Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Opening of Fourth Street at UCSF Mission Bay Campus

A long-awaited opening of the end of Fourth Street to run through the UCSF - University of California San Francisco - Mission Bay campus is to take place on Friday.

The street runs from Market Street, at the centre of the city, to 16th Street at Mission Bay.

What was once an abandoned industrial and railyard area, is being transformed into 303 acres of a $4 billion-plus thriving residential community with a state-of-the-art hospital, research labs, commercial offices and parks.

The end of Fourth Street has been blocked off while part of the ambitious redevelopment has been underway, although it reopened to pedestrians last year  - pic shows the blocked part of 4th Street from top end.

Electricians from the Traffic Signals Department of the SFMTA -  San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency - were busy today. They were fixing traffic lights to ensure a coordinated flow of traffic along the street.

Half-way down the blocked off section, Ben was working at a control box. 'We are coordinating the 'stop' and 'go' signals,' he said, pointing out two sets of traffic lights, 'as they are so close together.' While the amber lights are being set to react in sequence, seconds apart, a term known in traffic planning as 'cascading.'

The site where Ben was working marks the heart of two one-way intersections that cut into Fourth Street from the main Third Street, that runs near the bay and down which the Muni trains travel - pic looking back up 4th Street. Department of Parking and Traffic engineer, Al Hershey, is Project Manager for the Mission Bay development and is overseeing all of the traffic planning.

pics show intersections where traffic will flow in a one-way loop from Third Street to Fourth, and vice versa; and far end of  Fourth which has been open for some time with a carpark and the UCSF shuttle stop.

The UCSF campus covers 57 acres for which ground was broken in 1999. Plans include a 289-bed hospital for children, women and cancer patients. The first phase of the UCSF Medical Center is due for completion in 2014.

Included in the 878,000-gross-square-foot hospital complex will be:

  * A 183-bed children’s hospital with urgent, emergency and pediatric primary care and specialty outpatient facilities;
    * A 70-bed adult hospital for cancer patients;
    * A women’s hospital for cancer care, specialty surgery and select outpatient services, and a 36-bed birth center; and
    * An energy center, helipad, parking and support services.

Also included in the plans are research buildings, a community center, housing complex, child care center, plaza with public art and eateries, parking garages and a campus green.

Other aspects of Mission Bay are also springing up. By last September, 3,126 housing units including 674 affordable units had been built, with another 319 units underway. More than 1.5 million square feet of commercial office and biotechnology lab space had been built, with another 187,000 square feet under construction.

Discussions are also taking place within The San Francisco Unified School District Board over the possibility of a school on 2.2 acres. With a $30 million bond, the Board need to decide on what type of school to build and to consider that there is a large number of very young children in the area with no school.

In a blog summing up the educational issues, Board Member and journalist, Rachel Norton, wrote, 'So the possibilities are very intriguing – we have a prime plot of land in the middle of a world-class research facility and a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood with a lot of young families; and a plot that is not far from some of the least-served (education-wise)neighborhoods in San Francisco - ie Bay View - .'

The Board have until 2027 to make a decision, after which the land reverts to the developer.

According to the City and County Redevelopment Agency, the huge Mission Bay redevelopment project is expected to take another 20 to 30 years to complete. It is hoped that it will create over 30,000 permanent jobs as well as hundreds of ongoing construction jobs.

Further info:


UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay:

City and County of San Francisco, Redevelopment Agency website:

UCSF Campus Planning:

Blog Post by Rachel Norton, SFUSD School Board Member: 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Engineering Feat for Giant Cranes to Pass Under Golden Gate and Bay Bridges

Transporting three $10 million, 1,500 ton cranes from Asia to Oakland to pass under the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges has been a major engineering feat involving months of planning.

The cranes arrived in San Francisco Bay this morning aboard a special barge - see previous blog.

'It's a lot of work. It takes a whole team to be able to move these cranes from Asia,' said Robert Bernado, Manager of Media and Public Relations for the Port of Oakland.

With an emphasis on safety, 'God forbid it actually touches the bridges - what would happen to the morning commute....!'

With expert engineering, however, the cranes passed under the Golden Gate Bridge with a clearance of 14 ft and under the Bay Bridge with a gap of 9 ft.

The difference reflects the variables that the engineers have had to factor in, and tides are one of them. The barge sailed on a low tide, but the bridges themselves are another variable as they contract or expand by a few feet depending on weather conditions, explained Robert Bernado.

One of the Port of Oakland's engineers spent the weekend at Point Reyes, Marin County, working with engineers from the shipping company, Evergreen Marine Corporation. 'They were clearly monitoring tide tables,' he said.

The cranes fold down at the apex and the barge itself can lower or raise its height by taking in or off-loading water in a technique called de-ballasting.

