Experts say trees like the ones in Washington Square Park in San Francisco should be pruned every three to five years, but because of budget constraints, San Francisco is pushing that to 10 to 12 years. Inadequate maintenance combined with rain can be a dangerous combination which is exactly what happened in Bernal Heights.
It was a surprise but not a shock when a tree on the sidewalk outside Patricia Mahoric's backyard gave way. She had been calling the city since May, alerting them that the majestic acacia was dying and needed care. "They not very good about checking it on their own so as a homeowner, I take the responsibility to tell them they need to come and check their tree," Majoric told ABC7 News.
The acacia is one of 40,000 trees the city is responsible for and the Department of Public Works says it should have been reviewed, but there are only three inspectors to do the job because of a budget that's been chipped away as dramatically as the tree itself has. "We have a budget of about $3.4 million for street maintenance in San Francisco. There was just a study that was done by the city that shows really, just to maintain the trees, we need about $25 million. That's a big shortfall right there," spokeswoman Rachel Gordon explained.
Gordon says that in the budget process, maintenance of San Francisco's urban forest is always a low priority. So without enough resources, they are now pushing to turn over the care to more property owners. Back in the 1990s, about 65,000 trees on the sidewalks were transferred from the city to residents like Ray Conrady. "We decided to get rid of it for security reasons actually and it was also getting in the way of the wires overhead," he recalled.
This time around, the option of chopping down the trees is off the table. The city is notifying hundreds of homeowners that they must care for the foliage. Supervisor Scott Wiener says that's not fair and there has to be a better way. "One possibility is to have a parcel tax that would require the city to take back all responsibility for street care maintenance," he said.
Unless a dedicated revenue stream is found, the city plans to turn over some 23,000 trees to property owners within the next seven years.