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Alta Plaza Park readies for a makeover

Alta-Plaza-Master-Plan

LOCALS AGREE there are problems with Alta Plaza Park, situated atop a former rock quarry and bounded by Scott, Clay, Steiner and Jackson Streets. Among them: decayed columns, stairs, walls and pathways; haphazard and incongruous plantings; outdated and ineffective lighting; and drainage and irrigation issues. So far, the fixes have been piecemeal — and ineffective, particularly the new no-mow grass and attempts to stop leakage onto surrounding sidewalks.

In February, the community group Friends of Alta Plaza Park enlisted landscape architect Jeffrey Miller — whose firm designed the new playground that was part of the recent renovation of the neighborhood’s Lafayette Park — to help formulate a master plan for an integrated overhaul of Alta Plaza’s infrastructure and aesthetics.

Miller solicited community feedback as he developed his plans, and at a final public meeting in November he unveiled the latest iteration of his proposals.

Among other things, the master plan, published above, features reworked entryways and plantings along the park’s perimeter. It adds a picnic area and creates a central plaza with a seating area overlooking the view of the city to the south. It also adds a new pathway and additional seating at the top of the park.

The plans, which will be presented to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission for approval in February, were considerably revised and scaled back from earlier proposals, which included a large central amphitheatre, an oculus with a view locator and relocated tennis and multi-purpose courts. The overwhelming public outcry was for less construction and fewer bells and whistles, with refurbishments that would make the park more functional while maintaining its formal elegance.

The first phase of the project, slated for completion next year, will be confined to the north side of the park, with $3 million of the expected cost already available from various sources. The park’s south side still suffers water issues that need to be resolved, even after a redo of its irrigation system last year. The Friends of Alta Plaza hope to raise money for the rest of the project through grants and fundraising.

Local parks being renovated

A new irrigation system is being installed on the south side terraces at Alta Plaza Park.

IT’S SUMMERTIME, and the living is not so easy for those in the neighborhood who take their dogs — or themselves — for a walk in the park.

Both of the neighborhood’s four-block hilltop greens — Lafayette Park and Alta Plaza Park — are mostly brown this summer. Both are undergoing renovation.

At Alta Plaza, what’s billed as a “water conservation project” includes a new irrigation system on the south side terraces, which are dug up and fenced off, except for the grand staircase at Pierce Street. The northern half of the park remains open, including the playground and tennis courts. The project is on track to be completed in September.

Lafayette Park is getting a full-blown makeover, thanks to $10 million from a bond measure passed in 2008 and additional funds raised by Friends of Lafayette Park for a deluxe new playground. About three-quarters of the park was fenced off when construction began in June. But then a neighbor’s complaint brought the work to a halt.

Shannon Gallagher, who lives across from Lafayette Park, appealed one of the permits for the project. Her detailed written objections are due by August 9 and will be heard by the Board of Appeals on August 22.

Gallagher was pilloried as a prime example of the “tyranny of the few” by Chronicle columnist C. W. Nevius, too common in what he called “the city that can’t say yes.”

Gallagher was a no-show at an August 1 community meeting on the Lafayette Park renovation.

Dogs are now welcome only in a small area on the north side of Lafayette Park.

At the meeting, project manager Mary Hobson said work had resumed under permits that were not appealed. Hobson and other staffers from the city’s Recreation & Parks Department said they were confident the appeal was without merit and would be rejected, and that the project could be completed in 10 months as planned.

Some in the audience of approximately 100 residents questioned why Gallagher had not raised her objections during public planning sessions for the project, and why she wasn’t at the meeting.

“She had to go out of town because people were threatening her,” responded Pat Lovelock, who described herself as a friend of Gallagher’s and said she shared her concerns about proper permitting, dust and disabled access.

Others at the meeting questioned the removal of trees, and whether trees, plants and birds are being properly cared for during construction. Revised plans call for the removal of 44 trees, with 58 new trees to be planted.

EARLIER: Lafayette Park renovation gets green light

Lafayette Park or Peyton Place?

ORNITHOLOGY | Monte Travis

From my ninth floor office near Lafayette Park, I’ve been watching a pair of red-tailed hawks engage in aerial courtship flights since early this year.

In late March I saw the hawks carrying sticks to a large nest high in a eucalyptus tree in the park, undertaking a little remodeling. A few days later, I observed one of the hawks poking its head above the rim of the nest. This suggested at least one egg and probably more had been laid in the nest. If all goes well, we should have chicks in about a month.

As I was photographing the female hawk on the nest, I was alerted by the screams of about 20 red-masked parakeets — the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill — who suddenly bolted into the air from the treetops directly overhead. I looked up, and there came the male redtail swooping in from the west. When the male arrived at the nest, the female, who is larger, rose up, and for a short time both stood on the nest (above). Then the female took off and the male settled in for his shift.

Redtails are monogamous and generally mate for life. But later that same day, I witnessed a mystery: three adult birds on the nest (below). For 45 minutes, all three alternately flew to and from the nest. A menage a trois, perhaps? Or maybe redtails, like certain other species, sometimes employ one of their young from the prior year as a helper. This will bear watching in the coming days.

It’s a domestic ornithological mystery. But it seems appropriate for San Francisco: an alternative avian family.

Lafayette Park renovation gets green light

Ambitious plans for a $10.2 million renovation of Lafayette Park have received enthusiastic support from neighbors and a unanimous thumbs-up from the Recreation and Park Commission.

In addition, a fund-raising mechanism has been put into place to allow park supporters to solicit contributions to supplement available bond funding to create a more elaborate 13,000 sq. ft. playground. It may include vibrantly colored play areas for children of various ages, along with boulder climbing, a tunnel slide, a creek, a tower and what landscape architect Jeffrey Miller called “the world’s longest monkey bar.”

“We think it’s going to be full of fantasy and fun,” Miller said.

The conceptual plan for the park makeover was developed by city staffers working closely with the Friends of Lafayette Park and other local residents. Many of the people who participated in the planning sessions appeared before the Rec and Park Commission December 16 to praise the process and support the plans for what several called “the crown jewel of the park department.”

But some concerns were raised.
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Sculpture on the park

Architect Olle Lundberg’s new design (left) stands beside historic neighbors on Alta Plaza Park.

By THOMAS REYNOLDS

For years, the dog walkers in Alta Plaza Park watched the construction site at the top of Jackson Street.

Two townhouses disappeared, opening a view of the bay. Then one sleek glass and steel home was built where two had been. Yet the view to the bay remained.

Architect Olle Lundberg, the wonderboy behind the design, has succeeded in creating a see-through house that reads like a piece of modern sculpture and celebrates the bay to the north and the park to the south.

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