This cargo is called Super-Post Panamax cranes, one of the newest generation of cranes, but already their predecessors, the Post Panamax cranes, could load and unload containers from a ship too wide for the Panama Canal. These 'Supers' have a 120 ton load capacity and can lift up to four 20 ft or two 40 ft long containers, confirmed Robert Bernado.

As the Zhen Hua 15 sailed under the Bay Bridge, it turned at right angles to head for the port. Watching the giant cranes unload is fascinating, said Robert. The barge lightens its weight to rise to the level of the dock and the cranes, each on four wheels, roll off.

'Without naming names, there have been ports where the cranes have rolled onto the terminal and right into the water!' he said.

The three cranes now bring the total of Super-Post Panamax cranes at the port to 22. The port is the third busiest in California and the fifth busiest in the US handling, with fluctuations, around two million 20 ft containers per year.

pics by Chris

Giant Cranes Enter San Francisco Bay Under Golden Gate and Bay Bridges

As the clock on the Ferry Building in San Francisco struck 9 am today, the red bow of a barge transporting three giant folded 253 ft cranes slowly glided into view heading towards the Bay Bridge.

A small crowd had gathered on the end of Pier 30/32 to watch the auspicious arrival of the three mega container cranes that had travelled from Shanghai, China, on a barge specially designed to be able to lower itself in water to pass under structures.

Like the Golden Gate Bridge under which it passed at 8.30 am.

'To me, it's amazing!' said Arthur, there with his wife, Beamer. 'I was just thinking about how they were able to build that crane and put it on a ship and have it come halfway around the world.

'For me to witness this is amazing. I can say I saw it come under the Bay Bridge!'

Arthur is no stranger to shipping events. A former Vietnam vet, he worked on rescue helicopters that flew around naval aircraft carriers as pilots were taking off and landing, ready to rescue any who unfortunately landed in the sea.

 'I'm looking at a lot of jobs for people,' he said, gazing in admiration as the Zhen Hua 15 slipped past making the passage under the Bay Bridge look effortless, but at the same time eliciting a breathless 'This is going to be close!' from one of the onlookers.

Around the barge was a flotilla of tugs and the US Coast Guard and in the air hovered three helicopters. Traffic on the bridge was halted.

The cranes, said Arthur, will make the loading and unloading of cargoes in the major Port of Oakland that much easier and quicker. Cargoes that include travel between the San Francisco Bay and the Far East, Australia, Canada, Alaska and other parts of California.

'I wouldn't mind being one of the operators on those cranes!' he added 'You're talking BIG money.'

How big?

'I would estimate at least $75 dollars an hour, and that's not counting overtime!'

For how the feat of transporting the cranes was accomplished, and facts and figures see next blog.

pics of cranes by Chris

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Preparing the SF Giants Pitch for the 2010 Season - Part 2

Greg Elliott is the Giant's Unseen Pitcher, a man charged with producing a perfect pitch before the baseball season has even begun and without ever throwing a ball...see previous blog 

For the Head Groundskeeper of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, the most complex part of pitch construction is the pitcher's mound.

A carefully calibrated centre-piece that can hinder or enhance a pitcher, this season the Giants' mound will bear the imprint of the likes of Cy Young Award twice-winner Tim Lincecum, whose skills have catapulted him into a two-year, $23 million contract, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.

Aware of the need to achieve both a firm foundation and softer topping, last season Greg instituted a new design. This involves six specially-engineered circular steel pallets - similar to those pictured above. The pallets, like giant trays, hold about a four-inch depth of solid, undisturbed soil.

The pallets were lifted out of the ground at the end of last season and stored under the bleachers until ready for use again. Then, like a circular jigsaw, they are slotted together and laid over the cement pad that forms the base of the mound.

'They should create a more consistent pitching surface for the pitchers - it's all about consistency,' said Greg, using the 'C' word that is one of his twin themes, playability being the other.

His next task is to shape the mound using infield clay for a lighter topping, and allowing air and water into the surface soil.

He literally inches his way over and round the precious mound, making sure it is 18 ft in diameter, rises to a plateau measuring 5 ft by 3ft and 10 inches above home plate, slopes gently down at one inch per foot, and has the centre edge of the players' rubber exactly 60 ft 6 in from the rear point of home plate.

'Building a pitcher's mound is as much an art as it is a science,' says Baseball Almanac on

'We've been able to embrace both aspects, the artistic and scientific parts,' said Greg. Describing the artistic part as 'how you interpret it, check the shape and compaction,' he added, ''I think we've taken the technological aspect as far as we can and so the artistic part is up to us.

'It's more artistic than anything. You have to have a feel for it. There's no books on it, there's nothing really out there.'

Another job is to install the infield clay, also stored under the bleachers - pic left -and base lines at home plate, and level them.

