Ellsworth Neighbors Frustrated by Overgrown, City-Owned Land Near Bernal Hill



Neighbor Leslie is frustrated by the neglect of a small parcel of City-owned land on Ellsworth near the summit of Bernal Hill:

The residents on Ellsworth st near the hill have been getting nowhere with the City on maintaining a green space at Ellsworth and Bernal Heights Blvd.

The lot is full of debris and so overgrown that you can’t walk on the sidewalk. For years, a woman who lived next to the lot maintained it herself(!) by hiring people to landscape it.

She passed away or was put in a nursing home years ago… I’ve lived here for five years and no one has touched it.

Since September, I have contacted the city about the lot on a regular basis (first 311 and then DPW). No one has gotten back to me. Since November, I and other neighbors have been talking to Supervisor Campos’ office. Nothing still.

That corner is a gateway to our neighborhood. Instead of being a greenspace, it harbors rats and countless used condoms (we get a lot of prostitutes and johns at night along the hill) and other waste.

PHOTOS: Neighbor Leslie

62 thoughts on “Ellsworth Neighbors Frustrated by Overgrown, City-Owned Land Near Bernal Hill

    • Yeah, I’m a little skeptical. I’m sure people get mischievous in the vicinity now and then, but I haven’t seen anything that looks quite like _that_ around the hill lately.

    • Over the years of cleaning the street by my house, (no city street sweeping!) IMHO the condoms are just as likely to be a package for drugs. I’ve also found broken pen parts which I assume are used as a improv crack pipe.

  1. This may be the perfect opportunity to do a Ellsworth corner pruning and cleanup party for the holly daze. Pick a rain-free day, we’ll get some compost bags from Lowes which Recology will gratefully haul away and organize a morning for everyone to gather with coffee and donuts and clippers and pruners and have at it. Done in no time.

    We in SOCO have had no City response to the hillside area above the Farmers Market that was redeveloped and then abandoned by the City. I got a call from someone asking me if I would become the steward for the area and basically take care of it, which I declined to do. It is typical of the City to install and abandon thus putting the onus on the property owners to maintain the area.

    So, someone keep tabs on the weather, pick a good morning and put out the call. I for one would be more than happy and delighted to get my pruning sheers and clippers out this winter…keep us informed.

    Happy holly daze to one and all.

    • Hi John! I live on the 300 block of Bradford. I wonder if there’s anything we can do to get the City to take back responsibility of that land? I know everyone on my block would be for it.

      I’ve been out there from time to time with my weed whacker but it’s simply too much for one person to care for. Any plants I’ve put up there have died as well as there is water but no way to access it.

  2. I’d come help. Let’s not sit back and expect others to do for us. Perhaps our local coffee shops/cafe’s would throw in food and coffee for the volunteers.

    • paying taxes (HUGE property taxes for some of us) and then demanding the govn’t to do their job with that money is not “sitting back and expecting others to do for us”.

      • Maybe not. But it is an example of a flawed assessment of the importance of any one particular problem. Do you imagine that there are no other “demands” on the government agencies responsible for carrying out your personal vision of appropriate maintenance? I’m not saying this as a personal criticism. It is a part of human nature we are all subject to. Our narrative is naturally centered on ourselves. The rest of the world is supporting cast.

        Is government perfect? No. Do I bitch about it? Why, yes–quite enthusiastically and often. But I remind myself that whatever agency I’m angry at is staffed by actual, real-life human beings who probably aren’t evil, and who, like you and me, have good and bad days, and differing levels of effectiveness. Going in with guns blazing and outrage in the chamber is almost certainly going to work against progress. I’m going to make a bold generalization: outrage should be reserved for the most deserving of cases. Another: getting the grease by being the squeaky wheel probably means some other wheel doesn’t get a fair share. That’s a hollow victory.

        Opinion: the results will be more enjoyable and meaningful if the neighbors whip it into shape themselves. The less organization and sponsorship, etc., the better. Organization means leaders means Lord of the Flies means bloodshed. LOL. Seriously, I’d enjoy learning whatever process is successful for you.

