Nov 18

Palega Recreation Center Opening a Success!

Well we had an absolute blast at the park this weekend. There was a massive turn out and lots of activities and the park has been busy over the weekend since. Thanks to everyone who turned up and also those who worked very hard to put on the events for the opening ceremony.


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Nov 18

Youth Tennis Advantage Scholar Athlete Program


In the southwest corner of the Portola (intersection of Mansell and University) there are three sets of tennis courts in McLaren Park.  There you will find adults engaged in competitive tennis matches, older Chinese people practicing Tai Chi, and even people training their dogs.  But on Monday through Friday from 4-6 pm (or 3:30 until dark during daylight savings time) on the upper and lower courts you will see kids ranging in age from 7-18 being introduced to tennis (and for those more experienced, getting help perfecting their game) through the Youth Tennis Advantage Scholar Athlete Program or YTA.

When we moved to the Portola one of the things I was most excited about was our proximity to McLaren park.  Not having been a city person prior to life in San Francisco, the hikes through the park were a fresh breath to my soul.  On one of these hikes we stumbled across kids playing tennis at McLaren, and I paused to carefully read the surrounding signs about this program.  In reading the signs, I learned about YTA, which I’ve come to regard as a secret treasure of our city.  The program officially starts at age seven, but my son was six at the time, so we spent the next few months anxiously counting down days before he could join.

YTA has four Bay area locations, and Portola is lucky enough to have one of them directed by Wing-Yan So, who is also the academic director, while the kids are coached by Coaches John Savoy and Carl Mendoza.  Wing-Yan purposely knows each of the kids and their level of play and accordingly offers opportunities for further growth through tournaments and leagues throughout the year.  There is no pressure, though.  If kids just want to practice, that’s just fine.

Did you notice the Scholar part of the title?  YTA wants kids of all economic backgrounds to have access to tennis, but also helps any kids who need help with homework during that 2 hour time period.  Wing-Yan, as the academic director, provides tutoring during this time free of charge.


Coach John, who has been with YTA since the early 90s, is the coach for the beginners.  His personality is caring and quirky, and the kids love him!  In fact, my son was invited to move up to the upper level of the tennis program, but he held off for months, because he enjoyed Coach John’s leadership so much.  Though now thriving in the upper level, he still on occasion mentions missing Coach John, and my 7 year old daughter giggles endlessly at his jokes and silliness.

Coach Carl, who leads the upper level, has been coaching tennis for over 25 years in different organizations.  He is a wealth of knowledge of the San Francisco tennis scene and tells me that YTA has had the top youth tennis players coming out of their program for years.  Even Lowell High School sends their tennis players to YTA during their off season.  One of the things I love about the upper level tennis program is the culture of scaling.  My son is the youngest kid out there, so at a nine years old he is a novice compared to the high schoolers he plays with.  Yet, the more experienced kids seem to naturally scale their level of play to a level that challenges their younger counterparts but doesn’t crush them.

While YTA has been around since the early 2000’s, the program’s history is much older.  It came out of a merger of Youth Tennis Foundation, which goes back to the 1950‘s, and National Junior Tennis League of San Francisco (NJTL), which goes back to the 1970’s.

One of the best things about the program is that it is only $25 per year.  Yep, you read that correctly!  Craziness, right?!  Even if your child only participates once a month, it is totally worth that price.  In addition, they are very laid back.  Kids are welcome to come try out the program before ever paying for it.  Also, while officially the program is open to kids starting at age 7, they do allow kids younger to participate at the coaches’ discretion.  It is also not uncommon for some parents to get out there and learn with their kids.

I’m a bit nosy, so of course I was wondering who pays for all this being that this isn’t a program out of Parks and Rec.  I asked Wing-Yan and she said, “We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Our funds to run this program comes from grants, donations, and from fund-raising events we have throughout the years. One of our major fund-raisers is our annual Bank of West Dinner, and this is where we raise a good amount of our funds to run our programs. Furthermore, most of the equipment we have such as tennis balls, racquets, etc. were donated by various tennis clubs, local businesses, individuals, and coaches from the YTA such as Carl Mendoza and Thomas White.”

If you have kids, I recommend trying it out and seeing if this “secret treasure” is a good fit for your family!

If you want more information, check out their website at

Mary Carter Keel lives with her husband Brad and two kids on an absurdly steep hill in a part of Portola she affectionately calls Portola Heights.  As a mom who educates her kids at home and runs a small business, she loves YTA mostly for tennis, but also a little for the two hours a day of alone time it gives her.

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Nov 05

Palega Recreation Center Opening Ceremony Update

PalegaOpeningFlyerTwo weeks left! Saturday 16th November and we will finally have our wonderful park and recreation center back in the hands of our local citizens. The Portola Planet HQ was host this weekend to a meeting of the Parks and Rec public relations team, the staff people who will be running the new center, the Portola Neighborhood Association and the newly formed Community Recreation Council who are working with the Parks and Rec department to address the needs and concerns of the neighborhood in relation to the park.

