Story Updates

  • What Will the Islais Creek Facility Look Like?

    The reporting is coming along nicely and will soon be published by Potrero View in print along with The Daily Casserole. Matt Baume was also able to provide some content to The Bold Italic. All pieces will be coming out around the first week in June.

    Meanwhile here are two hi-res concept drawings from Muni for the bus facility on Islais Creek.

    View from Islais Creek

    View from Islais Creek

    View from Ceaser Chavez

    View from Cesar Chavez

    Posted by Spot. Us on 05/18/10
  • 4/27/10
  • Sneak peak at the article: environmental catastrophes, resilient snakes, and a secret message in a painting


    Thanks to everyone who donated! The pitch is now fully funded (although if you want to donate more, that's fine with me -- the more donations the story receives, the more resources I'll have to pursue interviews, photos, and historical research.)

    I've written up an outline for the article, and thought I would share it with you so you can see how the structure of the story is coming along. I'm splitting it into two sections: a "normal" news article about Islais Creek, and a more subjective first-person account of visiting various other creeks in the city.

    Here's the outline as it stands right now; you can read the most up-to-date version in my Google doc here.



    • Part 1: Islais Creek
      • Present status on the brink
        • Wildlife preserve
          • Talk to friends-of-creek people - -
          • Iris Clearwater, Amber Hasselbring
        • Ohlone
        • Hint at Muni's future plans
      • History
        • Oil spill, sewage issues in 2000s
        • Environmental issues and rehab in 90s
        • Environmental issues from 1800s to 1950s
          • Butchertown pollution
          • Culverting in 1930s
      • Future plans
        • Muni yard
        • Plans for park
        • Plans for preserve
        • Potential daylighting
    • Part 2: Tour of Local Creeks for TBI
      • Yosemite in McLaren Park
        • Fell in a stream
      • Islais in Glen Canyon
        • Snake sighting, hawk skeleton, mosquitoes
        • Disappearing in to a grate; re-emerging miles later
        • Channel
      • Presidio
        • El Polin
          • Lover's Lane Bridge
          • Restoration
          • Kids playing in well
        • Dragonfly
          • Nearly invisible
          • Stone wall
          • Abandoned campground
        • Lobos Creek
        • Mountain Lake
      • Precita Creek
      • Sans Souci
        • The Wiggle
        • Today, only a reference hidden on the mural
        • Restoring the creek someday?
      • Hayes Valley Creek
        • Drains into BART station?
        • Drains into Fox Plaza basement?
      • Albion Castle
        • History
        • Future is up in the air
      • Mission Creek
        • Armory Basement
        • Mission Bay Channel transformed -- sports fields, grassy bits, kayaking, houseboats

    Posted by Matt Baume on 04/27/10
  • 4/19/10
  • Is your home built on top of a lake?


    I've written a series of articles over at Streetsblog about the different ways that cities -- particularly cities here in the Bay Area -- treat their urban waterways.

    There's been a lot of interest recently in the topic, prompted mostly by an incredible plan in Berkeley that would turn Center Street from a vehiclular thoroughfare into a pedestrian destination. If it happens, the street would be closed to cars and opened to humans; but even more impressively, it would incorporate elements of Strawberry Creek, an ancient body of water currently buried beneath the street.

    Daylighting has become increasingly popular in the last few decades, and the Bay Area was at the forefront of the trend. In the 1970s, Napa removed the cover from the concrete trench into which the Napa River had been constrained; in the 80s, Berkeley daylit a small portion of Strawberry Creek.

    And amazingly, here in San Francisco, the Public Utilities Commission is currently considering daylighting three creeks: Islais, Yosemite, and Stanley. Each proposed project has interesting characteristics: Islais Creek would be made to flow through the Alemany Farmer's Market; Yosemite could be diverted through what is currently an abandoned nursery; and Stanley Creek is such an unknown body of water that barely anyone even knows that it exists. (It's underneath Brotherhood Way, flowing into Lake Merced.)

    At one time, the only thing cities wanted to do with creeks was to bury them in underground culverts. Today, that thinking has completely changed: creeks present an amazing opportunity to distinguish a city, improve water quality, and create new parkland and habitat.

    Posted by Matt Baume on 04/19/10
  • 4/6/10
  • The Invisible, Interconnected SF Watershed

    I had the pleasure last week of attending a presentation by Christopher Richard, Curator of Aquatic Biology at the Oakland Museum of California. He's an expert on the strange history of San Francisco's water -- and it is definitely strange. So strange, in fact, he had to invent new cartographic symbols for his maps of the city's streams and marshes. "It's the most highly altered waterscape in California," Christopher reported.