        If it was my micro-neighborhood, I’d have had all three chainsaws out under direction of the most authoritative gardener on the block and had a cleared lot ready for sprucing up by now. That’s not a boast, just a friendly nudge. Tick tock. Less talk, more nice-ifying.

        Good luck!

  3. I’m happy to come give a hand if we want to take care of this ourselves.
    This would be a great opportunity to meet new neighbors.
    dave (dot) tobb (at) gmail (dot) com

  4. Yes there are a fair number of these city-owned spaces around. If a neighbor or neighbors doesn’t take de-facto ownership, they are completely neglected by the city.

  5. Regarding prostitutes, unless you live right by Bernal Heights Blvd, you can’t really say what is going on at any particular period. There is a more night-time activity than one would suspect, although it tends to ebb and flow over time.

  6. Your best bet is to adopt it from the SF parks department and organize neighbors to do the clean-up and upkeep. I did the same thing for our median on the north slope that was overgrown, ivy-covered and rat-infested. You definitely cannot rely on the city to do the work or respond to any requests, to be honest.

  7. I live next to Bernal Heights Blvd and have for 5+ years (and in Bernal for 14). As far as I can tell, most “activity” along there at night is teenagers needing a place to hang out. I spend quite a bit of time next to BHB, especially at night (I work weird hours), and it tends to be pretty benign. The biggest problem I’ve had is noise late at night when folks will have what amounts to an impromptu street party. Not illegal, just a bit annoying, but hey, I was a teenager once and I get the need to hang out and be loud with your friends. Parks are public spaces and teenagers are part of the public, so I generally just go out and ask them to take it down a notch. I’ve never had a problem when I do that.

  8. Sounds like a great community project. The Gates Street hill has become such a project and works pretty well.

    • There IS funding to green this area. We were fortunate to be brought into Scott Weiner’s fold when census did their thing. We have issues now where people don’t want to green their fronts and it’s frustrating.

      I would try to get a hold of FUF and see what they can do – with trees it means a more specific issue .

      This actually looks like a good area to fence in for a dog run area – not that I would want to live right next to one.

      If ATT installed box recently near you then there is greening money via them. You can contact the CHNA on Facebook if you want some resources and to see how the bernal cut – a vast area of city maintained area – is beautifying. At least I hope it continues to get mo’ pretty.

      • You must live on Richland because that’s the only street in the neighborhood supported by CHNA. They have been using the collective power of participating neighbors to improve their street only. Talk to neighbors on Highland and Scott Wiener’s office about how they had to fight CHNA for AT&T greening monies appropriated for Highland. CHNA do not practice democracy but rather kick-out neighbors who disagree with them. It’s their way or no other way. Re-districting is just one example of that. It didn’t just happen without a lot of effort by CHNA. The problem is that they did it without including members, at all, until it was a done deal. They did what they wanted to do and gave no one a say in that. If anyone disagrees, they are eliminated from the association all together (including people who contributed a lot). There’s so much more. Bernalwood should write about it honestly, especially CHNA actions against the poorest people in the neighborhood.

  9. I’d be willing to help as well! Are we only allowed to clean the space, or can we change plants, mulch/hardscape, etc?

    armbrust (at) gmail (dot) com

  10. I walk buy this corner every day and see it needs some TLC. I’d definitely be willing to show up with some bags and pruning tools for a neighborhood clean up day at this site.

    • So far Maureen (no contact info left), Dave T (I’ve emailed him), John (no contact info left) and Erick (I’ve emailed him) have responded that they are willing to help. If you can offer some assistance, please leave your email address or contact me at jsbmswpi@earthlink.net and I will be happy to organize and coordinate a day that is good for everyone to get together and at least start the process of pruning and cleaning that corner. This is a very worthwhile winter project and will benefit everyone on the hill and certainly those at and around that corner area.

