How-To Install Permeable Sidewalk Landscaping in San Francisco
SIDEWALK LANDSCAPING PERMIT NOW AVAILABLE FOR YOUR USEPlant*SF co-authored the permeable sidewalk landscape permit with the San Francisco Department of Public Works (SFDPW) in order to encourage sidewalk plantings. This permit has been available for use since 2006 and features a reduced fee ($178-$239 instead of $800+) and a provision for increased areas without variance. Plant*SF continues to work with City agencies to refine the permit process.
The following guidelines are intended to aid individuals, businesses or neighborhood groups in obtaining a permit for and installing permeable landscaping in the public right-of-way (sidewalks) in San Francisco. The information may also be adapted for plantings on private property, which generally do not require a permit.
A little disclaimer: Please note that the permit process may change without notice or update on this website. The following information is believed to be correct as of January 2013. Be sure to check with your local jurisdiction before undertaking any project.
HERE'S THE PROCESS for San Francisco
Get a copy of the "SIDEWALK LANDSCAPING" permit application and guidelines HERE. If you are undertaking a joint project with your neighbors, one application is required for each property.
Review the guidelines. Contact the Bureau of Urban Forestry or Plant*SF with questions or concerns. (For sidewalks measuring 7' or less in width, contact Plant*SF for suggested plantable areas.)
Consider inviting your neighbors to join in a planting to reduce fees [which range from $178 - $239 depending on how many properties are involved]. DPW considers properties to be 'neighbors' if they are on the same block. Contact SFPDW you are unsure if your properties qualify for the discount. Joint plantings also generally save on installation costs and result in a larger overall garden.
Make a plan drawing that shows your proposed changes. You may do this yourself, or a designer can help you.
Consider using permeable pavers for walkways and courtesy strips that are otherwise left as concrete: Pavers such as Calstone '4x8 Permeable' color gray, standard finish meet current guidelines. Aluminum paver edgers such as 'Permalock' keep edgers in place. (Current cost of professional installation including materials is approximately $17/sf.) Indicate areas of pavers on your plan drawing.
Select plant species that do not require irrigation. Consult the Plant Selection Guidelines to help ensure plantings will be appropriate to your area. Ask at your local nursery for suggestions based on your area's soil, sun and moisture characteristics as well as mature size of plants and desired appearance, fragrance, and other attributes.
Consider including a street tree. See guidelines for details and support materials. A Street Tree Permit is required however there is no additional permit cost. Evergreen tree species (those that retain a leafy canopy during San Francisco's rainy season) are encouraged as they help slow water flows to the soil and sewer system. Deciduous tree species are discouraged for the same reason - they lose their leaves just as our rainy season starts, shedding their leaves all at once, sometimes clogging sewer inlets.
Complete the application form. Permit requires Property Owner or Owner's Agent signature. If you are not the owner, discuss your ideas with them and be prepared explain what you are willing to contribute to the project (design, coordination, maintenance, etc.) Feel free to ask Plant*SF to contact a property owner on your behalf to address potential concerns.
Submit completed permit application, drawing and fee via mail to address at top of form.
Follow the guidelines that accompany the permit to set up a site inspection and to have underground utilities marked.
Once permit is received, proceed with demolition and installation. Due to regulations concerning public circulation through the area during construction and the presence of underground utilities, as well as the high cost of transport and disposal to do-it-yourself, hiring a licensed and insured contractor to remove concrete is recommended.
Obtain and install permeable pavers for paths. Be sure to install pavers according to manufacturer recommendations or hire a qualified installer.
Prepare the existing soil: Remove large rocks, turning new soil with existing soil to a depth of 12-24". This will encourage root growth into the existing soil. (Due to underground utilities do not use a motorized tiller.). Consider retaining large rocks on site as landscape features instead of sending them to recycling. (Concrete disposed of in San Francisco is required to be recycled. It is often ground up to become road base or aggregate in new concrete.)
The installation of weed barrier cloth is NOT recommended in planting areas. Weed barriers migrate to the surface over time, are ineffective against weeds that grow in soil that accumulates atop the barrier, introduce synthetics into the soil, and may prevent desired plants from spreading. Mulch (1-1/2" depth) and groundcover plantings are more effective than a weed barrier and also serve decorative and soil-protective functions.
Obtain and install plants and mulch. Ask for planting tips from elders or at your local nursery. Install mulch (rock or wood chips) around plants to increase moisture retention and reduce weed growth.
Provide initial watering of plants (until established, approximately 2-4 months, depending on season). The best time to plant in San Francisco is mid- to late-November once the fall heat has passed and the wet season has begun.
Provide maintenance. When selected and installed properly, includes removal of trash, light weeding, and minimal tending of plants.
Costs vary due factors such as the amount of concrete removed, whether or not you do the drawings and/or labor yourself, and what species and size of plants you use. You may pay anywhere from $5 - $10 per square foot (about $50 - $100 per 'sidewalk square') for the completed project using volunteer labor, and $20 or more per square foot if hiring a professional installer. Consider transplanting plants from your back yard or using self-propogating plants to keep costs down and growth up!
Potential cost savings include how much it costs to repair/replace damaged concrete initially and over time (especially where tree roots repeatedly heave and crack sidewalks) and related root pruning of trees. Typical replace/repair costs are about $100 per 'sidewalk square' ($10 - $12 per square foot). Depaving projects tend to pay for themselves the first time this replace/repair is avoided - something to consider especially if your sidewalk is currently in need of repair.
Fixed costs are shown. Fill in the blanks with your estimated budget for other items:
Item Approx. Amount Sidewalk Landscaping Permit $178 to $239 Professional assistance with planning, drawing or plant selection (if any) Concrete demolition and disposal (including streetspace permit) Permeable pavers (if any) Soil Mulch Plants, trees, rock and/or other garden features Delivery (if any) Installation Labor (if any) TOTAL
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