After That Earthquake, Have You Hugged Bernal’s Chert Today?


Last weekend’s dramatic 6.0 earthquake was centered around American Canyon, but it caused substantial damage in the nearby town of Napa. Get well soon, drinky Wine Country neighbors!

But did you feel the quake here in Bernal when the earth shook at 3:20 am? The answer to that question seems to vary depending on a) the precise location of your home, and b) how heavy (or light) a sleeper you are, and c) if you have dogs.

Regardless, this earthquake provided a vivid demonstration of the importance of personal earthquake preparedness, and even better, NERT training.

It also provides yet another opportunity for all Bernalese to give thanks for the blessed chert that has endowed our neighborhood with such a stable foundation of earthquake-resistant bedrock. As Julian Lozos, our Senior Seismologist, previously explained:

Geologically speaking, Bernalwood is actually closer to the San Andreas than downtown, but the solid chert bedrock that makes up Bernal Hill didn’t shake nearly as hard as the soft sediment and artificial fill of the Financial District, Mission, or SoMa. That same chert explains why Bernal residents often miss smaller quakes that rattle people in other parts of the City.

(SIDE NOTE: If you’re not following Julian on Twitter, you’re missing his awesome guided tour of last weekend’s quake.)

But what exactly is this blessed chert, for which we all should be so grateful? Where did it come from? And how did it end up in Bernal Heights? Here’s a basic 411 on chert from

Chert can form when microcrystals of silicon dioxide grow within soft sediments that will become limestone or chalk. In these sediments, enormous numbers of silicon dioxide microcrystals grow into irregularly-shaped nodules or concretions as dissolved silica is transported to the formation site by the movement of ground water. If the nodules or concretions are numerous they can enlarge and merge with one another to form a nearly continuous layer of chert within the sediment mass. Chert formed in this manner is a chemical sedimentary rock.

Some of the silicon dioxide in chert is thought to have a biological origin. In some oceans and shallow seas large numbers of diatoms and radiolarians live in the water. These organisms have a glassy silica skeleton. Some sponges also produce “spicules” that are composed of silica. When these organisms die their silica skeletons fall to the bottom, dissolve, recrystallize and might become part of a chert nodule or chert layer. Chert formed in this way could be considered a biological sedimentary rock.

Bernal’s chert is a local type called (…wait for it...) Franciscan chert, and Franciscan chert comes from compacted sediments formed by zillions and zillions of  tiny protozoa critter skeletons. Over the course of zillions and zillions of years, these sentiments hardened into layers on the bottom of the ocean, and today those layers are clearly visible in the cross-section of our chert.

The Wikipedia page for Bernal Hill explains how our chert became our hill, and why it’s that stylish reddish color:

Bernal Hill, along with the other hills in the San Francisco area, is a folded hill, created by the “wrinkling up” effect of the Pacific plate subducting under the North American plate, when the North American and Pacific plates were converging, around 150 million years ago. Near the summit you will find folded layers of very hard rock called radiolarian chert. It is a sedimentary sillicate rock which gets its sillica content from the shells of microscopic creatures called radiolaria. The red color comes from iron oxide.

So that’s how Bernal ended up with all our chert, and how it got its coloring. And here’s how our chert is distributed, as seen through the spiffy Google Earth Geology layer:



The red areas are Franciscan chert, purple is Franciscan volcanic rock, green is Franciscan serpentine rock, blue is Great Valley serpentine rock, and yellow is rock fragments in the form of hillslope deposits. The yellow-gray and lighter yellow are alluvium soil. The light gray is (eek!) artificial fill.

Here’s the reverse angle, looking at Bernal Hill from the north:


As Julian explained a little while back, our beloved chert anchors Bernal Heights and absorbs much of the energy created by seismic waves.  So if you happen to be on Bernal Hill in the next few days, go ahead and find one of our rakish exposed chert formations. Then, approach the chert reverently, and give it a big wet kiss. Someday, the home that chert saves could be your own.

