By Thomas K. Pendergast
After $1.2 million was spent landscaping the median strip running down the center of Sunset Boulevard to make it less needy of water, looking at it block-by-block, tall grass and weeds on many of the sections are taking over the succulents that were planted.
The issue has drawn the attention of District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar who will hold a meeting on the issue June 6.
In 2011 the Sunset Boulevard Water Efficiency Project (SBWEP) was completed, yet a drive down that key north-south traffic artery shows an inconsistent landscaping management plan.
The contrasts from one block to another can be subtle or dramatic, depending upon which blocks are brought into focus.
In an effort to maximize water savings through conservation measures and innovative practices, in 2011 the SF Department of Public Works (SFDPW) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) replaced the landscaping and retrofitted the irrigation system along the center medians and each side of Sunset Boulevard, between Rivera Street and Sloat Boulevard.
The SBWEP replaced one mile of outdated automatic irrigation systems with new, low-flow systems and rain and solar sensors that help optimize water usage. Approximately 161,000 square feet of existing high water usage turf was replaced with native Bent grass, thus requiring half the water of the previous species planted there.
The species of grass selected for the project was intended to conserve water and reduce the costs of maintenance. This grass tends to grow longer than conventional species and its appearance may seem to necessitate more mowing, according to SFDPW.
The native bent grass was expected to grow 8-12 inches but there has been an inconsistent pattern of landscaping along the boulevard.
As of the end of May, from Lincoln Way south to Irving Street, there was high grass and nothing else; yet from Irving to Judah streets the ground was completely torn up with an excavator sitting on it about two-thirds down the block.
From Judah to Lawton streets there was no grass at all but plenty of small succulent plants, which were well manicured.
South of Lawton Street, the gravel and succulent landscaping were all neatly groomed, just as there was when the project was first completed.
Between Moraga and Quintara streets flowers start to compete with tall grass that hides the succulents.
Between Rivera and Vicente streets, the grass gets shorter, the succulents are taller and the different plants seem to be more evenly distributed. South of Vicente the grass has grown up to four feet tall and the flowers are hidden from sight. Rachel Gordon of SFDPW said the department has been doing block-by-block improvements to the median strip along Sunset Boulevard as part of a “Master Plan” for Sunset Boulevard.
“There have been a number of improvements that have been going on already; we know we’re not at the end of them yet. We have added irrigation from Lincoln to Sloat, but we’re looking at what the different options are that will both help for decreased need for maintenance but also to make it look much more aesthetically pleasing,” Gordon said.
“We have been making these improvements block-by-block on that median with different plantings there. We’re really trying to put in low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants. The most expensive part of landscaping is not planting the plants but it’s maintaining them with watering. And that’s the same with trees. So, we’re looking at different planting pallets we can use that rely less on water and less on high maintenance,” she said.
Gordon said the inconsistencies from block to block are a resource issue.
“Another challenge we’ve had, across the city, is with the heavy rains this winter. Heavy rains bring lots of new grass, the grass is getting taller, the flowers are coming out, there are more weeds. We do have landscaping crews that are addressing those. It’s been difficult to keep up with the incessant winter rains. The weeds and plants and grasses have just really sprouted and we are struggling to keep up,” she said.
Gordon Mar, who represents District 4 on the SF Board of Supervisors, is holding a community meeting to discuss the Sunset Boulevard Master Plan. The “initiative to reinvigorate” the greenway will be held at St. Ignatius High School (2001 37th Ave.) on June 6 at 6:30 p.m.