Did Moving Rare Franciscan Manzanita Actually Cost City Any Money?

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© California Academy of Sciences
Who picked up the check?
Yesterday we noted that the $175,000 cost cited by the Chronicle for moving the only known wild Franciscan Manzanita out of the path of the Doyle Drive highway project was more than twice the price tag we were told in January.

Our numerous calls to San Francisco County Transportation Authority executives were not returned. But Molly Graham, the SFCTA's spokeswoman for the Doyle Drive project, did return our calls -- and, presumably, the execs returned hers. Graham noted that the price tag of $65,000 to $80,000 reported in January only included the actual cost of unearthing the massive bush -- the first Franciscan Manzanita anyone had seen in the wild for more than 60 years. When you added in the cost of a week's preparation, DNA testing, law enforcement officials blockading the highway, etc. you start spending some real money.

So, dollars were spent. But did San Francisco spend any money, as the Chron article repeatedly stated? Considering the funding for the controversial $1.4 billion Doyle Drive project originates from no fewer than 17 different pools, that's a remarkably difficult question. It can apparently be answered in two ways: A. No. B. Not really.

The easier answer is "no." The funds utilized for "environmental mitigation" were invoiced by Caltrans to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the overarching body planning and funding transportation endeavors in the nine Bay Area counties. (If you want to split hairs, however, San Francisco is, of course, one of those nine counties, and the MTC does both give money to and take it from our fair city.) 

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Wild Equity Institute
Not extinct, but not cheap...
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is one of the 17 funding sources for the Doyle Drive project -- though it didn't ostensibly commit any money to moving the manzanita. Even if it had, however, that cost would have just been part of the SFCTA's prior commitment to the project. To put it another way, the SFCTA is on the hook for a certain dollar amount -- how much, Graham couldn't tell us at the moment -- and that's how much it will pay, whether that money is used for moving a plant, paying workers, or buying new neon vests for everyone. Transporting the Franciscan Manzanita, then, was "a project expense" paid for out of project funds and not any outside fund-raising or allocations. 

"This money isn't coming from the city of San Francisco's coffers," Graham insists. 

And while $175,000 ain't nothing -- and Caltrans has additionally committed to an estimated 10-year, $65,000 commitment to caring for the Franciscan Manzanita in its undisclosed new location -- it's downright cheap in terms of how much it costs to build a highway. If environmental groups had chosen to file suit or call for an environmental review of the Doyle Drive project over the manzanita, the costs would have added up rapidly. The SFCTA has estimated that every day the Doyle Drive project is delayed would cost taxpayers $50,000 in escalation costs -- and construction was not delayed even one day due to the manzanita.

Apparently, uncontroversial multi-agency expenditures are also an endangered species. 

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