    Here are some of the highlights of the talk, in no particular order:

    Civic Center BART station gets about 40,000 gallons of water a day flowing in from the Hayes Valley Creek, which they have to pump out. One old news report that I found claimed that the water is used the UN Plaza fountain -- I don't know if that's true. Certainly worth investigating!

    Albion Castle was mentioned -- it's a former brewery in Hunters Point, quite old. About 10,000 gallons of water are said to flow through the tunnels beneath the structure. Absolutely worth investigating!

    Christopher offered two tips for snooping around creeks and finding streams of water: look for willows, since "willows like it wet." And go out on rainy days, when the volume of water will be higher.

    Large areas of the city were, when European settlers arrived, sandy dunes. Christopher referred to these areas as "Dunelandia."

    Washerwoman's Lagoon, a freshwater body in the northeast of the city, eventually became known as "Cow Hollow." The only remnants of a street grid laid out around the lagoon are two small alleyways: Blackstone Court and Grenard Terrace. They sit at a strange angle to the regular modern grid, a tiny sliver of many long-vanished roads.

    El Polin and the Tennessee are big daylighting success stories in the Presidio. I intend to get in touch with folks in the Presidio to gather more info about that project, which is being daylighted even more extensively as part of Caltrans' Doyle Drive construction.

    Near El Polin, on the Lucasfilm campus, is a non-natural stream. Christopher referred to it dismissively as a "yard amenity," and displayed a photo he'd taken of the creek's control panel. "This is the only creek I've ever seen with an emergency shutoff," he said to big laughs from the audience.

    Continuing southwest from the Presidio, he moved on to Lobos Creek and Mountain Lake. They flow through hard rock at the edge of the sand dunes, and feature an overflow pipe that drains to the sewage plant. According to Christopher, all of the drinking water in the Presidio comes from Lobos Creek, which is pretty amazing -- I'll look into that further.

    Another important source of drinking water: Laguna Honda Reservoir. And a bit futher south from that, there's Laguna Puerca -- now part of Stern Grove.

    And then there's Lake Merced: it was a tidal lagoon in the 1860s, then gradually shrank as humans settled nearby in greater numbers. In 1904, the south end was cut off to isolate it from the cow-based pollution at the northern end.

    Head east and you'll run into John McLaren Park. With a number of a springs on the ridge, it's a "great place for snooping," as Christopher put it. The park includes Yosemite Marsh, a willowy concrete-enclosed area near the Jerry Garcia ampitheater.

    And now finally the talk came to Islais Creek, the body of water that initially sparked my interest in the topic of urban watersheds. The source of Islais Creek: Glen Park, with its pleasant willow-lined boardwalk.

    Islais flows close to Mission Creek, a now-buried marsh and stream that ran from the northern end of the Mission, underneath the Armory, and then out towards the bay. A plaque at Albion and Camp commemorates a lake that used to exist in the area -- Laguna Dolores was one of the lake's names, and nobody's quite sure where it was or what happened to it. Christopher's research shows that its disappearance probably started in the 1840s or 1850s

    Did you know there's a creek in Hayes Valley? It flows somewhere beneath the Western Addition -- probably -- and drains into the Fox Plaza area.

    "Today's watersheds are more like sewersheds," Christopher reported with some regret. It's hard to talk about "natural" bodies of water when they've all been diverted into concrete tunnels. It helps to ensure that the majority of stormwater gets treated, which is of course good for water quality: "we've got a shot at cleaning it up." But of course, it also means that we miss out on having bodies of water in our neighborhoods.

    Christopher concluded his talk with a mention of daylighting creeks: "Most environmentalism is doom and gloom," he said, "but this is something to feel good about."

    And finally, one last fun note: upon arriving at SPUR, I checked in to Foursquare and was delighted to find that I'd unlocked the mayor badge. A good omen for further research!

    Posted by Matt Baume on 04/06/10
  • 3/10/10
  • We are all Islais Creek


    It's funny how the life of of Islais Creek really parallels the development of the city over the last few centuries.

    It started as an Ohlone settlement, got taken over by Europeans and turned into a garbage dump, was slated to become a park right up until the 1906 quake, then became the site of heavy industry, eventually evolved into a struggling wildlife preserve thanks to conservation-minded neighbors, and then suffered a major setback when Muni dumped raw sewage into the site.

    Each of its little transformations over the last 300-or-so years has matched the tumult happening in San Francisco at large: the arrival of Spanish and American settlers, the flurry of industrialization, the upheaval of the quake, and a struggling reclamation -- or at least, recreation -- of the natural environment.

    Posted by Matt Baume on 03/10/10
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