Precita Creek Returns (Briefly) As Truck Strikes Fire Hydrant

Yesterday afternoon, as I was crossing Alabama, on my way from the Precita Park Cafe to Harvest Hills Market, I saw a trickle of water headed the other way. Someone washing a car? Soon, the flow became a torrent, and I realized that this was no mere car wash. Could it be the long awaited return of Precita Creek?


A Recology truck had apparently uprooted the fire hydrant at the corner of Precita and Treat. And Precita Creek used to be on the other side of the park, anyway. Two little girls living on the temporary riverbank happily ran out to splash in it while it lasted.

Threat or Menace? Bernalwood Mounts New Defense to Counter La Lengua’s Burrito Rail Gun

Those uppity La Lenguans have become uppity again, as the militarization of the La Lengua Autonomous Zone continues. Earlier this week, the La Lengua rebel propagandist known as Burrito Justice claimed to have developed a new superweapon, in the form of a super-sized Burrito Railgun.

Burrito Justice claims the weaponized burrito is based in the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, high atop the massive overhead crane that serves as a local landmark. The La Lenguans demonstrated their achievement with this chilling propaganda display:

The Bernalwood Intelligence Agency takes such threats very seriously. Our operatives quickly located the Burrito Railgun and confirmed its location via photo-analysis and 3-D modeling.  What they found was both shocking… and rather confusing:

In short, since burritos lack inertial self-guidance capability, the BIA’s trajectory analysis revealed that the true target of this weapon is not Bernalwood, but Oakland. The mega-burrito projectile is visible in this overview map:

While it is clear that La Lengua has transferred significant railgun technology to the Hunters Point Security Collective, the nature of their alliance — and why they have joined forces against Oakland and the East Bay powers —remains unknown. Nevertheless, this reckless act of Burrito-Based Arms (BBA) proliferation is a direct threat to District 9 security, and it must be met with a strong response from the Dominion of Bernalwood.

In collaboration with the Bernalwood Air Force, the BIA immediately deployed Phase II of the EYE OF SAUTRITO project. Originally developed to prevent illegal dumping on Bernal Hill, the Eye of Sautrito has now been upgraded to include a sensitive antenna array that can detect the electromagnetic emissions from a railgun preparing to fire. The array is linked via radar to a rapid-action, megajoule-burst microwave emitter that is capable of destroying foil-wrapped tortillas at distances up to ten miles. Watch this simple demonstration:

Sleep well, Citizens of Bernalwood, because you may rest easy in the knowledge that your vigilant defense forces will spare no expense to keep you safe, stylish, and secure.

Let’s Go for a Sutrito Tower Spin

Last week saw the launch of HYPNO SF, a thing whose Twitter bio says it’s “visually exploring + animating San Francisco” with crazy/amazing yo-yo videos of the Golden Gate Bridge, Market Street from the Ferry Building to the Castro, and more. These shots can be seen in the video for a song called Water Falls by Kalle Mattson, and and in animated GIF form. The gorgeous spinning shot of Sutro Tower at the end of the video really got my attention.

Why not try something similar for Bernal’s own Sutrito Tower, I thought. So, with my iPhone and bicycle, I set off to get some pictures.

Map image I had on my iPhone as a guide for taking pictures approximately the same distance from Sutrito Tower.

I figured that the hard part would be aligning and scaling the pictures, so I wanted to take them from close to the same distance from the tower. I had the map above open in Safari, and switched back and forth between that, Maps, and the Camera app. I ended up deviating from a circular path quite a bit, in order to get usable pictures:

Actual track taken. More or less. Reconstructed from embedded lat/longs in the pictures.

I got back and started aligning and stacking images. File, Save As, GIF, click the “animated GIF” (not “flatten”) radio button, and I soon had a 16 megabyte animated GIF. And it basically worked!

So that was a nice way to spend a Saturday.

Transit of Venus AND Sutro Tower Serendipitously Photographed from Bernal Hill

On Tuesday evening I went up the hill to see if anyone brought a big telescope to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the sun.

I arrived with a pair of cheap cardboard eclipse-viewing glasses that I’d used (and shared) a few weeks earlier for the partial solar eclipse, another a well-attended astronomical event on the hill. The transit of Venus brought out a smaller crowd, but one nice genleman there had set up a telescope on a tripod and attached a camera.