  11. St. Mary’s Park maintains most of the “city owned” open-space grass medians and landscaping in that little neighborhood. Might be a good idea for some local neighbors up there to take it into their own hands? Couldn’t hurt as clearly the City is not too concerned about it’s maintenance…

  12. I love near the top of Gates, and it is typically pretty quiet up near Berna Heights Blvd. at night. It would be much nicer if there were lights and such so it didn’t feel so spooky and desolate.

  13. My partner and I worked on that lot twice when Anna lived in the house. Each time I came home covered in bites and welts. I think it’s terrific folks may take it upon themselves to get the job done. I have to express tho that it pisses me off the way Supervisor Campos, DPW and 311 get away with giving us the run around and remain unresponsive! And, don’t we all know that these kinds of situations would never be ignored in Pac Hts or Noe Valley. I personally would love that corner to be taken over by the City and turned into a sweet little area with benches and a small basketball court for all the kids who are growing up in this area. Or, no basketball court if noise is a concern but that corner is the gateway to our neighborhood and right across from the Ellsworth Steps and it should really be taken over, redesigned and maintained.

    • Have multiple residents entered complaints through the 311 site? I have seen the city take action when there is a “paper trail” . I don’t think calling 311 is as effective, the operator may (or may not) enter the details correctly. Likely all the city will do is cut back the overgrowth, but it would save you guys the effort of hauling.

      • always take the complaint number they give you and follow up – also it helps to use the 311 app
        it gives you a “paper” trail via you smart phone http://sf311.org/index.aspx?page=797
        keep pestering them by calling and or posting on the app..if you get tons of people to complain in this way and constantly follow up you will get the attention of someone

      • From what I understand, unaccepted and unpaved don’t have to happen at the same time. Eg there are a couple of unaccepted blocks of Ogden st that are paved (not well). There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Just seems that that bit is in the charter so the city can cover their ass. Unless the people on that block don’t pay property tax, seems weird that they should have to take care of a public right of way without at least some support

  14. An observation: The city doesn’t have enough gardeners to maintain all of its properties to a high enough standard to satisfy everyone. Gardeners = labor and labor = $. When budget time comes around, priorities have to be determined and squeaky wheels get the grease. Parks and Rec would be pretty high on my list if I were King, but other, far less solvable problems seem to get funded endlessly regardless of results.

    On my block, there is a long stretch of city property adjacent to the school playground. Since I moved here in 1996, the neighbors have maintained it. No organizing. No asking for permission. Myself and another neighbor just kinda started planting and weeding and pruning. Over the years, people work on it as they get the time and inspiration. Often we work at the same time and consult over plant choices. Other than that, it is purely casual.

    It is a lush and beautiful strip of neighborhood space. I think it is far better than it would be if the City maintained it. We live here and have an interest in making it something we want to look at every day. I have great neighbors on my block, and it sounds like there are some good neighbors up where this neglected plot is begging for a makeover.

    My advice: after the initial clean-up day, don’t even worry about mass organizing. When neighbors see other neighbors digging in the dirt, the natural gardener tends to come out. Let people plant what they want with as few rules as possible. Our block garden is best described as “eclectic,” but it all works somehow and we know where every plant came from.

    Oh yeah: if you ever see the NAP (Natural Areas Program) people lurking about, call Cultwatch and hire armed security to keep them away. 🙂

    Can’t wait to see what you guys accomplish. If you want Agave or Yucca runners, feel free to come dig out some of ours. Or contact me and I’d be happy to bring some by.

    Good luck! Follow-up post in 6 months?

  15. Note to Francis, who was posting at the same time I was: Don’t let it get you pissed off. That shortens your life. Also, “angry” doesn’t bring out the best in service workers. Yes, Pacific Heights gets more attention than the Hottest Neighborhood in the Universe (HA!), but it has always been so. You can try to push that neglected plot of land to the top of an entire City bureaucracy’s agenda (and learn the meaning of the word “sisyphean”).

    Or you can smile ruefully at this unfairness, and consider how it might actually benefit the neighborhood. If it became a city project, I guarantee you it would take years of meetings and infighting and permitting and planning with an underwhelming outcome. Make it something you all want to look at. If someone objects to that, give them a few square feet and invite them to show you how it should be done.

