SF homes poised to put soil back in front yards to help ease runoff woes 

click to enlarge Sunset
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • The City wants to give Sunset homeowners an incentive to help reduce water runoff by swapping pavement for grass.
The front yard, if you can call it that, of Jerry Lindner’s yellow stucco Sunset district home looks more like a driveway, or a sidewalk, than anything that might ever sprout a living plant.

Despite less than successful efforts to green the space, it and much of the district’s streetscape remain an ugly landscape that does little to entice people out into the streets, he said.

“I hate them,” Lindner, 56, said of his concrete front yard and most of the rest in his neighborhood. “I think, first of all, aesthetically they are not very pleasing and they lend nothing to the neighborhood.”

Putting the atheistic implications of the district’s stone gardens and concrete yards aside, there is a more vexing subterranean issue: runoff.

Much of The City’s sewer system is also the main avenue for runoff during rainstorms, at times overwhelming wastewater treatment plants. Often the system is so taxed in the winter that excess water must be released into the ocean. But such water is not so clean.

That’s where Lindner’s yard comes in. Unlike grass and planted, permeable yards, it’s hard, concrete surface amplifies the amount of water rushing into The City’s sewers.

Now Lindner and a handful of other Sunset residents – including several on his block – plan to pull up their sidewalk-like front yards and replace them with plants.

The upside will not only be a prettier landscape that encourages people to come out of their houses, but it will also decrease runoff because that water will now filter into the ground.

What’s more, The City will help defray the cost.

The idea for what is being called the Front Yard Ambassador Program sprouted from the district’s supervisor, Katy Tang, who admits, “There’s a lot of concrete out there.”

Even before she became a supervisor, lots of people complained about the area’s concrete landscape, which came about, she said, because people couldn’t afford to pay for the upkeep of their lawns or just wanted more parking.

While The City has increased the cost of paving over your front yard, said Tang, this program is the first that incentivizes actually tearing out concrete gardens – which is private property to boot.

Participants in the pilot project – which is only offered in District 4 – need only pay for permits, which amounts to roughly $200.

The concrete removal, plants and even advice about what kind of plants will best survive in the Sunset’s windy, wet environment will come from The City, said Tang.

All that amounts to about a $1,200 value.

The catch?

You have to take part in the planting and at least five houses on your block have to participate, so the impacts of the landscaping will be more evident, said Tang. And the program also aims to encourage neighbor interactions.

The first meeting of the 16 households participating is scheduled for next week.

Now Lindner’s empty threats of tearing out the concrete in front of his house – often saying to his wife, “I’m gonna pull out that concrete,” – will be all too, er, concrete.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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