He was happy to let several of us random neighbors take a look through the viewfinder, and there were apparently quite a few more throughout the day, as he writes on Flickr in the comments:

I spent yesterday afternoon freezing on a wind swept hill in San Francisco imaging the Transit of Venus. I almost packed up my gear and equipment but decided to stay until the sun dropped below the horizon, the ToV will never occur again in our lifetimes. Just before the sun set in aligned perfectly with a very large and iconic tower, The Twin Peaks antenna, which wasn’t planned, Although some high clouds blurred the image a bit, the wait and was worth it. I suppose a big part of photography is luck.

Ironically, I planned on shooting at a different location which was about 30 miles away. When I arrived I discovered that I forgot my solar filter and had to race back to San Francisco to retrieve it. I headed for a large hill top park in my neighborhood with a clear view of the Western horizon. This is a popular park where people love to walk their dogs. I estimated about 300 people got a view trough the telescope which they weren’t expecting. Apollo must of been with me yesterday, a near disaster turned out to be the best option.

Amazing story, amazing luck, and an amazing shot!

PHOTO: Clifton Reed

Fifty Years Ago: “Ugly Hill to Be Beautified” with Construction of New Microwave Relay Tower

I printed this article off the microfilm at the San Francisco Main Library, but unfortunately, the accompanying photo came out badly. It’s obviously a view looking east, and there looks to be a structure on top of the hill, despite the future-tense description of the microwave array (“sometime late in 1963 if all goes well”). The structure looks a bit like a trailer, or prefabricated shack, with a dish-like antenna facing east.

A few highlights from the article, before the full text (which is presented below):

  • Pacific Telephone paid $90,000 for the land (a little more than one acre) at the top of the hill.
  • They promised no fences. I’ve read elsewhere that this plan changed due to persistent graffiti. Fortunately, the fence completely stopped the graffiti problem. Not.
  • It’s a bit anachronistic to call new the tower Sutrito: for the first ten years of its existence there was no Sutro Tower. (I’m not going to let that stop me.)

Here’s the complete article:

Ugly Hill to Be Beautified

Thursday, May 31, 1962

News-Call Bulletin Staff Writer

[Photo caption: Bernal Hill today: the new approach will concentrate on beauty as well as function]

An odd surgical team — the city and the Pacific Telephone Co. — shortly will undertake to repair the scarred face of Bernal Heights.

Both hope the result will justify a new approach to industrial development in San Francisco, with new emphasis on beauty as well as function. The plan has been worked out jointly by telephone company engineers and administrators, and city planners.

PACIFIC TELEPHONE bought a little more than one acre (for $90,000) on the 20-acre brow of Bernal Heights, standing 430 feet high in the outer Mission District. It will put a 400-circuit microwave relay station, a link in a nationwide chain which complements telephone lines and underground cables, on this site. It is a $2 million project.

The building which houses the electronic equipment will be thoroughly screened with silver wattle trees, small gum trees and oaks. Wild lilac and creeping manzanita will be planted farther down the slope.

Only the microwave antenna will rise above the trees. A proposal by planner Ruth Joffe to make the antenna itself a kind of free-form sculpture or monument was reluctantly abandoned as not feasible.

The landscaping will go beyond the company’s own site. In addition, the company will use the earth and rock it excavates from the hilltop to smooth over an ugly scar on the south face of the hill; a scar caused by 30 years of quarrying by the city.

When the job is done — sometime in late 1963 if all goes well — the city Planning Dept. and Pacific Telephone hope Bernal Heights will be a handsome park, instead of a scarred, grassy knob.

The knob takes it name from Juan Francisco Bernal, a soldier who accompanied Juan Bautista de Anza to the Bay Area in 1776. Bernal was given more then 4400 acres surrounding his knob — or about seven square miles of what is now the Mission District, Bayview District, and Diamond Heights. Potrero Heights was the pasture for his cattle.

ONLY THE top of the hill remains in public hands.

From it one gets an exhilarating view of San Francisco’s downtown, to the north; the Bay and its shoreline industry to the east; San Bruno Mountain and the intervening hills, to the south; Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson to the west.