Then there are the bull pens to build, both for the Giants and the visiting teams. Greg uses rectangular steel pallets of heavily compacted soil - pic above - for the Giants, and steel frames built with pieces each weighing one ton.

 pics show Greg constructing the visitors' bullpen last week after the grass has been laid

Two of his final remaining tasks are to nourish the field with 'earthworm castings', the waste of earthworms broken down - 'It helps to root the field in better,' he said, meaning that it helps with water flow as well as nutrient levels - and root out bugs.

'Then we're pretty much ready to go! We start hosting baseball games. That's when we get into our general maintenance,' he said.

With hardly time to draw breath, once the games start, Greg moves into high-gear care and repair.

When there is a game, he mows every day, irrigates lightly and daily as opposed to the alternative groundkeeping philosophy of 'deep and infrequent', fertilizes before each 'home stand', deals with pests, aerifys and top dresses, and manages the clay surfaces.

Has he ever been thrown a curve ball?

'Oh yes!' he said, throwing his head back in bemusement. 'There's always curve balls!!!'

Last season a rock jammed part of the irrigation system overnight. A puddle of unwelcome water greeted him in the morning in the left field, though fortunately it was during preparation time just after the soil had been laid. 'We just had to be patient and let it dry out,' he said.

During the season, the Giants' grounds are also open for community events including concerts. After one particular concert, he found he suddenly had to replace 18,000 square feet of sod, when he was hoping that only 6,000 square feet would be needed.

Concerts, especially combined with weather, are unpredictable. 'With concerts you don't know what you're going to get,' he said. Come what may, his role is to make sure that the players are unaware that anything has happened!

Then there is surface damage that Greg always has to be on his toes about, though 'that shouldn't be a problem if you're doing things right with your maintenance and if you have good grass,' he said. Basically, 'we can resod it and move on.'

The front of the mound and around home plate are treated as individual areas, and rain, especially during games, is always a concern. A polyvinyl field tarp of 170 square feet is pulled over the field for protection.

Over one inch of rain makes Greg nervous, though 'one-quarter of an inch in ten minutes could be just as devastating as one inch over a day,' he said. However, rain in San Francisco is 'not as large a concern here because of the weather patterns, but we are expecting a rainy spring with El Nino.'

Greg is entering his third season as Head Groundskeeper for the Giants. In all, he has been a Head Groundskeeper in baseball for 12 seasons. Before the Giants, he was in Minor League Baseball with the Lake County Captains in Eastlake, Ohio, where he also ran a consulting company to help local schools with sports fields for soccer, football, baseball and soft ball.

'That's why I know a lot about this,' he said. Before that, he was with the Cedar Rapids Kernels in Iowa, and in assistant roles in Indianapolis and Arizona.

He trained as an elementary school teacher at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. 'My mum was a teacher, so I thought that was the way to go, but in the long term it wasn't what I wanted to do,' he said.

Immediately after teaching, he became Director of Stadium Operations with the Toledo Mud Hens in Ohio, after which he went back to school to train in groundskeeping. And not just any school. Rather, Michigan State University where one of his professors was 'Yard Doctor' John 'Trey' Rogers, professor of turfgrass science, who helped Beijing in their preparation of the Olympic stadium.

A training that no doubt contributed to his outstanding achievements of being a four-time winner of the South Atlantic League Groundskeeper of the Year Award and twice Sports Turf Manager of the Year for Class A Minor League Baseball. Modestly reticent to talk about his achievements, he pays tribute to the Minor League teams that 'allowed me to grow as a professional.'

So what drew him to this career?

'Love of sport,' he said. 'My dad coached Little League Baseball for 25 years so I was always around a ballpark. And my first job was working for that Little League as a groundskeeper.'

Strange, how things come around, he mused.

His predictions for the Giants for this season?

'I'm not in the prediction business. I do know the expectations are high for the Giants, and they would like to get to the play-offs. They want a shot at that.

'Their expectations are high, which means my expectations are high.'

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Preparing the SF Giants' Pitch for 2010 Season

Greg Elliott is the Unseen Pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. A man charged with producing a perfect pitch before the baseball season has even begun and without ever throwing a ball.

The skills and ambitions of players and the hopes of thousands of fans depend on his pitching skills, though his name will never appear on the jumbotron scoreboard.

For Greg is the Head Groundskeeper. A few weeks ago, he stood in time at the end of the winter season with its roller coaster of other sporting and community events that have ravaged the pitch, and the heraldic call of spring and the 2010 baseball season.

He has until April 1 to produce that perfect pitch for the first of the home Spring Training games, and just a few more days beyond that, while the Giants pit their skills in their opening game of the season away to the Houston Astros, to tweak it. Then on April 9, the gates of the AT&T ballpark will be flung open wide for the fans and the team will parade out for six days of home games, first against the Atlanta Braves and next, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But in February, Greg gazed at bare soil and sand, a freshly-minted sprawling green lawn, and unblemished, skilfully constructed pitcher's mound, homeplate and infield yet a vision in his mind's eye.

