Residents displeased with new Balboa planters; public meeting March 10

An example of the new Balboa cobblestone planters near 36th Avenue. And don’t get
too excited – those meters will get their tops soon 😉

On February 20th, a meeting was held about the recent Balboa streetscape improvements project. The $3 million project focused on creating a safer corridor for pedestrians, motorists, cyclists and transit riders along outer Balboa Street, via a series of traffic calming measures. Features of the project included wider sidewalks, bulb outs to make street crossings safer, energy efficient light fixtures, and curb ramps.

Outer Balboa residents are happy with those improvements to their street, but there’s another aspect to the project that has them seeing red: the landscaping improvements.

Specifically, the new planters that were installed on several blocks of Balboa. The new raised sidewalk planters feature dark, cobblestone walls and in some cases, very deep wells to accommodate future trees. The project fact sheet states that the “sidewalk planters to be planted with low maintenance, salt spray and drought-tolerant native and adapted plants and trees. Mulched with gravel.”

A rendering of the kind of landscaping the city envisions for some of the Balboa planters

So what’s to complain about? Plenty if RichmondSFBlog readers have anything to say about it. The planters were installed late last year and have yet to be filled with any greenery. As a result, they’ve become collection bins for rainwater, refuse and dog excrement. Not to mention a tripping hazard for pedestrians.

“I trip on the boxes going to Purusha Yoga. I know someone who actually fell. They are full of poop and garbage…,” wrote Jen J. on our Facebook page. And Brian W. wrote, “It’s only a matter of time until someone sues the city for an injury resulting from these planters.”

Others complain about the space the planters take away from the newly widened sidewalks.

“The planting areas are the biggest piece of junk ever!. If you walk down the sidewalk, there is not enough room for more than 2 people maybe to walk down,” Perrin B. wrote.

At the February 20th meeting, discussion got very heated over the planters and despite neighborhood disapproval of the landscaping, city officials told attendees “the decisions were already made” and could not be changed.

To add insult to injury, the city is only committing to planting and maintaining the planters for a period of 3 years. After that, it’s the responsibility of residents and merchants to keep the planters clean and healthy. And we all know how well that DOESN’T work in San Francisco.

Monday night’s meeting will be hosted by the Department of Public Works and Supervisor Eric Mar from 6-7:30pm at the Cabrillo Playground, located at 38th Avenue and Cabrillo (we’re presuming it will be inside the clubhouse at the playground). The goal of the meeting is to discuss the purpose and benefits of the streetscape changes along Balboa Street, and hear community input and answer questions.

What are your thoughts on the new planters along Balboa? Leave a comment to let us know.

Sarah B.

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  1. Shua #22 (and others questioning why the raised stone creating a trip hazard) – it’s because of ADA rules requiring something for blind peoples’ canes to tap against. With due sympathies, sounds just like a case of “for want of a nail the kingdom was lost” – by making the planters as unworkable (for most) and unattractive as possible, they’re completely undercutting the mission to make the Richmond greener and prettier.

  2. I’m for the Whole Foods design. At least it isn’t so high that people will trip over them. People who tell others that “it’s impossible to trip” or to “get over themselves” should learn to emphasize with people who are not coordinated or suffer vision problems. Just because you can’t trip on it doesn’t mean others won’t.

    Also, if someone on the street uses a double stroller or a big wheelchair, well then that automatically makes the sidewalk narrower, doesn’t it?

    I’m all for green – when it’s done correctly. The current project is not done right at all.

    Instead of planting things into the sidewalk, why doesn’t the city invest in nice big cement planters (not metal because the thieves will steal them) and plant flowers or trees into them? That way the tree roots won’t damage the sidewalks and the planters are tall enough that everyone can see them (we’re talking about waist high planters by the way).

    I’ve been living in the Outer Richmond since the 1980’s and there has never been a notice about this ill conceived idea. It is more of a do it and oops we gotta tell the folks after the fact deal.

  3. Let me guess, whoever got the contract to put the planters in made campaign contributions to

    A) Rose Pak

    B) Willie Brown

    C) Ed Lee

    and/or D) Eric Mar

  4. I noticed over the weekend that they’ve started removing some of the cobble stones. Note sure if they were removed permanently or redoing something.

  5. I just walked down to check out the area and I have to say the planters do look better now that they are filled with soil and I think they will look very nice with actual plants and trees. However, something I hadn’t thought about is how businesses (and building owners) will put out their garbage and recycling bins. I noticed two sets out just now and, since they need to be placed near the curb, they were put in the small area between planters. This effectively blocks off the pathway from street to sidewalk at those particular points.

    Overall it appears that some of the more ‘operational’ aspects of this project were not sorted out prior to construction, which is aggravating, but (sadly) not that surprising. Let’s hope tonight’s meeting is constructive and helps to resolve some of the resident’s concerns and questions.

  6. Public sidewalks were maintained by the City until Proposition 13 took effect. We had a tree planted in front before then by the predecessor of Friends of the Urban Forest, which promised City maintenance (i.e. proper pruning). Since the late 1970s, we have borne the responsibility for all pruning, minimal watering and regular (every 5 years) rootering of our drains to ensure proper flow of sewage. Our neighbor immediately north has been affected by the tree roots more than once, an expense we share as she doesn’t do the regular preventive rootering. Care must be taken in observing tree growth such that it does not come close to power and telephone lines or the tree may receive a flat-top from a utility. The cut-outs in sidewalks will cause sidewalks to crack on the diagonal from the corners in any earth movement greater than 4.5 on the Richter scale based on experience in 1980, 1984 and 1989. These cracks will be subject to the City issuing maintenance orders and/or bills. With four cracks, there will be four concrete squares requiring replacement.

