In March, Mayor Ed Lee held a ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of Charlie Starbuck, a San Francisco citizen who has single-handedly planted over 7,000 trees in the city over the past 30 years. Lee honoring Starbuck’s commitment to the greening of San Francisco was a move that only a Captain Planet villain could hate. But with a proposal to change who’s responsible many of San Francisco’s trees, angry and confused residents are suggesting Mayor Lee might be displaying positively Zarm-like behavior.
In the face of an over $100 million shortfall, Lee is attempting to shave $600,000 from the city budget and one of his plans is pushing the responsibility of caring for two-thirds of San Francisco’s 38,559 city-maintained street trees onto individual property owners.
Under this plan, home or business owners whose properties neighbor one of the trees will be tasked with pruning the trees, caring for them when they’re sick or distressed and paying to repair any sidewalk damage caused by their roots.
While the majority of San Francisco’s over 100,000 street trees are already maintained by individual property owners, this change (which is part of an eventual plan to get the maintenance cost for virtually all street trees off the city’s books) has drawn widespread criticism. At a recent Board of Supervisors committee meeting, outraged members of the public blasted city officials about having to shoulder the cost.
“Property owners are not going to take care of these trees when they were told that when they were planted that DPW was going to be responsible for them,” Richmond resident Cheryl Schultz told board members.
The proposed plan has has been met with nearly universal condemnation–at the meeting, only public officials spoke in its support.
“It’s not too far-fetched to think that many of these transferred trees will suffer or die,” argued an editorial in the Chronicle.
“That’s because limbs and branches will be neglected by property owners unaccustomed, unwilling or unable to care for them. Small trees may be easy to care for, but bigger trees take more work and professional attention.”
Friends of the Urban Forest have also expressed concerns, saying that “at a time when our urban forest already lags behind that of other cities, this plan sends San Francisco in the wrong direction!”
In addition to public anger, the whole issue has sparked a great deal on confusion among local residents as to exactly which trees they will be expected to care for.
For example, the Richmond SF Blog reported that the 2,000 trees DPW planted on and around Anza, Balboa and Cabrillo Streets in the Richmond in 2009 would be moved out of the city’s purview.
However, a DPW official confirmed to the Appeal that because those trees were planted as part of the city’s Trees For Tomorrow program, they would remain the city’s responsibility.
As a result of the scale and intensity of the public outcry, supervisors pledged to work on finding money elsewhere in the budget to hopefully avoid passing the cost of the trees over to residents.