San Francisco reclaims upkeep of street trees

The responsibility of taking care of San Francisco’s thousands of street trees is now heading back to the Public Works Department.

Former Supervisor Scott Wiener put forth a ballot initiative last November — Proposition E — that handed back the responsibility of street tree maintenance to The City and sets aside $19 million from The City’s budget for tree maintenance work. 79 percent of voters overwhelmingly approved the measure.

Prior to the passing of Proposition E, property owners had been responsible of maintaining approximately 80,000 of the 125,000 street trees, said Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru during a Wednesday press conference in the Noe Valley neighborhood.

With the funding now intact, Public Works launched a new program called “Street Tree SF,” a new street tree maintenance program. Public Works will first prioritize trees in need of immediate attention first, said Nuru.

Some of those trees in need of attention include trees growing on top of electrical wiring, and trees where roots have buckled underneath the sidewalk.

Nuru said after the department works on the high-priority trees, crews will have a more routine schedule on pruning the trees:

“This legislation would allow us to maintain the trees that are in our right-of-way and allow us to do what’s called continued maintenance on a very steady cycle. Those cycles being three to five years, which is very desirable for tree maintenance as opposed to what we’ve had before in excess of 10 years.”

Mayor Ed Lee said there had been “tension” from property owners about tree maintenance during the last few years, including questions from homeowners about who is responsible for maintaining the trees, should they hire an arborist to trim the tree, or what should they do if they receive a notice from Public Works:

“All of that confused and frustrated residents and property owners throughout The City as well as Public Works telling me in more than one ear… that they didn’t have enough resources to take care of the over 125,000 street trees.”

District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy said the maintenance of tree trimming or fixing concrete squares of the sidewalk because of roots of the tree, may be financially burdensome for seniors and those on fixed-income:

“Just from public safety point of view, having the sidewalks smoothed out so your kids don’t trip or seniors don’t trip while they’re walking down the sidewalk is a big deal, but I hear from my constituents who are seniors and or people on fixed-incomes, that the cost of doing this is prohibitive.”

About 31,000 sidewalks are in need of repair because of tree roots busting through the concrete, said City Administrator Naomi Kelly:

“Many years ago I was running and twisted my knee on tree root from a buckled sidewalk.”

Kelly added that it was important for The City have smooth sidewalks not just for those who are active, but also for those in wheelchairs and for seniors.

Property owners can opt out of The City’s tree maintenance program, but only if they agree to maintain the trees and sidewalks according to the standards set by The City.

Residents can report any issues with trees in their neighborhood by contacting SF 311.

After the press conference, a Public Works crew began pruning several trees at the corner of Castro and 23rd streets, which had been growing over electrical wiring.