    Good luck!

  16. Forgot to add: if you guys need high-quality wood-chip mulch, contact me. What I don’t use on our plot, I give to local gardeners, but I’d be happy to set some aside for your project as needed.

    • I heard there’s also a place in Bayview that offers free mulch – just have to show up with a truck and haul it away

      • Didn’t know that, S. Let’s head on over “next year” and bring some back to the hill in my SUV. The weeds are so aggressive!

      • sure! I’m thinking the latter half of January when we’re done with holiday stuff. I also have some ice plant trimmings we can put in to keep the weeds from growing on the sidewalk.

        I wish Santa would get us a gas powered weed whacker!! 😉

  17. I’ve been enjoying reading this thread. I live near one of the public steps in Bernal and we’ve had some first hand experience with the issue you mention in this post. Earlier this year, after much pestering of DPW and 311, they sent out a crew of about 15 people (all kids/young adults doing community service btw) who cut everything in sight leaving very little plant life that could be considered ‘living’. I asked them as they were leaving (when I was getting home) what they were going to put in place of the things they cut and basically they just laughed. The best thing to do (as has been mentioned above) is to handle it your self. Some neighbors and I did a ‘gardening day’ just before the rains and planted anything drought resistant we could get our hands on. It’s looking great and I feel a much deeper sense of pride for how good our little public space looks. On that note, we could use any free mulch, plants etc as there is still a lot of space to plant. Any info appreciated…

  18. An open letter to Supervisor Campos: Dear David, if we get this lot weeded and trimmed back some homeless people can sleep there…..oh wait, this is NOT a Hispanic issue? Nevermind, then you would not be interested. Oh how I long for the days of Tom Ammiano. When one called his office, he frequently answered the phone. Not Campos, they won’t even RETURN calls. Want to make Precita Park to 24th a Latino Heritage zone, no problem, have a weed filled overgrown lot with condoms (hey people that live there, if you see people or cars late at night call 911!), this is not on Campos’ radar. Remember this next time we get a one dimensional candidate for supervisor.

    • I have had multiple Sf311 tickets marked as “resolved” with nothing done. Repeated intervention with photographic evidence needed to get issue actually taken care of.

      BTW the SF311 Twitter account (@SF311) is very handy. Response is just as prompt as calling and quite convinient if your outside with a phone.


      • I would site a blocked sidewalk as it is more important than overgrown plants. They at least help with watershed but a blocked sidewalk is a whole other issue

  19. Not true Bernal glen. I”ve been talking to the city since August about this lot. But magically, this morning city workers from the urban forestry division have shown up and are currently hacking away at the overgrown plants blocking off the sidewalk on Ellsworth St. But that’s all they are authorized to do, according to one worker. Progress, I guess.

    • They must have been reading Bernalwood and realize the troops are on the way to clean up the corner they should be taking responsibility for! There are now 13 Bernalwood readers committed to working on this project and we look forward to gathering after the first of the year and having a go at what the Urban Forest people haven’t done. Thanks everyone for your interest and participation.

    • Well, this little lot is nothing compared to the bernal cut and it’s many issues – and yes we get prostitutes and condoms and so many homeless who call the bridges home. Site a blocked sidewalk and not just overgrowth

  20. I have to agree on the lack of help/support from the City and Campos when it comes to city owned space. We live near the Coleridge Mini Park and have contacted DPW, Parks and Rec, and Campos’ office on multiple occasions to discuss the significant lack of lighting in the area. At night, you literally cannot see into the park – which leads to lots of teenagers/vagrants drinking/throwing bottles/having sex under the darkness provided by the City. Attempts to get help with this issue have resulted in a lot of finger pointing to various city bureaus but zero results. The last time we called, we were told that DPW had determined that “more than half the park is lit up at night” and therefore, there was nothing else to be done but trim already dead trees. HUH? So yeah, take matters into your own hands whenever possible. You’ll be happier that you did.