The hill face which has not been quarried is covered with wild grasses; one bright windy day recently a visitor saw wild hollyhock, wild radish, and California poppies blooming there.

Henry Morris, the telephone company’s district manager (and a grandson of former Mayor Angelo Rossi), is enthusiastic about the project.

“The city planners have been patient and helpful,” he says. “Ruth Joffe worked many hours with our people, helping them to make the access road conform to the hill’s contours, to curve the roof of the structure to conform to the hill, to use some native trees and shrubs for landscaping.

“We think the result will enhance the city. The microwave station is badly needed to supplement the cable crossings. When the station is in operation San Francisco will have a modern communications link with the east, north, and south.”

San Francisco’s chief planner, James McCarthy, agrees.

“Bernal Heights has been an eyesore for a generation,” he said. “The landscaping project around the microwave station is a step in the right direction.”

THE AREA will be open to the public — no fences. The high voltage power lines which serve the station will be underground. Eventually the Planning Dept. would like to have the Recreation and Park Dept. take over the hilltop from the Works Dept. Chief Administrative Office Sherman Duckel says:

“There won’t be any more quarrying on the hill. It was started by the WPA during the 30’s, and continued by the city on a small scale until half a dozen years ago. I’m now convinced the area should be a park.”

Through co-operation between a corporation and the city, it may become one.

Mission accomplished!

hill top dream

PHOTO: Patrick Boury

How Tall is Bernal Hill, Really?

Miniature Bernal Hill

At the top of every online page here at Bernalwood, there’s a tagline that says “Broadcasting from glamorous Bernal Heights, San Francisco (Elev. 433 ft.).” I certainly can’t argue with the “glamorous” part, and I didn’t have any reason to doubt the elevation… until I came across this:


This detail comes from an architect’s report on the defunct, NIMBY-killed plan to install new wireless antennas on Sutrito Tower a couple of years ago. The contour lines in the schematic are remarkably close: one foot resolution! But what really surprised me was a detail: The highest contour line at the edge of the fence appears to be 482 feet — almost 50 feet higher than I expected.

Naturally, I put the question to Twitter, where Todd noted that Wikipedia also listed Bernal as 475+ feet. Wikipedia’s footnotes cite this TopoQuest map:

TopoQuest Map Viewer - N37.74299° W122.41580°-1

Sure enough, count the contour lines at 25-foot intervals, and you’ll see a small 475-foot ring at the summit. Rebel La Lenguan propagandist Burrito Justice found some much older topographic maps that look very similar. This 1869 U.S. Coastal Survey map measures the peak at 480 feet.

1869 Coast Surey Bernal 480

The 1911 “Chevalier” map shows a 475 foot contour:

Chevalier 1911 Bernal 475ish

I obtained this topographic map with five-foot contours, which dates from around 196o. Sutrito Tower Bonus! It also shows the original proposal for our hilltop microwave antennas:

Sutrito Plans

It’s hard to read, but the highest contour line in the 1960 map appears to be 455 feet. (That detail is shown under the footprint of the proposed building, so it’s reasonable to think it was leveled off and graded.)

There turn out to be many other figures given for the height of the Bernal Hill. The highest and lowest can both be attributed to the San Francisco Chronicle: 325 feet from the Chronicle’s book The Hills of San Francisco, 1959 (copied in the San Francisco Almanac, 1980) and  500 feet from a 2004 article. I made a graph of all the dates of the various figures I found:

This wasn’t converging on a solution, so I tried taking my iPhone and using a GPS app to find the altitude. The figure bounced around a bit, but generally stayed in the range of 430 to 450 just outside the Sutrito Tower fence, with an app-estimated accuracy of +/- 16 feet. This is consistent with a USGS report entered January 19, 1981: 443 feet, and American Tower’s 2005 survey height of 446 feet.

If I have to pick a figure, I’ll go with the 1981 USGS survey and say 443 feet.

It’s easy to see how someone could have miscopied 443 as 433, and I see that figure serially copied into a number of lists. Prior to December, 2009, Wikipedia used 433, referenced to; that was changed to “475+ feet,” referenced to TopoQuest.  Bernalwood’s tagline was created in November, 2009, and the reference came from the pre-December, 2009 Wikipedia page. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Bernalwood’s tagline will soon be revised to say 443 feet)

So where did all the erroneous figures come from? The ones that assert Bernal Hill is even taller?

