Cathedral Hill’s Civil War: Pro-Planters vs. Anti-Planters

by on November 20, 2023

Larch Street planters are frequently vandalized. Courtesy of Mike Tee

San Francisco was shining like a diamond during the APEC week.

Filthy and smelly sidewalks in and around the APEC security zone were polished and smelled fresh, not of urine for once.

Governor Gavin Newsom admitted publicly, “I know folks say,’ Oh, they’re just cleaning up this place because all those fancy leaders are coming into town.’ That’s true because it’s true.”

It proves that the City can change the status quo, even with the court injunction in place, if it’s politically willing to.

Unfortunately, ordinary San Francisco taxpayers in Larch Alley between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street, just a few blocks away from City Hall, were left with no choice but to sue their beloved City to clean up the homeless encampment in their alley in June 2020.

There wasn’t any court injunction in place for sweeping homeless encampments nor any plan for the President of China to visit San Francisco during that time.

The City eventually settled with them and cleaned up the homeless encampment in Larch Alley.

But, soon after, the encampment came back, and the City was not able to do much to clean up the alley as it was bonded and gagged in a bondage position by the court injunction this time around.

After a series of fires, violent fights, and vandalism to their properties, property owners of Larch Alley deployed garden planters in the alley at their own expense and without any financial assistance from the City at all.

Larch Alley has been clean and clear since but the encampment moved around the corner to Van Ness And Eddy and created a lot of chaos for residents and businesses on both sides of Van Ness and Eddy.

Encampment & open-air drug market in front of 790 Van Ness and Eddy
before planters were installed. Oct.20

They were fed up, contacted the Feds directly, and assisted them in shutting down the out-of-control open-air drug market on Van Ness Avenue and Eddy Street.

Then, they shock-and-awed their sidewalks like in Larch Alley with garden planters to deter re-encampments.

The garden planters in front of 799 Van Ness Avenue and Eddy Street have received more attention from the public and the media than Jorge Pardo’s meth pipes-looking sculpture on Van Ness Avenue between Geary and O’Farrell Streets.

The garden planters didn’t sit well with those who consider garden planters as hostile architecture.

They made a statement on one of the garden planters on Van Ness Avenue and Larch Alley criticizing Mayor London Breed on homelessness and housing; even though, neither she personally nor the City purchased and installed those planters.

Fed-up property owners did.

A planter on Van Ness and Larch

A person was arrested for repeatedly vandalizing the planters on Larch Alley and had been served with a stay-away order.

Neighbors have installed hidden surveillance cameras and formed a neighborhood watch group to protect the planters in the tight-knit San Francisco’s Urban Garden District.

Tensions had been boiling between pro-planters and anti-planters since the planters were installed on Larch Alley and then on Van Ness Avenue and Eddy Street.

Now, anti-planters want the City to remove the garden planters in Larch Alley for ADA code violation reasons.

Garden planters in Larch Alley between Van Ness and Franklin. Nov.6

That was the beginning of the Civil War.

A Larch Alley resident emailed me her comment and concern about the controversial garden planters article she read in SF Standard:

“OMG, I could not believe even with the pictures of the Larch fires, the Public Works Dept. response was so casual that they could just solve the homeless problems & trouble on Larch, and getting rid of the planters was no big deal.

The problem has been going on for almost 4 years now! And no one has solved it.

I was just telling my boyfriend yesterday that it has been so quiet lately in the early morning on Larch with the homeless gone on Larch & Van Ness. Since Steve bought 725 Van Ness he has a maintenance man out on Larch water spraying sidewalks & cleaning up. No zombies laying there in the afternoon anymore. He has been going down Larch on Sundays again. He stopped when the hard-core homeless were there.”

Two Larch Alley senior citizens walked in the street as both sidewalks
were completely blocked by tents before the garden planters were installed. April 5

Planters owners in Larch Alley didn’t mince their words when they spoke to me about the Civil War:

“Where were the ADA activists when both sidewalks in Larch Alley were un-walkable and completely blocked by tents?

Why now when this neighborhood has finally found its peace?

We need housing but housing on the street is not working for both unhoused and housed people.

Enforce loitering laws and remove tents like they want to remove planters!

If there were no tents on sidewalks, we wouldn’t be put in a position to spend thousands of dollars on planters to deter sidewalk encampments.

Homeless have every opportunity to break the law with zero consequences. And, actually get rewarded.

When residents and businesses take action, it’s considered illegal by politicians and law enforcement.

Residents and businesses pay property and business taxes to the City with the expectation that the City will maintain common sidewalks.”

This is the video comparison from JJ Smith on the ADA code violation issue:

Cathedral Hill neighbors have warmly welcomed 2  Permanent Supportive Housing to their neighborhood: Gotham Hotel at 835 Turk and Oasis Inn at 1000 Franklin.

And they have put up the frequent (sometimes twice a day) blaring ambulance and San Francisco Fire Department fire truck sirens rushing to the Gotham Hotel.

All they want is a clean, safe, and vibrant neighborhood to live in, raise their children, and walk their dogs.

Filed under: San Francisco News