SF Takes Over Tree Trimming Duties, Launches City-Wide Program (PHOTO)
(BANT) – San Francisco officials Wednesday launched a full maintenance program to care for the more than 120,000 trees that line city streets, but said it could take several years to catch up on a backlog of pruning.
The Street Tree SF program is the result of Proposition E, a ballot initiative approved by nearly 80 percent of voters last November.
That measure called for the city to take over the maintenance of all street trees from private property owners, and created a fund of $19 million a year to pay for tree trimming and the repair of tree-related sidewalk damage.
Mohammed Nuru, director of public works, said city crews and private contractors will be out on city streets over the next few months tackling the highest priority trees– those posing safety hazards, causing structural problems or obstructing overheads wires, traffic signs and signals or traffic flow.
Nuru said it could take anywhere from three to five years for the city to get fully caught up on tree trimming, given the backlog, before it can establish a regular cycle of maintenance.
“Then we’ll be on a regular routine, so tree maintenance will be like street cleaning,” Nuru said. “You will know what day we are coming, we will post and inform all the neighbors, and crews will come through and do all the trees.”
Proposition E was the result of years of complaints from property owners, who were until recently held legally responsible for the cost of maintaining street trees. If they did not do the work themselves, they could be billed by public works for the cost of arborists, tree trimmers and even the repair of sidewalks damaged by tree roots.
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy said getting a tree trimmed could cost at least $500, and repairing sidewalks several thousand dollars.
“I hear from seniors and those living on a fixed income that the cost is prohibitive. It puts costs on people who can’t afford it,” Sheehy said. “It also disincentivizes people from planting trees.”
Advocates such as Friends of the Urban Forest, meanwhile, were pushing for the city to plant and maintain more trees, while public works officials said they simply did not have the resources to manage the task.
“Thanks to the overwhelming support of San Francisco voters, we now have the sustainable funding necessary to take care of our street trees,” Mayor Ed Lee said. “We now can realize the full potential of a health, well maintained urban forest.”
Property owners will still have the option of opting out of the city program and caring for their own street trees, officials said.
More information on the street tree maintenance program can be found at www.sfpublicworks.org.