PHOTO: Chert on Bernal Hill, by Telstar Logistics

Nieto Family Files Wrongful Death Complaint in Federal Court





Grieving families. Medical examiner reports. Demands to release the names of the officers involved.

There is a grim parallelism to many of the recent officer-involved deaths across the country, including the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, and Alex Nieto here in Bernal Heights. But there are also important differences. In Ferguson and New York, medical examiners’ reports have been completed and released, and the identity of the officers involved in the incidents has been made public. But that hasn’t happened in San Francisco.

Against that backdrop, last Friday’s memorial for Bernal resident Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill was noteworthy not just because it was entirely peaceful, tightly focused, and well-organized, but also because it underscored the fact that, even after five months, Alex Nieto’s family still seeks the kind of basic information about their son’s death that has already been made public in high-profie cases elsewhere.

Friday’s march coincided with the Nieto family’s filing of a wrongful death complaint in federal court regarding the officer-involved shooting of Alex Nieto on March 21.

KQED reports:

The parents of a 28-year-old man shot and killed by San Francisco police officers on March 21 filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its police chief Friday.

The lawsuit disputes statements SFPD Chief Greg Suhr made just days after the shooting, and supporters of the slain Alejandro Nieto are suggesting a cover-up. Attorneys for Refugio and Elvira Nieto say witnesses came forward to dispute the assertion that Nieto pointed a Taser stun gun at officers just before he was shot.

A crowd of about 150 marched from the site of Nieto’s shooting to San Francisco’s federal courthouse Friday. Protesters’ chants referenced several controversial shootings by Bay Area police and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that has recently dominated national news.

Nieto’s death sparked anger in San Francisco’s Mission District. He was well known in the neighborhood and a criminal justice student at City College of San Francisco where he was studying to become a juvenile probation officer. He had been an intern with the city’s probation department.

He also worked as a security guard at a nightclub near the Mission and carried a Taser for the job. Nieto stopped to eat a burrito atop the city’s Bernal Heights Park on his way to work the evening he was shot.

Someone saw the holstered Taser and called police, according to Suhr’s statements and SFPD scanner traffic from the night of the shooting.

Suhr told an angry crowd at a March 25 town hall meeting that officers approached Nieto and asked him to show his hands. He said Nieto drew his Taser, which automatically emits a laser sight. Officers only shot after they noticed the red dot “on them, tracking,” Suhr said.

“They believed it to be a firearm, and they fired at Mr. Nieto,” Suhr said. “Mr. Nieto went to the ground. He assumed a prone position, again he acquired the dot, continued to track as other officers arrived.”

Suhr said at the time Nieto was prohibited from owning a firearm “for mental health reasons,” a statement also disputed by his supporters.

Oakland-based attorneys John Burris and Adante Pointer are representing Nieto’s parents. Pointer said sustained protests in the Mission District compelled witnesses to contact their office.

“The notion that he was waving a Taser, displaying a Taser, acting out violently with this Taser in any way toward the officers just flies in the face of what independent parties have come forward to say,” Pointer said.

SFPD Chief Suhr’s March 25 community meeting stands as the most up-to-date official account of the events that culminated in Nieto’s death, but it beggars belief that the City still cites that meeting as its official version of events. The problem is not that the March 25 meeting was chaotic and emotional — which it was. The problem is that it was preliminary and unverified. In the five months that have elapsed since the meeting, its credibility has been undermined by the City’s failure to complete the medical examiner’s report in the Nieto case and the unconfirmed nature of the SFPD’s accounting of what happened on Bernal Hill during the evening of March 21.

The City and the SFPD are doing themselves no favors here.

This is Elvira and Refugio Nieto, in the right foreground, carrying a banner during Friday’s march to the Federal Courthouse. Neighbors Refugio and Elvira live on Cortland Avenue, and Alex Nieto was their son:


In the absence of a more complete and credible set of facts about the March 21 incident, it’s not hard to understand why Alex Nieto’s grieving family and friends — our Bernal neighbors — are using whatever means possible to develop their own narrative about how and why his life was taken.

