Greg Gaar knows the names, characteristics, and birds and butterflies attracted by every plant in the native plant nursery that he tends. Last week, he proudly toured me through the garden, pointing out plants like Yarrow ("great for bees and butterflies") and the beautiful flowers of the Crimson Columbine, of which Gaar believes there are "only two others left in San Francisco."
Gaar has been working at 780 Frederick St., where he now tends the garden, for decades. His mother went to high school on the same block, the old site of Polytechnic High. Before Gaar became the gardener, he ran the recycling center that Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) operates next to the garden. Now, the pioneering green operation he helped build may shut down.
At the center, people can recycle their bottles, cans, paper products, and even used vegetable oil, and make some cash along the way. Those who use the center say it's a green and dignified way to make some money.
But residents in the surrounding area have complained for years that the center is loud and attracts homeless people. They also say that, due to their proximity to the recycling center, the chance that their trash will get rifled through at night is greater than in other parts of the city.
Citing these concerns, the center's landlord, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD), has spent the past few years trying to evict the HANC recycling center. The center got an eviction notice in December 2010. HANC's lawyer, Robert DeVries, successfully challenged the eviction. RPD sued for eviction again in June 2011, and that matter may finally come to a close June 6 when it will be heard by a three-judge panel in SF Superior Court.
DELIVERING THE GARDEN
RPD officials cite neighbor concerns, claims that the recycling center's services are outdated and obsolete, and the idea of planting a community garden in its place. In fact, the Planning Commission approved a community garden in the place of the recycling center last year.
Since then, HANC staff got to work building its own community garden. In just a year, they erected 50 beds from recycled wood, and according to Gaar, about 100 neighbors have plots that they currently tend.
As the recycling center's director, Ed Dunn, tells it, the infrastructure already in place at the recycling center made building the garden come naturally. HANC was able to fund it with income from the recycling operation, and plant it with seeds from the native plant nursery.
Dunn emphasizes that no city money was used to build the current community garden. The city had laid out a $250,000 budget for the garden after it was approved and designed in 2010.
A bundle of documents containing arguments against HANC, provided by RPD, includes details of the Golden Gate Park Master Plan, surveys indicating a great need for community gardens in San Francisco, and letters and statements from neighbors complaining about the recycling center.
A 2004 survey discussed in the documents found that community gardens are among the top "recreation facilities most important to respondent households." Community gardens came in fifth in importance, after walking and biking trails, pools, fitness facilities, and running and walking tracks. The documents include a detailed map of the "Golden Gate Park community garden preliminary plan," imagined at HANC's current site.
The map was drawn up in November 2010, the same month that a meeting of the Recreation and Parks Commission laid out the reasons that HANC had to go. Minutes from the meeting include the city's need for community gardens as well as some neighbors' disdain for the recycling center in that site. It argues that the needs of recyclers can be well met with other recycling centers in the city.
Seventeen other recycling centers operate in San Francisco.