SF considers bird-friendly building codes

September 13, 2011 3:44:50 PM PDT
San Francisco is pushing an idea some are calling birdbrained. It's a measure to require developers to build bird-friendly structures. City planners say birds are smashing into windows and dying every year.

This sounds like an "only in San Francisco" kind of thing, but it turns out Toronto and Chicago already have it as a law. After a Board of Supervisors hearing on Monday, it is one step closer to being adopted here.

In the old movie classic "The Birds" the animals are attacking people. In real life, they are the victims of what humans have made. Office buildings with transparent or reflective glass windows that are invisible to birds as they fly on their migratory path are a danger to them. Studies, including one from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, show up to a billion birds die throughout North America each year from slamming into buildings.

When asked how many bird deaths he believes occurred in San Francisco each year, Michael Lynes with the Golden Gate Audubon Society said, "Well, we really can't say without conducting a study here, but we know there are several."

Lynes and the Golden Gate Audubon Society is supporting a proposal being debated at City Hall. With some exceptions, it would require primarily the lower 60 feet of any new building, those being renovated, those near the water or green space, to have design elements that prevent or minimize bird collisions. For example, San Francisco's new Federal Building has screens that shroud its massive glass façade; other solutions could be frosted panes or netting.

"This glass has an ultraviolet pattern that birds can see, but it is virtually invisible to humans," said AnMarie Rodgers from the San Francisco Planning Department.

In July, the city's planning commission voted 5 to1 in favor of new building codes. Michael Antonini was the lone opponent who thinks this proposal is well, for the birds, especially since he's never seen a casualty.

"You'd think if it was a serious problem, you'd see a few of them on the ground once in awhile," said Antonini.

And he says with no hard data on bird strikes in San Francisco, this is a solution in search of a problem.

"This is what we're famous for," said Antonini.

The city's architects are also concerned.

"Unfortunately, some of the products being recommended right now by the Planning Department, are simply unavailable or are incredibly expensive," said Margie O'Driscoll from the American Institute of Architects.

Some developers are already making design alterations. The new Exploratorium which is being built along the Embarcadero features changes to protect birds flying along the bay. All ABC7's cameras saw Monday were pigeons and seagulls, but the Audubon Society assures us there are hundreds of species that make their way through the city.

"It's not about being a nanny state, it's about being responsible for the impacts we have on the environment," said Lynes.

The Planning Department says it has gotten more than 2,000 comments from the public and most of them are favorable to this idea. The full Board of Supervisors is expected to take a vote next week.

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