PHOTOS: Alex Nieto Memorial on Friday, August 22, 2014 by Telstar Logistics

UPDATED: One Year After Tragedy, Why Are Rec and Park Vehicles Still Driving in Holly Park?




It was a tragedy when Christy Svanemyr was killed by a hit-and-run San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department vehicle in Holly Park last September. Yet if any possible good might come from such a horror, it is the knowledge that policies were put in place to ensure that such a thing will never happen again.

That probably explains why Neighbor Roger Solin became livid when he saw a Rec and Park vehicle driving through Holly Park last weekend, apparently in violation of the department’s new guidelines for operating vehicles in City parks.

This is Neighbor Roger’s open letter to Rec and Park General Manager Philip Ginsburg, D9 Supervisor David Campos, and Mayor Ed Lee:

Dear Messrs Ginsburg, Campos, Lee:

As a result of the 2013 debacle in Holly Park where a SF Parks employee ran over and killed a person, I was pleased to recently read in several local publications that Mr. Ginsburg has implemented new policies for operation of vehicles in the public park system, including, “…installation of a toward-moving aural signal,” as well as “…drivers who are alone must exit their vehicle, walk the anticipated route through the park and inform park users about the intended passage”.

I was therefore shocked, when walking through the park with my two daughters when I observed a SF Parks truck with a single employee, who drove his truck through the park, This happened on August 16, 2014 at approximately 11:10 am, when the driver did none of the following:

  • Did not use a forward-moving aural signal
  • Did not walk the anticipated route and inform park users about the intended passage.

Attached are photos documenting this most recent incident.

As a SF and Bernal Park Resident, I request to know who is accountable and responsible for this continued mishap and negligence and what steps will be taken to rectify the situation? Do we need another death in Holly Park, or perhaps some other changes?


Roger Solin,
Resident, Bernal Heights

UPDATE: 20 August, 4:45 pm - Inspired by Neighbor Roger’s example, Neighbor Jack also wrote to our City officials regarding the incident described above. He received the following response from Dennis Kern, director of operations for Rec and Park:

From: Kern, Dennis (REC)
Date: Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 1:25 PM
Subject: FW: Continuing SF Park & Rec negligence in Holley Park
Cc: “Ginsburg, Phil (REC)”, “Campos, David (BOS)”, “Lee, Edwin (Mayor)

Dear [Jack] –

I am responding on behalf of our General Manager, Phil Ginsburg, to your e-mail supporting Mr. Roger Solin’s recent e-mail regarding vehicle operations in Holly Park. Attached below is Department’s response to Mr. Solin.

Thank you for your interest in our parks. I hope that this information is helpful.

Dennis Kern
Director of Operations
SF Recreation & Parks


From: Kern, Dennis (REC)
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2014 4:40 PM
To: Roger Solin
Cc: Ballard, Sarah (REC); Chan, Connie (REC); Ginsburg, Phil (REC); Campos, David (BOS); Lee, Edwin (Mayor) (ADM)
Subject: FW: Continuing SF Park & Rec negligence in Holley Park

Dear Mr. Solin,

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding your concern for vehicle operations within our parks. We immediately log all such communications when received, investigate what occurred, and take appropriate action. I am responding on behalf of Phil Ginsburg, our General Manager, to your recent e-mail regarding vehicle operations within our parks.

We take the issue of safe vehicle operation in parks very seriously and — as you mention — last year we instituted new policies for vehicle operations within our parks as we perform our park maintenance mission. I have looked into your description of your observation of our maintenance worker and his vehicle in Holly Park this past Saturday and can provide you the following information:

* Our Vehicle Operations Policy requires all staff to operate vehicles within parks on paved access roads to the maximum extent possible. When doing so, the driver is to maintain a maximum speed of 5mph or no faster than a person can comfortably walk. The use of a spotter or the requirement for the driver to walk the intended route of travel is only required by our policy when the vehicle must leave a paved access road and travel over unprepared surface (e.g., grass) to perform the required maintenance. In the photos that you provided with your observation, all photos show the vehicle to be on the paved access road in Holly Park. Further, a check of our GPS records for this vehicle at the time in question show that the vehicle’s speed while in Holly Park was 3mph. This being the case, our driver operated his vehicle in full compliance with our Vehicle Operations Policy.

