The Tompkins Stairway Garden opens for all to enjoy

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On June 8, 2019, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen helped us cut the ribbon on our stairway garden, now complete after a busy year of planting a hillside garden, designed by Arterra Landscape Architects, and installing stairway tiles in accordance with Andre Rothblatt’s design. The garden’s palette of perennials, succulents, shrubs, and trees, accented by a flowing ‘swoosh’ of a lawn, is thriving after the winter rains. And the stair’s multicolored zigzag design can be seen from Hwy. 101!

A dedicated team of neighbors devoted many volunteer hours to this effort — fundraising, keeping implementation on track, caring for the new plants so that they take root and thrive, organizing workdays, and connecting with city agencies.

We thank the following partners, funders, and contractors who helped to make this project a success: San Francisco Parks Alliance, Community Challenge Grants, SF Department of the Environment, SF District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, SF Public Utilities Commission, Arterra Landscape Architects, Andre Rothblatt Architecture, SF Public Works, Rock & Rose Landscapes, Daltile, North Coast Tile & Stone, Windesheim Design, LaHue & Associates, our Founders Fund donors, and all Tompkins Stairway Garden volunteers and donors.

We are grateful to everyone who played a role, and we are proud to open San Francisco’s newest public greenspace to the community.

After our opening, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on our efforts: San Francisco’s street purgatory: 148 miles of rejected roads the city won’t maintain.

Plus, we’re No. 17 on Curbed SF’s 26 things to do in San Francisco this summer. How cool is that?

February 2019 Developments

  • K recruited a graphic designer to work pro bono to create a logo for the stairs.  K shared all the drafts that had been done by members of our group, and described our needs.  The designer presented five drafts, which Karen and I then narrowed down to three options.  K presented the three options last night and the group selected one to develop further.  The group also provided specific feedback on possible revisions to that option.  

  • K also presented options for the design of our acknowledgment sign.  The group selected one design to pursue further (it is very simple - mainly text).  

  • We have decided to shift our monthly meetings to the second Tuesday of the month instead of the first.  K has been appointed to a Rec and Parks Advisory Committee, which meets on the first Tuesday. Also, this is better since we have our monthly work days on the first Saturday - this gives us a little time between get-togethers.  

  • We have scheduled a Clean and Green Team work day at the garden on Saturday March 30, from 9:00 a.m. to noon.  This is in addition to our regular monthly work days.  

  • We haven't received any response from our contacts at DPW or SFPA about getting our permit for the tiling, or about trying to make sure the surface of the sidewalk is level with the new tiles.  We are continuing to call and email them hoping for a response.  We still hope to start tiling March 4.  Andre has done yeoman's work finalizing the tile order, figuring out ways to save us money, and coordinating with the tile manufacturer and the contractor.  

  • We started planning for our grand opening!  We are looking at early May, just to be on the safe side.  K volunteered to reach out to the folks we feel we "must have" at the opening, such as Supervisor Ronen and the SFPA.  At future meetings we'll start making our broader guest list and making party plans. 

March Update

Following are updates from our March meeting of the Tompkins Stairs Beautification Group (TSBG).  The main news is that we expect to hear in May whether we are getting a Community Challenge Grant (CCG) to bring us up to the amount we need to get the project underway.  If we are funded, we expect the project to start in full force in July.

In the meantime:

