Unpaving Paradise

More than 113,000 gallons of the neighborhood's stormwater are diverted through city sewers annually, thanks to the Sunset District's Front Yard Ambassadors.

When it rains in the Sunset District, water runs along the little houses’ gutters, down onto concrete driveways, along the streets, and into the drains. All told, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission manages millions of gallons of run-off each year — which puts added pressure on old pipelines and often results in excess water being flushed into the ocean.

The culprit: too much concrete. Paved yards cover seven percent of the Sunset District, and add up to more than 160 acres. It is possible to walk blocks in certain areas of the Outer Sunset without seeing more than 12 square feet of dirt, thanks to outdated landscaping practices and residents’ desire to convert front yards into extra parking spots.

But in the past few years, the city has fought back against that practice, offering money to homeowners willing to remove a few blocks of cement for the sake of some greenery through the Front Yard Ambassadors Program. Supervisor Katy Tang’s office reviews applications from residents twice a year. If approved, the Friends of the Urban Forest implements them, planting low-maintenance, drought-tolerant species that are able to thrive in the neighborhood’s unique coastal conditions, and burying them in gopher-resistant baskets that deter the hungry rodents. Thanks to the program, each resident is responsible for only $100 of a project’s cost — which, in many cases, can add up to more than $1,500.

The program started off fairly small, although it caught on quickly. In February 2014, when the first round of gardens were built, 717 square feet of concrete were removed. In June of this year, residents disposed of 1,391 square feet.

And each square foot of concrete adds up. In the three years since the Front Yard Ambassadors program was launched, 9,444 square feet of concrete have become green space, diverting 113,328 gallons of stormwater from our sewers each year.

Recycling, building a compost pile, driving a hybrid vehicle, and biking to work are all excellent ways for residents to contribute positively to our city’s green future, but having someone jackhammer a hole in one’s driveway may be one of the easiest, most effective ways to lessen the strain on the Sunset District’s infrastructure and environment. For the surfers out there, this can have a direct impact: the less pressure our combined sewer system is under, the less often it’ll run off into Ocean Beach, which means fewer closures due to high bacteria levels. In other words, dig up a square of concrete, and enjoy better surfing conditions.

Check out more stories in our feature on the Outer Sunset here:

It’s Always Sunny in the Sunset
Fog schmog, one of San Francisco’s loveliest neighborhoods is just blocks from the ocean.

Who Opens an Independent Bookstore in 2017?
Black Bird Books has what it takes to make it work. But who knew the Outer Sunset had this many boutiques?

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Eating in the Outer Sunset
Between Sunset Boulevard and the ocean, there are plenty of brunch spots, fish tacos, and third-wave coffee shops.

A Rejection of ‘Pure Shlock’
A colorful candy dish of castle-like houses hides along several blocks in the Outer Sunset.

Will Teach For Housing
Plans inch closer to converting a 1.25-acre lot in the Outer Sunset to homes for SFUSD professionals.

Surrender to the Sand
The southern end of Ocean Beach may get a facelift.

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