* In your e-mail, you point out that this vehicle did not utilize a forward-moving aural signal. Your are correct. This vehicle does not yet have the new signaling device installed. Due to the size of our fleet (over 600 pieces of rolling stock), we are installing these new aural signals in vehicles in phases. This particular truck is scheduled to have its aural signal device installed within the next month.

Thank you for your interest in our parks and bringing your concern to our attention. I hope that this additional information is helpful and that you and your family continue to enjoy Holly Park and all of our beautiful San Francisco parks.

Dennis Kern
Director of Operations
SF Recreation & Parks

PHOTOS: Rec and Park vehicle in Holly Park on August 16, 2014, by Roger Solin

Failed Fire Hydrant Creates Huge Waterspout on Bayshore


There was drama, excitement, and significant wetness yesterday afternoon as a fire hydrant on the corner of Bayshore and Cortland transformed itself into a huge waterspout.

Bernal Alumni Noah shared this report (and a very satisfying video) shortly before City officials arrived on the scene:

Was picking up our daughter at gymnastics and saw this. This was approx 3:07 pm at bayshore and cortland.

Let’s roll Noah’s video:

MEDIA: Photo, courtesy of Wanda. Video, courtesy of Alumni Neighbor Noah

Sad and Shameful: Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill Plagued by Vandalism


For those who knew Alex Nieto, the young Bernal resident killed during an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill last spring, the last few months have been unrelentingly sad — and at times, deeply alienating.

Bernalwood recently described how the official investigation into Neighbor Alex’s death seems unlikely to provide much factual insight or emotional closure — ever. Which is horrible. Yet more immediately, the family and friends of Alex Nieto have been infuriated by multiple instances of vandalism targeted at the ad hoc memorial to Alex constructed at the site where he died on the north side of Bernal Hill, just west of the Folsom gate.

(Preemptive Sidebar: In the recent Bernalwood update on the Nieto investigation, some readers were unhappy about the presence of this private memorial on the public land of Bernal Heights Park.  Bernalwood reader Adam K. very graciously and compassionately addressed this by placing the memorial within the Latino tradition of creating temporary memorials to honor those for whom death has come suddenly and unexpectedly. Adam’s comments are consistent with Bernal values in the best possible way, and are highly recommended.)

The first report about vandalism of the Nieto memorial appeared on the Justice for Alex Nieto website on July 13:

We are sad to report that in the past two days the memorial altar to Alex Nieto has been vandalized. Someone first took the banner that said “No Más Violencia de la Policia” (No More Police Violence) and last night, the cross (with his portrait) set close to the site of his death was removed. Alex’s parents —Elvira and Refugio Nieto— tirelessly refresh flowers and maintain the banner and altar. Yesterday, knowing about the mysterious loss of the banner, we gathered with Windsong (a City College student, a Bernal Hill dweller since childhood, and the original designer of the banner) to design another one that we intended to place again today. We suspended any judgement about why the banner disappeared, but with the loss of the cross, it is a clear malicious act.

The damage was quickly repaired, but the memorial was vandalized again on July 22, and yet again on the 23rd. A vigil was started to keep watch over the site, but during a lapse in coverage during the early morning hours of July 26th, the memorial was vandalized a fourth time. The vigils resumed, and with them came a stronger sense of solidarity — and community:

In the wee hours of Friday July 27th, Maria and Adriana [from the Justice and Amor for Alex Nieto Committee] watched the sunrise over the Bay. By 6:30am Refugio Nieto arrived with La Gorda (the 3 year old family blue pitbull.) They drank coffee made by Adriana and chatted and chatted. Harried dogwalkers of all sorts began to roam the hill. La Gorda whined for the other dogs to come visit her, and they often obliged. We began laughing about how everyone, even little old ladies, looked suspicious to us. We have our favorite suspect (one who seemed to be holding a can of spray paint).