The meeting discussed the agenda for the opening ceremony, who’s going to be there, what activities will be planned. Parks and Rec told us they will have demonstrations of the basketball, martial arts and other sporting programs they intend to run at the center. There is also going to be music and we are hoping that a local breakdance group will be putting on a show.

The whole event is going to kick off at 11am and the organized activities will run through to 1pm. However the park will remain open till at least 4pm to let people have fun exploring all the new areas. So please, tell your neighbors and turn up on Saturday. The Planet will be there kicking some soccer balls around with our younger members of staff!

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The meeting ended with a tour around the new center, and boy does it look fantastic. We spoke to Dwayne Watts, the manager of the center, and he commented how much more light was in the center and how less depressing it looks. The interior was so worn and old before, the new gym floor and the fresh paint all over has brought a wonderful new positive air.

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Nov 04

DPW wants to help bring sidewalk landscaping to the Portola

The Portola Garden Tour is an annual event in our neighborhood that show cases some of the wonderful private and public gardens that exist in our neighborhood. Take a look at the beautiful pictures the Planet captured from this years event. Inspired by some of these gardens, the HQ for the Planet decided to improve the garden space that existed at the front of our property and in doing some research we stumbled upon a really great city project to bring garden landscapes to the sidewalks of San Francisco.

The idea is that the city helps people through the permit process, the creating and maintaining of simple sidewalk gardens. The benefits are improved aesthetic to our city and also it aids with the ongoing challenge of diverting storm water away from our aging sewer system. If any neighborhood in the city should have well landscaped sidewalks, it’s the one with a history of gardening like ours. We contacted DPW for more information and found that a great example of this project, over in Noe Valley, was actually installed and is maintained by one of our own Portolans, Rae Van Heirseele. You can see pictures of her creation below.


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The San Francisco School in the Portola have also demonstrated this program can have some superb results. Just look at the attractive results along the front of their school.


Image copyright Google Maps/Street View

There are also 5 really good videos on YouTube which we’ve embedded for you below to view. We think this is an excellent idea and it would be great to see our green fingered neighbors to spill their talents onto the street. You can find more about the program at the DPW website.

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Nov 01

Help us convince SFPUC to retain a piece of Portola history


Last month we reported on the Upper Yosemite Creek daylighting project the SFPUC is planning for the Portola. Part of this project had local Portolans excited because there was an opportunity for SFPUC to extend the creek into an area of ground that is the last remaining evidence of nurseries in the Portola. For those of you not familiar with the history of the Portola, there used to be around 19 nurseries in our neighborhood that would grow flowers. SF Curbed did a great article on this history of the last remaining plot, which used to grow roses.

So driven by the possibility that SFPUC funds could be used to save this area of land from a massive housing development, there is a petition asking for support to use the land in a manner that reflects the history and provides an open space for residents to use. When the leader of the SFPUC project was asked how this land could be used, he said they could integrate the daylighting of the creek with education resources and a public park. I think many of us would agree this would be a more desired use of our land in our neighborhood.

The Portola Planet is fully behind this idea and if you also want to improve the quality of our neighborhood, please sign up right here… Below is the letter the petition is sending to the SFPUC.

To: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Sewer System Improvement Program, Upper Yosemite Creek Daylighting Project

For seventy years, commercial greenhouses characterized the vibrant urban-agricultural heritage of the Portola, once known to all as “San Francisco’s Garden.” Today, the neighborhood still prides itself on being San Francisco’s “Garden District,” yet the University Mound Greenhouses, built in 1922, are the last of its greenhouses.
We, the undersigned, who have a deep interest in the historic…

For seventy years, commercial greenhouses characterized the vibrant urban-agricultural heritage of the Portola, once known to all as “San Francisco’s Garden.” Today, the neighborhood still prides itself on being San Francisco’s “Garden District,” yet the University Mound Greenhouses, built in 1922, are the last of its greenhouses.

We, the undersigned, who have a deep interest in the historic University Mound Greenhouse property, seek the San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s support for a design for the Yosemite Creek Daylighting Project that includes acquisition, for development as a community asset. Inclusion of the property in PUC’s design will help meet four priorities of the neighborhood: urban agriculture, self-sufficiency, leadership, and blight removal.

Sincerely, [Your name]

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Oct 31

Happy Halloween in the Portola!

Just counting our candy from a very productive evening. Thanks to everyone who helped setup the yearly haunt at the University Mound home, where much candy is handed out amongst games. Then everyone trekked around the corner to Princeton Treat, where not only more candy was offered, but we found an unfortunate fellow caught underneath his own garage door!

Happy Halloween everyone…


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Oct 21

Palega Recreation Center Re-opening Ceremony on the 16th November


Finally, after a few months of delays, the Palega Recreation Center is soon to reopen. The date has been set for Saturday the 16th November between 11am and 1pm. There is a committee from the neighborhood setting up an opening ceremony, and as soon as we know more, we will update here on the Portola Planet.

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Oct 17

Kids Rock Bands hit McLaren Park this Saturday

Phew, it seems like every weekend in McLaren Park there is something great going on. This Saturday is the continuation of the free music events taking place at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater. This time round it’s the kids playing. Several young bands from around San Francisco will put on a two hour show of classic rock and popular tunes!


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