping the argument doens’t work becasue it’s their property and has no effect on you (unless you really believe you have a vested property right in other’s property… then we’re simply talking past each other). You could even argue that it frees up valuable street parking for others (a benefit for the “common good” as parking is a vlauable commodity).
    Regarding the previous owner… you paid FMV for the property As-Is, so he didn’t really cost you anything as it was factored into the purchase price. Plenty of people do good, quality work the right way without permits or licenses, but caveat emptor in everything as always.
    At somepoint the sidewalk stops and your property begins (are not the owner’s of the house members of the public, and therefore they do own the streets and sidewalks along with everybody else?) and I agree that the owner has a responsilbity to maintain his property in way that does not endanger everbody, but, to use a line, nobody is going to die because of 0% front yard greenery. You are twisting this idea of caring for the space in front of your house so it is not a danger into maintaining that space in the way you would prefer.

  70. Posted by missionite

    Yes Noearch, that’s what you just said, but it’s important we find a longer way to say it. 🙂
    Completely agree with both Noearch and LBY. These people are breaking the law and we’re the bad guys for forcing them to stop doing so? You got it all backwards.
    With regards to your interpretation of the law, you seem to be a little confused. Sandoval’s legislation isn’t a new law, it is merely providing a method for enforcing pre-existing law. That pre-existing law dates back to the 70’s from what I can tell, and perhaps farther. Regardless, the original planning code guidelines have been on the books for many years, but the planning code department has had no power to enforce them. Sandoval’s legislation changed the enforcement, not the underlying principal.
    I honestly don’t think we are working from the same definition of arbitrary, or “impulse” for that matter. I find it hard to picture hordes of constituents *impulsively* calling their supervisor, and then that supervisor “impulsively” drawing up legislation, and then the Board of Supervisors “impulsively” voting to approve that legislation, and then the Mayor “impulsively” signing that legislation. This is a long process, and whatever you think of city legislation, it is not one governed by impulse (inaction perhaps, but impulse, no.). There are too many people it has to go through for mere impulses to succeed.
    A cynic might suggest that politicians have no interest in the “common good”, but even a cynic must admit that a politician has to be careful to cultivate a majority of the electorate. And Sandoval has been quite vocal, even before getting elected, about residential parking issues. I read a campaign press release where he advocated requiring people to use their garages for parking in order to alleviate parking congestion, so one can hardly accuse him of not being upfront about his stance. If, as you suggest, a majority of voters favor concrete parking pads, then Mr. Sandoval, as well as all of the Supervisors and Mayor who supported his proposal, will face the wrath of those voters at the next election. But I suspect you are incorrect that a majority of voters favor concrete parking pads in lieu of greenery. In fact I think the law will actually be a popular one (a theory that is supported by the number of Supervisors who supported Sandoval’s proposal who will need to face their constituents on the matter as well). So I suspect Sandoval’s re-election will turn on other matters.
    In short it appears you are picking and choosing who makes up the “common” in “common good”, so in your view collective individual rights to turn greenery into parking trumps both existing law, and the will of the electorate. But in reality the “common” in “common good” is the electorate, and they get the final say on what is good for them via their elected representatives. These representatives have made abundantly (if somewhat ineffectually) clear that cement parking pads are not in the interest of the common good. Since the differing sides are mutually exclusive (you either have 20% greenery in all front yards or you do not) one side will get to impose their beliefs on the other, and that’s pretty much the essence of what a law is. If you got a better way to do things then you should run for office.

  71. Posted by David

    Noerch, you find hidden meaning in my statements that I didn’t even know I put in. Confusing quantity with quality? Not exactly.
    However, I’d be willing to bet you have no children, like most SF’ers. I’ll let you in on a secret. While it is assuredly possible to raise 2 kids in a 800-1000 sq ft joint (I had 2 in an 1150 sq ft house before moving, and we didn’t move for space, we moved for convenience), many modern people prefer more space.
    On a 25X120 lot, one can easily fit a 1500-2000 sq ft house. How, you might ask. Well, 25X50 for the first floor allows for a 250-300 sq ft garage and 850-900 sq ft of living space (100-150 sq ft for stairs). The second story is another 1000 sq ft. And you know what, you still have 30X25 ft in the back (assuming a 20 ft setback from the curb), which, amazingly enough, is about the same greenspace you had with a single story house, as the footprint is the same.
    Streamlining the permit process to add second stories, finish rooms next to the garage etc would encourage more families in SF. Or you can remain in your overpriced tiny hovels (if you’re poor) or buy your nice big place if you’re Robin Williams, and continue on SF’s path to be a playground for the childless rich and subsidized poor.
    You might not think the permit process is too onerous, but spending $8000++ just to get permits to finish your lower level adds at least 20-25% to the job.

  72. Posted by EBGuy

    Here’s another ‘feel good’ article about plantsf.org with a gratuitous reclaimed sidewalk photo. About five years ago, architect Jane Martin glanced out the window of her design studio on Shotwell Street to witness yet another car careening down the sidewalk and parking smack in front of her door.

  73. Posted by D

    I know this thread is old, but the FUF stuff bothered me: “Would be interesting if FUF or the Arboretum or other could get involved in assisting homeowners to undo the paved-over streets.”
    Your wish is FuFs command! FuF is just starting a program to create sidewalk greenery. It is more expensive than their tree program (blame city permitting costs) but it is focused on ripping out concrete in sidewalk/front yard areas and giving yards/sidewalk green space back to the city. Info is here.
    About the FuF needing 30 people for a planting and it being their job to get those people together…well. FuF is a non-profit who is trying to green the city, not something supported by your tax dollars. It being “their job” is an interesting term – I’m sure they’d love to do it if they had more resources. I approached them about a tree in Spring and was told their was no plantings in my area (but if I could get 30 people together they’d be happy to do a planting!) Under a year later, a planting sprung up and I get my tree this Sunday.
    TLDR summary: FuF has a sidewalk greening program.

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