How do we keep families in San Francisco?

This is a question that confronts many of us who hold elected office as we weigh broad public policy decisions.

To have a healthy, thriving community of residents, we need to make the necessary investments in our schools, our housing, and our transit system in order to make it possible for growing families of all income levels to continue living in San Francisco. What’s also important in a City as unique as ours is having a diverse range of educational opportunities and approaches available to parents.

Case in point, there is a small, mission-driven school by the name of Golden Bridges School that is trying to establish long-term roots in the City. I met Abbie, the co-founder of the school, from an introduction from her father-in-law, with whom I had worked on state-level environmental advocacy[1]. Abbie’s husband, Harris, had been one of the first group of students in Berkeley who went through an edible schoolyard program that Alice Waters had set up to reconnect kids with our food, our land and our environment. This had such a powerful impact on his own life trajectory, and he wanted to share that transformation education experience with other children. Even just meeting Abbie and Harris once, you quickly realize that they are the type of warm hearted, open natured, soft spoken couple you want educating and volunteering with your children.

Golden Bridges is the first school in San Francisco that is totally dedicated to outdoor learning. The school’s teachers provide education that moves beyond the classroom and into outdoor spaces where children can explore, create, and learn about urban farming and find a connection with nature. Children growing up in our tech-focused city and screen-obsessed era are more than ever in need of creating a relationship with the natural environment.

Currently, the school is temporarily housed in two locations: a small church in Diamond Heights and a two bedroom apartment in the Mission. In 2014, the school purchased the site of its proposed new campus at 203 Cotter Street, which has been used as a semi-commercial farm over the past few years. Because of the interest in the outdoor educational philosophy among San Francisco families, and because the school operates on a pay-what-you-can-afford model and caters to a sizeable low income population, Golden Bridges is growing in size. They can no longer stay in their current locations and they will be out of space within the year.

Unfortunately, the school has gotten caught up in the infamous arena of San Francisco land-use politics. Some of the immediate neighbors are totally opposed to the creation of the school. While Golden Bridges campus design preserves more than 70% of the site as open space and has no anticipated impact on the neighborhood’s notoriously insufficient storm water sewer system, some neighbors have indicated an unwillingness to allow the property to become the home of a school of any size.

What should be relatively straightforward — creating an in-demand outdoor school for families of all income levels — now requires folks to mobilize politically in support. It’s San Francisco’s own version of crazy. Although advocating for new schools is not what I do in my day job, as a father of young twins I’ve found myself increasingly absorbed in Golden Bridges’ struggles against a planning system that has lost its sense of proportion. On September 29, the school is scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission for approval of the new K-8 campus. If you want to help this terrific neighborhood school, I hope I’ll see you there. If you can’t make it, please click this link and sign the petition. Turns out that in so many more ways than one expects, it takes a village to educate a child.

The San Francisco Planning Commission meets at 2pm on Thursday September 29th in Room 400. Please arrive at 2pm.

[1] For full disclosure Harris’ father supported my campaign for BART Board.