Erosion wears all hills down eventually, and Bernal Hill has had some assistance from road builders and even gold miners. The phone company’s 1960 plans showed a bit of terrain still over 450, but that may have been flattened out to grade the site for building.

And what about the 2010 survey that shows ground at 480 feet? I wrote to the architect for clarification, but haven’t gotten a reply. My hunch is that the surveyor only measured local contours, came back to the office, found an old topographic map that showed a 475-foot contour at the top, and assigned the new, detailed topography to the old, pre-1960 height.

Whatever. Let’s set the record straight: We believe Bernal Hill today rises to an elevation of 443 feet.

PHOTO: Swedotorp

Seating Options Multiply on Bernal Hill

Bernal Chair 2

The east side of Bernal Hill is in full bloom, with abundant native wildflowers, grasses, and invasive radish. This year, there’s also a new addition: at least two wooden chairs have recently sprouted up.

Bernal Chair 1

The two specimens have decidedly different morphologies, but I’m not expert enough to determine if this is due to genetic differences or simply variation due to differing microclimates. (The one in the top picture enjoys some shelter from the wind.) If anyone in Bernal Heights has a background in geo-ergonomics, please feel free to weigh in.

PHOTOS: Jobius

Revised Maps Illustrate Final Bernal Hill Trail Restoration Plan

Slides and notes have now been posted from last week’s meeting about the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s Bernal Trails Project.

I wrote up my own notes last week, but I was waiting for Rec and Park to release their map of the final trail proposal, which you can now see above. I made a Google Earth overlay of the previous version of the map, so… here’s an update! (KML, requires Google Earth.) As noted in the earlier post, Google Earth’s terrain model is somewhat lacking in detail, but it nevertheless illustrates the proposed changes with more dimensionality than a flat map.

I tried to match these screenshots to a couple of the gorgeous photos from the Bernalwood Air Force’s recent aerial reconnaissance mission. This pair shows the proposed new north-slope trail alignment:


Above Bernal Heights


This view from the southwest shows a steep trail up to the top, above the Esmeralda stairs. The upper portion will likely be closed for erosion control. According to Rec & Park’s meeting notes, “existing trails denoted by dashed lines will either be decommissioned if they contribute to erosion or loss of habitat or be left in place but be unimproved.”


Above Bernal Heights


Final Plan for Bernal Hill Trail Restoration Unveiled

Above Bernal Heights

Above Bernal Heights

Above Bernal Heights

Wednesday night I attended the last of three planned community meetings on the Bernal Trails Project, along with about twenty neighbors and several representatives from San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks department.

I’ve been to all of the meetings, and I’m impressed by the amount of consensus that’s been achieved, despite the wide range of opinions people brought.

The big news for me was the changes in the concept plan map from what was shown at the last meeting. The maps shown Wednesday night were conceptual, and detailed design development will take place over the summer, with involvement from a professional trail designer.

The new map and slides aren’t online yet, but here are some highlights:

  • A new north-slope trail that was marked as a “Potential Trail Alignment” on the old map, is now included as a full-fledged part of the “Proposed Trail Network.” That would seem to be in direct response to some comments at the last meeting from users of the existing north-slope trails.
  • Some of the “redundancy” in the east-west paths along the saddle is preserved. The previous map had only one proposed trail along the southern high path over Bernal Hill’s two minor peaks. The new one includes the lower northern path as well.
  • The trail by the old house foundations (Nos. 26 and 39 Prentiss Street, on the southeast part of the hill) is now included in the “Proposed Trail Network.” In the previous map, it looked abandoned.