There comes a moment during the morning on Bernal, when the stream of dog walkers and joggers becomes continuous and the Memorial is kept by the same life on the hill.

The last weeks on Bernal have been illuminating. We have learned that we have countless of anonymous supporters among the daily walkers on the hill. Even before the vigils began, while we were on the hill repairing the site, pedestrians often stopped to thank us for keeping the Memorial alive: Russell expressed how much he loved the Hill for its diversity and neighborliness, and expressed his sorrow at Alex’s shooting. Homeboy Reynaldo stopped to stay he’d be happy to cover Alex’s Story in cholo magazine. Adriana and Maria even met one of the last people to have seen Alex alive on the hill. (Don’t worry, he already gave his witness statement.) All in all, the more time we spend on the hill, the more people who come around respectfully and curiously to ask us questions and learn about Alex’s Story.

Yet once again, on July 29th, the site was vandalized, as someone removed the photo of Neighbor Alex that hung on the memorial cross.

Last weekend, Justice and Amor for Alex Nieto Committee posted photos and a video of a man whom they believe may be responsible for the vandalism. They seek community input to help identify the alleged vandal.

Yet to anyone who may have defaced the Alex Nieto memorial on Bernal Hill, we would simply say this:



Just stop.

The death of Neighbor Alex Nieto brought immense pain to his family, his friends, and our community. Let the grieving run its course. Let the healing commence. Let it be peaceful, and let it remain undisturbed. Please. Just stop.


ALL PHOTOS: Justice and Amor for Alex Nieto Committee

Car Overturns Under Suspicious Circumstances on Bernal Hill



Drama!  Bad driving! Vehicular inversion! A suspicion of crime! On Bernal Hill!

There was an accident on the north side of Bernal Heights Boulevard late Saturday morning that left a vehicle overturned in a rather unlikely place. Neighbor Benjamin shared his photos, and this report from the scene:

On Saturday at about 11:20 AM, while waiting for the bus at Bradford and Esmeralda, I heard a terrific crash, and went to investigate.  This is what I saw when I arrived.  Witnesses said the four occupants of the car had all run off, which I take to mean they were probably up to no good.  Though on the plus side, that also probably means they were unhurt.  I tuned in to the Bernalwood blog this morning to get the details and was dismayed to find no mention of these events.

No further details on this yet, but Bernalwood will update this post as additional information becomes available.

PHOTOS: Neighbor Benjamin

City May Offer Svanemyr Family $15 Million in Fatal Holly Park Hit and Run Settlement


The Examiner has an update on the tragic case of Christy Svanemyr, the woman who was killed in Holly Park after she was run over by a San Francisco Rec and Park department truck last September. The Examiner says Svanemyr family is pursuing a lawsuit against the City:

San Francisco may be required to pay $15.13 million to the family of the mother who was fatally run over by a municipal pickup truck at Holly Park last year. A Recreation and Park Department gardener, Thomas Burnoski, remains on trial charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection with the hit and run incident.

The pending settlement comes nearly a year after 35-year-old Daly City resident Christine Svanemyr was fatally run over while lying on the grass with her 11-month-old child and small dog in the Bernal Heights park. The child and dog were not injured.

The Recreation and Park Commission on July 17 recommended approval of the proposed $15.13 million settlement of the legal claim filed last year by the victim’s husband, Vegar Svanemyr, according to a Recreation and Park Department official. It would ultimately require approval by the Board of Supervisors.

The Examiner also reports that the felony vehicular manslaughter charges filed against Thomas Burnoski, the Rec and Park employee who was driving the truck that killed Christy Svanemyr, are also underway. A pretrial conference took place earlier this week, and Burnoski is scheduled to return to court on September 4.

PHOTO: Flowers at the site where Christy Svanemyr was killed, photographed on Saturday, Sept 7, 2013 by Telstar Logistics