    Bricks, or anything that can be removed, will be removed and could be used for less than honorable purposes. In the past two years we have had two signs and several large decorative stones (used to discourage animal waste elimination) stolen from beneath the tree; the stones had not been disturbed in over 15 years until the restriction on long-term parking on Fulton took place.

    Because the City also severely curtailed groundskeeping operations after the enactment of Prop 13, the quantity and variety of weeds populating both backyards and tree cutouts has grown immensely and requires, at a minimum, weekly aggressive removal. After many years of battling these unwelcome volunteers, we decided to use playground mulch in the tree cutout. It has also reduced the quantity of pet waste but has done nothing to dissuade those who believe it’s a public trash can.

    Greening is nice, but for all my fellow allergy sufferers, do keep in mind that only male trees bear pollen and that the vast majority of street trees are males because they do not fruit (edible or otherwise) because of complaints in the 1960s by owners of parked cars who had to clean their vehicles after contact with overripe fruit. Today’s pollen count is moderate and tomorrow is expected to be high; you might feel grittiness in your eyes due to the concentration of airborne particulates even if you have no allergies.

    One more consideration. Back in pre-history one never put their garbage cans out on the sidewalk, Sunset Scavenger came into garages via tradesman entrance and dumped cans into burlap sheets. That changed to putting a single metal can per household out, which later was accompanied with the small rectangular blue box for bottles and cans in the 1980s. Recology now has the three wheeled cart system with larger buildings using the much larger 30 & 40 gal. containers. Where will these be expected to be placed before pickup? How difficult will it be to maneuver a fully loaded large container around a planter to the space along the curb if so requested? Will they impede pedestrians and/or people exiting parked cars? How will the proposed planters affect the manner in which empty Recology carts blow around on windy days?

    Based on decades of experience, if planters were coming to my block, I would be deeply concerned about any promises of proper maintenance and debris removal in addition to careful design for safety, potential vandalism, and ease of access for all purposes coupled with a precise definition of the rights and responsibilities of the property owners on whose sidewalks they are placed.

  7. I’ve just returned from the meeting which was full of anger and intensity. Of the 45 or so people there only two said they were happy with the project as is. Unfortunately I got the feeling it was too late in the process to really make significant changes so I’m not sure tonight’s feedback will have any impact. Still, if the project leaders (from DPW, supervisor’s office, architect, etc.) were unclear about how many residents and merchants feel about the work they certainly are not now.

  8. We are very happy with the project. Well done! Can’t wait for the plants to go in.

  9. No more than two people?!?!? Maybe if they are 500 pounds each. Even if you didn’t live in the hood you can see in the pics there is plenty of room. Balboa looked like shit before. A sea of concrete. After living there 13 years it’s great to see the area finally get spruced up. Haters will hate

  10. Btw, it’s not 20 inches, it’s 3 feet of space between planter and curb. Folks really need to dial it back.

  11. The planters and street widening are a huge improvement for Balboa Street! Once the plants and trees are finally planted, it will be very pleasant and attractive. I believe that some of the planter boxes could have had more separation in between them (distance between the boxes, not distance from curb). I only wish that there was a Stop sign at 38th and Balboa as that is a very challenging place to cross.

    Maybe Washington High School’s service/volunteer organizations could host monthly clean-ups on this corridor as they routinely hold similar volunteer activities.

  12. After tonight’s community meeting about this project, which over 50 people attended, another woman and I spent over an hour with DPW looking at the site and pointing out problems with access to the sidewalk from a parked car. We recommended they should evaluate every single parking space for access, especially for people with wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, or simply in need of assistance. They agreed this was a good idea. I suggest everyone keeps an eye on this project, and if they see a location that has access problems, contact DPW or Peter at Supervisor Mar’s office and let them know.

  13. There won’t be a tripping hazard once they’re planted. Who will be trying to step over bushes or trees? Nobody. It’s only a tripping hazard while they’re unplanted because they may not be noticeable enough.

    As a Richmond resident I applaud more green. We have too much grey concrete out here. We need more green badly. I’m happy to take care of the trees in front of my house, even when it means sidewalk repairs. The street is just so much more lovely and livable with greenery.

  14. I think the planters are a trip/fall hazard. Maybe you don’t, but onme thing is certain. The amount of space for pedestrians on Balboa in the Outer Richmond has been reduced from by 1/4 to 1/2. That is quite a bit, especially for a project that was initiated to improve the street for pedestrians. Try walking along the sidewalk near Simple Pleasures and see if you don’t have to carefully negotiate that section. And no stop signs between 32nd and 36th, despite the presence of two (count ’em, two) schools on the corner of 34th and Balboa. So much for safety improvements.

  15. Please kindly inform all the school nearby, let their students taking good care the new Balboa

    beautify project!

    I saw many new plants and flower pad had been stepped down or destroy

    already. Since it is a community project with taxes payer $. I believe each resident should keep eye

    open, prevent anyone step inside the planting area, further damage all the new public properties.

    City should set up a sign warning for whoever kill or damage or stole the plants, and any objects

    belong to ………………………………….

    to community. How about fine for $ 200 -$400? Please pay special attention the section in front of

    Pacific academy section. Why the school allow their students step inside the planting area? they

    should tell their kids become a GOOD citizen. Love American enviroment!!!!!!!!!!!!! :((

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