  • The Esmeralda stairs will probably need the most work, since erosion is severe there. Rustic stairs (examples shown above) would attempt to use native materials (like our beloved chert). Billy Goat Hill, Corona Heights, and Grandview already have this kind of rustic stairs or rustic fences.
  • Post and rail fencing is planned for the base of the slope, on the northeast side next to the road. The road cut is the source of most of the erosion problems, but it’s exacerbated when dogs chase balls thrown up the slope. First it’s dogs, then children, then a kid gets stuck and an adult has to go after them. Erosion gullies are undermining the cliffside trails above, which is one of the reasons those trails don’t appear on the new map of proposed trails.
  • That doesn’t mean those trails will be closed off, necessarily. The near-vertical gullies need to be blocked, with a fence at the bottom, and some kind of erosion control materials that will hopefully give way to new plant growth. But the at-grade trail at the top isn’t hurting much. The new north trail will be higher up the hill, sustainably above the steep slopes of the road cut. Hikers who love the lower trail are likely to be able to reach it without any obstacles (like fencing) getting in their way. It just won’t be improved going forward, and erosion will take it in the long run.
  • At the top of the tower access road, some of the guard rail will be removed and steps will be added; there’s currently quite a drop off from the road due to erosion. More benches may be added there, as well. (There’s currently one. There might be a donation program to sponsor more.)

Other questions were answered:

  • There’s no plan to widen trails. It’s more about aligining them to have a sustainable relationship to the topology, grading for erosion and for safe and comfortable walking surface. A few parks are getting wider ADA-compliant wheelchair-accessible trails, but not Bernal.
  • Rec & Parks met with San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency to discuss questions neighbors had about pedestrian access and safety in a previous meeting. MTA’s Livable Streets project does studies on traffic. They have no money for Bernal now, and it’s typically a one-year process once they get funding, but Rec & Parks will work with MTA to try to align trail entrances (especially the “undefined” east entrances at the blind hairpin turn on Bernal Heights Boulevard) to their plans. In general, there’s “lots you can do with paint,” like constricting lanes and making 90-degree turns. For the north entrance at Folsom, they ruled out a stop sign (no cross-traffic) and discouraged flashing lights (maintenance nightmare).

Sometime in May (TBD), the concept plan will be taken to a public meeting of Rec & Parks. Assuming it’s approved, detailed design development will be done between May and October. The bidding process for contractors will run from November through February 2013, so construction can be done next March through October.

Keep track of the project on Rec and Park’s Bernal Hill Urban Trails Project website.

PHOTOS: Aerial photos, Telstar Logistics. Graphics, SF Park and Rec

Time-Lapse Video of Dramatic Sunday Afternoon Clouds

(PRO TIP: For maximum dramatic effect, play this link through your headphones while watching the videos in this post.)

The clouds were dramatic Sunday afternoon, so I went looking for a slightly different angle to capture Bernal Hill, Sutrito Tower, and Mighty Sutro with time-lapse clouds as background. This view features a blue tarp, for extra enjoyment.

In the afternoon sun, though, the view to the east from the hill was even more dramatic. There’s some circulation apparent here, with the foreground clouds moving north and the background clouds moving south.

Above is a Sutrito sunset from the weekend before last, St. Patrick’s Day, I think.

Monday night (March 26), I tried to get the Moon/Venus/Jupiter trifecta, but never caught a glimpse of Jupiter through the clouds:

A Brief History of Peralta Avenue’s Discontinuity Problem

If you live on Peralta Avenue in Bernal Heights, you’re probably used to getting phone calls from lost delivery drivers.  They’ve managed to find the 200 block, you’re in the 500 block; how many obstacles could there be between you?

Turns out, there are a lot. That staircase on the right is the 400 block of Peralta. But how did Peralta “Avenue” end up in no fewer than eight non-contiguous segments? In theory, it was supposed to be a (mostly) continuous street:

That’s a 1924 Rand McNally map, courtesy of David Rumsey. Peralta and Esmeralda are highlighted. These roads existed mostly on paper, as planned improvements. Note that “paper” Esmeralda runs right over the top of Bernal Hill: Sutrito Tower would be at the intersection of Esmeralda and Shotwell. Fourteen years later, these roads remained wisely unbuilt:

Harrison Ryker’s aerial photos via David Rumsey and  Google Earth. The actual built portion of Peralta by 1938 was a nice, contiguous three blocks running parallel to, and uphill from, Precita and Army.

The paper streets remained on the maps, but by the 1940s, city planners had begun to distinguish paper streets from real ones by using dotted lines — as seen in this 1948 map, courtesy Eric Fischer:

Unlike Esmeralda, paper Peralta was eventually built, basically along the planned lines — except for where it wasn’t built at all. Parts of it are too steep to be anything but stairs; this was likely made worse when the cross streets were blasted out flat.