San Francisco’s New “Urban Garden District”

by on July 17, 2023

Greenery Flourishes on Van Ness

When Dianne Feinstein was the Mayor of San Francisco, she had a dream of turning Van Ness Avenue into the American version of Champs- Elysees, the 1.17-mile boulevard in Paris with fabulous cafes, bars, boutiques, and residential buildings.

But, until now, Van Ness is still a mess and nothing compared to Champs-Elysees.

Van Ness is lined with tents, trash, graffiti, and broken windows, and perfumed with the smell of urine.

Van Ness Avenue is a “Boulevard of Broken Dreams & Promises” in which a dysfunctional city government is fully displayed.

A tent next to a fire hydrant on Van Ness and Post. July 14, 2023

A tent on Van Ness across the street from Tesla whose window was recently smashed again. July 14, 2023

Businesses along Van Ness have been struggling for years due to decaying street conditions and crime.

I emailed Kate Sofis, the now former director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the Mayor’s office on June 4, 2021, to ask about Ms.Sofis’ plans to revitalize Van Ness. But I had never received responses from either of them.

As I was just about to send Ms. Sofis another email regarding the worsening street condition of Van Ness, I learned from Mission Local that she has been “shoehorned into War Memorial.” This is the story:


In the meantime, businesses along Van Ness are stuck waiting for Batman to rescue them as they tell the SF Standard:

Frustrated by the lack of responses from the San Francisco Mayor’s and the Chief of Police’s offices, the Jaguar Land Rover San Francisco dealership on Van Ness and Ellis took the initiative to spruce up their neighborhood with urban gardening to fight crime which I wrote about:

They installed steel planters on their Ellis sidewalk about 3 months ago which soon after was followed by their neighbors along Van Ness and Franklin.

And just like that, San Francisco’s new “Urban Garden District” was developed.

It stretches from Post to Turk between Van Ness and Franklin.

The planters are now in Myrtle, Olive (going up soon), Ellis, Willow, and Larch (more planters will be installed by the end of the month) alleys.

Larch Alley has the largest number of steel planters of all. They are on both sidewalks from Van Ness to Franklin.

Let’s take a tour of the new “Urban Garden District!”

Myrtle between Van Ness and Franklin. The planters were installed on July 12, 2023

According to the security guard of Harry R. Bridges building at 1188 Franklin who patrols Myrtle Alley, he has been punched several times and almost got stabbed with a machete by homeless people in the alley for asking them not to block the sidewalk.


He tells me that his job is very stressful. He is all by himself patrolling the alley, underpaid and undertrained to deal with mentally ill & aggressive drug addicts. His self-defense is to run away from them when they attack him.

Ellis and Franklin across the street from Sacred Heart Cathedral

Preparatory School. The planters were Installed on July 10, 2023

“We will also be installing them on the Olive Street side. We are working

with a very energetic youngish entrepreneur who seems hell-bent on

helping to clean up SF neighborhoods,” the property owner wrote in an email.

On April 1, 2023, during “Coffee In The Park” at Lafayette Park with Supervisor Catherine Stefani who represents the district, a property owner on Larch Alley and other residents in that neighborhood asked her if she is aware of the homeless encampments, open-air drug use and dealing, and crime around Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School.

This was Supervisor Stefani’s tweet about the community gathering/coffee at Lafayette Park on April 1:


She responded by saying that her son goes to Sacred Heart and she is well aware of the problems in that neighborhood.


She said that she would continue working with the Northern District Police Station’s Captain, Derrick Jackson, and the Department of Emergency Management’s executive director, Mary Ellen Carroll on the ongoing problems.


But, the problems in the neighborhood got even worse since.


After a series of big fires and ongoing vandalism on Larch, property owners on Larch took matters into their own hands and installed 29 steel planters to protect their tenants and properties from further damage.


And, 2 more property owners on Larch will also install their steel planters by the end of the month.


They said to me that they wish SF Planters which installed their neighbors’ steel planters could do it sooner.


But after the article about Larch Alley planters was published in the SF Standard, SF Planters got 20 calls from residents in the city wanting to install steel planters on their sidewalks to fight crime.


Garden Planters To Deter Homeless Encampments Pop Up in Downtown San Francisco


Larch between Van Ness and Franklin. The planters were Installed on June 30, 2023

When I asked them who paid for the planters, they said, “Property owners had to pay for the planters which should be deducted from their yearly taxes due to the negligence of the city not doing their job to keep protecting law-abiding citizens.


The only way to get tents to leave is by paying thousands to have planters installed.”


The planters on Larch between Van Ness and Franklin captured the attention of the San Francisco Police Officers Association which made a video about them.


The first part of the video is about the Larch Street planters which are paid for by the property owners themselves and the second part is about the Harrison Street planters which are paid for through a GoFundMe fundraising:


And of course, we know that we can’t have anything nice in San Francisco.


Shortly after the steel planters went up in the “Urban Garden District”, plants have been stolen and planters have been graffitied all caught on the property owners’ CCTV cameras.

Plants were stolen from steel planters on Larch. July 12, 2023

If anybody knows how infuriating is to have your plants stolen is Tony Bravo, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Date Book Columnist who wrote about his own experience:


While Dianne Feinstein’s dream of turning Van Ness into Champs-Elysees may never come true, I have a dream that someday, we may be able to honor her thoughtfulness & efforts toward Van Ness by naming this newly assembled San Francisco’s “Urban Garden District” in the heart of Van Ness after her.

This way, at least, she will have her name attached to Van Ness Ave forever.

“Dianne Feinstein Urban Garden District” has a nice ring to it.

Filed under: San Francisco News