The Guild Report:  
Tree Maintenance in San Francisco -
it could be in your future   
September 2012 
In This Issue
Point of View
Street Tree Maintenance

Point of View  
With Employee Owner
Jose Ramos
Project Foreman, Construction Division   


"I've been in this industry for just about thirty years.  What I love most about it - is that it changes every day.  Every job is a challenge and it's that challenge that keeps me going.  I love the details."
Jose has been with Gardeners' Guild since 1989. He has an instrumental role in completing large and complicated residential and commercial projects.     



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Our cities have been hit hard by the economy over the last several years. In particular, it has impacted San Francisco's commitment to "greening" its city. Daunted by increasing budget cuts resulting in less dollars to maintain its street trees, something had to give.  


In July of 2011, as $300,000 was cut from the city's tree care budget, the Department of Public Works' solution was to transfer street tree maintenance responsibility to property owners - over a seven year period.  

The proposal spurred controversy.  Supporters believe this could result in improved tree care.  Opponents, including the Urban Forestry Council, believe the shift of responsibility is "harmful for the long term viability of of the City and County of San Francisco" - said a representative of the Council.  
Most recently, opponent Supervisor Scott Wiener has requested a hearing so that he can present an alternative plan.

Nonetheless, the process has begun.  We think it's possible that some property owners or managers may not be aware of it, so we are passing on what we know in hopes that it can help.


All the best,
Suzanne Harris

San Francisco Street Tree Care Debate


A Snapshot of San Francisco's Recent Greening Initiatives
An initiative called "Trees for Tomorrow" launched by former Mayor Gavin Newsom expanded the city's urban forest.  Approximately 26,000 trees were planted over the last five years as part of the program.  Although it was an impressive achievement, San Francisco still falls short of the greening standards of other major urban centers.  The city's canopy cover (a measurement of how much of the city is shaded by trees) is only 12 percent, approximately half of New York City.   


Rationale for Transitioning Tree Care Responsibility 

The Department of Public Works (DPW) has had jurisdiction over all trees in the public right-of-way. (About 40,000). Until now their responsibility has included planning, planting, maintenance and removal.


Normally, a tree pruning cycle is every three to five years.  Funding cuts have deferred this pruning to every ten to twelve years.  Diminishing resources are a signal that this cycle will double and triple.  This threatens the health of trees, as well as the safety of pedestrians and property.   


Hence, a stopgap measure.  Not ideal, but the city says it will save them about $300,000 this year. 


The Details

How it works: 

over a seven year period tree maintenance of public right-of-way trees, located on private property will be transferred to property owners incrementally.


What will happen:

DPW to provide property owners a notice that includes packets with recommendations for tree care, protection and a copy of the urban forestry ordinance.


When it will happen: 

Each fiscal year starting with 2011 until 2018, an average of 3,000 trees will be transferred to its respective property owner 


Transfer protocol:

Each tree will be inspected and must be certified healthy before being relinquished.  The city pays for any remedial tree work.   


Opponents' Point of View

The opposition makes some good points:

Property owners may not be knowledgeable about tree care.  The had no say in the decision to plant the trees.   


Resistance by owners to this new responsibility is gathering steam.        

Supervisor  Scott Weiner thinks the solution drafted by DPW is unacceptable and says, "we need to find a sustainable funding source for our urban forest."  He suggests asking voters to approve a small parcel tax which would cost a property owner about $60-$90 annually and in exchange the city would take back responsibility for the trees.   


We will continue to follow this issue and provide updates on our blog:


Sources for this article include:  Department of Public Works, San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner.     


San Francisco in 1806

The thousands of trees that line the streets of San Francisco are not native.  As seen in the 1806 drawing below - there were no visible trees then.  Much of the city's urban forest has its origins in  planting efforts from the period of 1865 to 1925.  Almost all were planted by entrepreneurs, the military and citizens who recognized that they would make the city more liveable.  



Above:  San Francisco circa 1806.
Drawing by expedition artist von Langsdorff
von Landsdorff was one of the earliest artist explorers of the California coast. 
Photo courtesy of the Bancroft Library