When city officials hash out the budget at San Francisco City Hall, trees lose out. They lose out to public health, public safety, programs for the homeless. Unless some money some money comes from somewhere, homeowners are going to have to pick up the tab.
San Francisco has about 100,000 street trees. Most of them, about 65,000, are privately maintained by property owners. Some residents, like Lisa Lindelef, have decided on their own to plant trees to soften and beautify the environment. But Lindelef says she's opposed to a new city push that will force her neighbors to take responsibility for something that's always been outside their front door, "I think it is an imposition for people who have inherited a tree."
The job of tree maintenance belongs to the Department of Public Works. But after years of budget cuts, it can't keep up with the recommended cycle for pruning trees in the public right of way, let alone those on the sidewalks.
Supervisor Scott Wiener says the decision to transfer the responsibility of 24,000 trees to homeowners is not the answer, "It makes no sense for us to require property owners to take care of street trees that they may not own, they may not want, they may not know how to take care of, they may not be able to afford to take care of."
Wiener unsuccessfully fought for more funding in the last budget. He says a parcel tax could now be an option. But that might be a hard sell. Resident Kate Smith has already spent thousands planting trees in front of her home, "I think the city does do a good job of keeping their city streets beautiful," Smith said, "but I think it's their problem not ours. I already pay enough taxes."
This is the second time homeowners are being forced to pick up the bill. Thousands of the trees that are now privately maintained were forced on homeowners back in the 90's. But at that time, they could choose to take responsibility or have them cut down. Now no one will be allowed to destroy the city's urban forest. Homeowners do not have an out, "This is something that we are reluctantly taking on, it's not something we want to do, but it's something we need to do unless we can come up with another funding source," said DPW Communications Director Rachel Gordon.
In the meantime, notices are already in the mail.