  • We are planning to schedule a community work day some time over the next couple of months, and Karen is working with SFPA to see if we can get the Clean and Green Team to join us. Stay posted. 
  • We are developing promotional materials including a laminated printout of the landscaping plan, informational flyers, and a sign-up sheet for people to join the email list.  Karen is heading this up, and she and Sharon will participate in an upcoming community/family event at BHNC and the Library to spread the word about our project. 
  • Our fiscal sponsorship/partnership with SF Parks Alliance (SFPA) will formally begin within a month. All future fundraising, grant proposals, and contractual agreements will need to be reviewed by SFPA, and we will officially become a "project"of SFPA.  
  • We received final official approval from the Arts Commission for our tile project.
  • Our online fundraising portal has been designed and is ready to go, but we are waiting until we hear about the CCG so any money we raise can be counted toward the CCG match requirement. We will also need to connect our portal to the SFPA. 
  • On April 14 SFPA is holding their day-long annual conference for partners and TSBG will be represented by Anne and Buck.  
  • Kate is continuing to work on getting bids from general contractors.
  • Ian and Jes are continuing to get bids from arborists.
  • Ian is beginning the permitting process for any necessary tree removals from the site.
  • Sharon is pulling together information/options for waste receptacles near the stairs, for discussion at our next meeting. We've gone back and forth on this over the years, since receptacles can also attract dumping.  However, many folks who use the stairs for the Farmer's Market commented to Sharon, Anne and Buck that they are frustrated by the lack of trash receptacles, so we are re-opening this discussion.

February Update

To recap recent developments: the water meter has been installed; DPW has repaired the structural damage on the stairs; we received $20,000 in a Carbon Fund Grant to purchase plants for the new garden; and our online fundraising portal is ready to go.  (Thank you Andre, Karen, Peter and Whitney for all of the above!)

And here’s what’s going on now:

  • Our tile design has been submitted to the Arts Commission for approval - thank you Andre!

  • Our application for fiscal sponsorship with the SF Parks Alliance has been submitted and we hope to hear next week.

  • Ian is starting in on our permit applications and Ian and Jes are getting bids for work related to the trees.

  • Kate is getting bids for general contractors.

  • Our Community Challenge Grant application is being finalized and will be submitted next week. This has involved yeoman's work from Karen, who is working on the main body of the application; Sharon, who is coordinating letters of support (with assists from Doug, Anne, and Buck); and Ian, who has prepared our maintenance plan. This was a biggie, and we thank you all.


Thanks to everyone who wrote a letter of support or filled out a volunteer pledge for the CCG application, and thanks to all for your continued support for our vision of creating a safe, beautiful, clean oasis at the Tompkins Avenue Stairs!

January Update on the Stairs

  • The Community Challenge Grant (CCG) applications were posted online today and are due February 14.  We are applying for a large grant, in the vicinity of $100,000.
  • We hear about the Carbon Fund Grant January 23rd.  We applied for $51,000.  
  • Our application for partnership/fiscal sponsorship with the SF Parks Alliance (SFPA) has been prepared and will be submitted by February 9.  
  • We have created an online fundraising presence for us on YouCaring, along with a plan for marketing the site - this will be ready to go after we hear about the SFPA partnership (unless we decide to wait and use this toward our match for a CCG).
  • PUC construction signs have gone up around the area indicating that the installation of our water meter should be coming soon.
  • The design and specs for our tiled stairs have been formally prepared, and are being submitted to DPW for approval, and we are starting outreach to the Arts Commission as well.
  • If we get Carbon Fund financing, we may begin the "demo" phase of the project soon - pulling up weeds, removing debris, and so on.  We are putting together a tree removal plan which they will submit to DPW for review and permitting.  
  • As a reminder, we've already received $20,000 in add-back funds from Supervisor Ronen, and $11,800 in in-kind donations from the PUC for the water meter installation.  We've incurred expenses of $3500 for installation of the backflow device associated with the water meter.

August Update on the Stairs

  • We are planning to use the $20,000 grant we received from Supervisor Hillary Ronen (thank you!) to purchase tiles for the stairs.  A neighbor is currently researching tile options.  We are waiting to hear from DPW about when we will receive the funds, and when they can schedule a site assessment to determine if there is work that needs to be done to repair the stairs before we begin retiling.  
  • Several of us attended a Street Parks Workshop by DPW and the Parks Alliance at which we visited several street parks across the city and picked up lots of helpful advice. We got a lot of feedback about hardy plant options; these suggestions are currently being reviewed by the a Bernal neighbor and partner at the landscape architect firm Arterra, who are donating their services to this project.  
  • The applications for Community Challenge Grants will be available in October, and we will be applying then.  Neighbors are taking the lead on that. We are planning to "go big" with a request for $100,000. 
  • Neighbor is also spearheading a grant application with Lowe's, which could end up providing anywhere from $5,000-$25,000. 