A former elementary school teacher who retrained with a degree in Sports and Commercial Turfgrass Management, he is an award-winning groundskeeper and soil scientist looking for the best and utilizing the latest technologies. There are changes underfoot.

By mid-morning that day, with a tractor tilling the soil and skid steers flattening it, he was confidently proclaiming they were 'ahead of schedule.'

'There's a tight deadline to get the field in, but we have enough time to appropriately grow it,' he said.  'A 'tight deadline' - to be ready for a game - would be "we have a game next week!"' he said, as he supervised the team of workers in the stadium.

With or without baseball, Greg is a pitcher for all seasons. His winter season begins in October with disassembling part of the old pitch.

'At the end of the baseball season we remove the infield material - a clay loam soil -and remove the portable mounds and store these in the 'players' lot' under the Coke sign,' he said. The Coca-Cola sign being an iconic 80-foot wooden bottle high up on the far end of the stadium with viewing platforms and four slides, and which flashes with celebratory lights on a home run.

Then the stadium is prepared for community use and football games. This winter they hosted two games of the California Redwoods plus the college football Emerald Bowl. A massive 350 tons of sand was spread over the pitch. Not just any sand but a USGA (US Golf Association) 'spec' sand, and grass was rolled on top of it.

By the end of January, the pitch was gone in readiness for a stadium-shaking event when Greg and his team truly felt the earth move under their feet. Approximately 6,000 cubic yards of it.

The annual Supercross event, a stadium version of motocross, is a mud-fest. Plastic sheeting goes down over the entire field and for two days soil is trucked in to form a six-inch 'road base'.

Supercross chose the original soil ten years ago and it is stored in nearby Mission Bay every year and reused - pics of soil at Terry Francois Boulevard, Mission Bay

The set involves jumps and a different track design each time, and takes Supercross over a week to build.

Once the last vestiges of one of the most popular events on the social calendar have finally gone, the old sod layer of last season's pitch is removed and recycled. A company truck it away, put it through a grinder and sell it as premium top soil. Fans wishing to grow their flowers or seed a lawn with a souvenir bag of dirt trodden on by their heroes, need only buy!

Which leaves Greg to face a bare field and the prospect of FanFest, a pre-season opportunity for fans to roam freely around their beloved stadium, go where usually only the elite go, and collect player autographs.

A light covering of sand remains, and Greg stands in a stadium that resembles more of a military practice ground for Iraq and Afghanistan, and watches as thousands of pairs of fans' feet trample joyously over his denuded pitch.

Now winter has passed, the fun is over and it is time for the soil scientist to apply his knowledge with seriousness to help the team do what they and everyone wants them to do - win games.

'Playability and consistency' are his twin themes. 

Firstly he replaces the field, bringing in fresh soil and mixing it with the sand after FanFest. The soil needs to be tilled, and this year Greg is using 'farm discs', two rows of rotating metal discs that till down to a new depth of ten inches.

'That's why we're trying to go deeper with the tilling. Playability and consistency, that's what we want,' he said. He has to balance two aspects: compaction of the soil that will give a firm, stable foundation, and  enough space within the soil for the roots of the grass to flourish.

'It's one thing that makes my job hard,'  he said, referring to compaction. 'I need to relieve it. When you compact, air and water space is limited. You need a free-flowing soil, you need to let oxygen in.'

Once the field has been tilled, then laser technology is employed to level it to a degree of NASA-like accuracy. A rotating laser pole is held aloft that communicates to a receiver that in turn sends down information to a box plate. The box controls a blade that pushes and pulls the soil, and by the time it is finished the field is level to a staggering 0.2 inches per 100 ft.

Next, irrigation heads are replaced on the sprinklers - there are over 60 in the outfield and about 20 in the infield, and finding them is not always easy! - and then ground levelling is fine-tuned to an even more staggering accuracy of 0.1 inches for every 100 ft.

Now the field sits waiting for a spring coat of over 107,000 square feet of freshly-growing grass. And it's out with the old style, and in with the new. Abandoned, is a mix of Kentucky Blue Grass and Perennial Ryegrass.

'This season we're changing to an overseeded Bermuda Grass Tifway II with Perennial Ryegrass. This will handle wear a lot better. We hope it will make a large difference for us,' said Greg. The Bermuda will form a protective mesh over the ryegrass, which is a tough grass popular for sports fields in southern states, and should recuperate more quickly. And when the Bermuda goes dormant in cold temperatures, the ryegrass will complement it by remaining green all year.

Greg is hoping the Giants will flourish along with the grass!

With the field attended to, he will turn his attention to the pivotal points of a baseball pitch, the pitcher's mound, infield and bases, and the bullpens. For the next stage in the preparation of the Giants' pitch, see next blog.