  21. If all of the people along Bernal Heights Blvd. who have encroached on and fenced off publicly owned land, we will have a park that is several acres larger. There is a guy on Bonview St. who brags that he built his swimming pool on Rec & Park land. The City does not have the resources to fight this. Give it up, and take down the fences. This property is worth millions. Stop stealing our land. Then ask the City for maintenance.

    • Is this true??? Any proof of this? Seems pretty easy to verify/disprove and something the City would view as high priority…

      Also: swimming pool on Bonview? Wow…

      • Not that Google Earth is legally admissible evidence, but I see no swimming pools on Bonview in the satellite imagery…

        Installing a swimming pool is a fairly large, loud, labor intensive process. Not likely to go unnoticed and uncomplained about…

    • I have friends who have one of these city lots adjacent to their house. They have spent $$thousands on tree trimming, again these trees are on city land but the city won’t maintain the trees or the land.

      These friends also have tried to purchase this city lot, have spoken to multiple departments, etc. but have determined it’s pretty impossible to buy the lot.

      Before you harsh on people for theft of public land, be aware there is another side to the story. If private land owners did not maintain these city lots, more lots would be in disrepair and be a fire and rodent hazard.

  22. Is that supposedly illegal pool the old covered one at 148 Bonview? That’s been there forever and I assumed it to be part of the property…

  23. It looked like channel 7 was on the scene last night doing an interview in front of said parcel! At last some justice will be had like all those vanquished off leash dogs in Precita Park!

  24. And this morning there was a city crew cleaning up the place. Squeaky wheel gets greased. Frankly, I’m annoyed. Whining like this should not be rewarded.

    Maybe next you can post an expose of the severe erosion along the Esmerelda steps that’s done a lot of damage in this year’s storms. A crew like the one I saw this morning could do some sandbagging to prevent further erosion.

    • KC, I’m sure if you took pictures and wrote some text, our esteemed blog host would be happy to post.

  25. Why doesn’t someone just garden it? Don’t worry about the city. Just take it over. What a great opportunity!


    • I’m posting on behalf of Jerad Weiner, who was having problems with the comment system:

      My name is Jerad Weiner; I work for San Francisco Public Works with Community Programs in Operations. I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself and address some of the frustration generated around this report.

      This morning I was able to speak with Leslie to better understand the history of this issue. First, let me say that we at San Francisco Public Works aim to provide excellent customer service and responsiveness. Clearly we missed the mark here and for that I apologize. We are working to correct the causes of the communication breakdown.

      Part of my role at Public Works is to work with various community groups around the City on neighborhood greening and cleaning projects. Based on the comments to this post, it sounds like there is interest in a workday at this location. Please feel free to connect with me so I can coordinate tools, supplies, compost bags, woodchips, etc. to support this beautification effort. Public Works supports many neighborhood groups around the City that are interested in beautification projects that go beyond Public Works’ baseline maintenance.

      Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns regarding Public Works operations in the neighborhood. My goal is to connect you with the correct City resources and staff to address your issues before they become larger problems. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to working together in the future. Jerad Weiner, Community Programs Manager, San Francisco Public Works, jerad.weiner@sfdpw.org 415-641-2637

  26. Hi. I live in the red house adjoining this lot. We maintain the “City Unmaintained Lot” next to us with the tire swing and soccer nets for our kids and neighbors. We love it when families walking up Bernal Hill use them.

    Our wonderful friend and neighbor Anna maintained “her” lot for over 30 years I think. Before she was moved to a nursing home she made frequent requests for help as the greenery started to get out of hand. I’m sure she would love to hear about the community finally coming together to take care of the land.

    On “our” lot, we pick up at least 2 or 3 used condoms and baggies every month but mostly it’s empty liquor bottles and dog poop. (Cleaning dog poop off kids is definitely worse than picking up used condoms.) Young adults do like to park and hang out but they are never a problem that we’ve ever had to call about and we’ve lived here for eleven years.

    There are a few wonderful people who always pick up garbage as they walk down the sidewalk and we are completely thankful and appreciative as it really does help.

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