FYI, below is a picture of the Athens-Avalon stairs in the Excelsior, a plot quite similar to ours.  They just completed their new tiling.  This was a completely neglected dry barren plot a couple of years ago.


9/21/2016 Update

Many updates in our effort to improve the Tompkins Street stairs.  

  • First, word from Carolina Morales in Supervisor Campos's office that the new PUC-installed lights are in place.  She writes:  You might have seen this already, but I wanted to make sure you knew that the light installation has been completed! Thank you again for working together and for your patience. We will continue solving every matter, one step at a time. I look forward to meeting with the Putnam Neighborhood Safety group next Tuesday evening and hopefully bringing more updates. Here is the update I received from SFPUC: I wanted to let you know that the lighting upgrade job  on Tompkins Stairs is complete. I have attached pictures of the new street  light LED and pole we installed midway down the stairs and a picture of the LED luminaires we installed on existing street light poles at the top and bottom of the stairs. This additional lighting and upgrade to LED will  provide more security and safety on the stairs.  
  • A number of neighbors met at the stairs with Hillary Ronen, candidate for Supervisor, on September 17th.  She expressed her strong support for helping us pursue the creation of a beautiful and safe green space for neighbors.  We previously met with candidate Josh Arce, who also expressed strong support.  Photos from both events are attached. 
  • I am meeting with staff at the SF Department of Rec and Parks on October 7 to learn more about our options a) creating a community garden and b) petitioning Rec and Parks to take over the property.  Thanks to DPW staff for arranging this.
  • DPW staff have been VERY helpful regarding installing a water meter.  DPW has agreed to cover a $12,000 "backflow" device we need to install, and their staff are assisting me with an application to PUC to have them cover the cost of installing the water meter and paying the water bill for three years!

I think the next step is for neighbors to gather and discuss all our options and see which paths we want to prioritize and pursue, and brainstorm what our "vision" for the stairs is.  I ll be back in touch shortly to suggest a date and time and place!

8/18/2016 Update

We had a successful meeting on Saturday with our neighbors and with Supervisorial candidate Joshua Arce and Carolina Morales from Supervisor Campos's office to discuss our concerns about, hopes for, and past experience with trying to improve the condition of the Tompkins Stairs.  

In addition, the DPW/SF Parks Alliance "Clean and Green Crew" came and cleaned out a lot of trash and trimmed back trees and bushes.     

We have an invitation out to Supervisorial candidate Hillary Ronen (who recently stepped down as Chief of Staff to our current supervisor, David Campos) to take a tour of the stairs as well.

We discussed several options:

  • Getting DPW to turn the property over to SF Rec and Parks and have it turned into a park.
  • Turning the property into community gardens (similar to Ogden Gardens). 
  • Petitioning DPW to "accept" the property and take responsibility for cleaning and maintaining it (it is currently an "unaccepted" or "paper" street, and according to city code they are not legally responsible for keeping it clean).
  • Working with DPW, SF Parks Alliance, candidate Arce, Supervisor Campos, and others to try again to get grants and in-kind donations to improve the stairs; including: 
    • Getting a water meter and irrigation system installed
    • Getting lighting
    • Having a new and more ambitious landscape design developed
    • Getting grants and donations to implement the design
    • FYI, the Athens Avalon Greenspace, in the Excelsior, is a similarly-sized set of stairs that were recently renovated in this manor.  I went by the other day and they look pretty good
      • To that end, we are interested in developing our own "vision" for the stairs/park:  
      • Create different tiers, or levels?
      • Playground?
      • Dog run?
      • Slide?
      • Community gardens?