Market Street palm trees start to do damage


Something unusual is happening on upper Market Street. Forty-nine Canary Island Palm Trees are planted along the median strip. And some of them, no one seems sure exactly how many, are starting to do some damage.

"The roots are lifting up a little of the asphalt, yes," says Carla Short, a DPW arborist.

The roots have outgrown their space and are popping out, buckling the street. The city's Department of Public Works is not sure why.

"Are you calling in a tree doctor?" says ABC7's Carolyn Tyler.
"Palm trees actually are a specialty within the field of arbor culturists so we will be calling in a specialist to help advise us," says Short.

The Market Street trees were part of an ambitious beautification plan after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Between 1989 and 2006, the city spent nearly $2 million planting palms.

Like many projects in San Francisco, it was controversial. Especially the proposal to line the Embarcadero with, what some consider, a symbol of that town to the south.

"No, not palm trees, it's kind of L.A.," says a woman.

"It's too much like Los Angeles. I don't think I'd like that," says a man.

However, as you know the palms won out and now it would be hard to imagine the waterfront without them. In fact many residents love the trees. Neighbors of the new library being constructed in the Richmond District asked for them.

Sixth Street is being transformed from a down and out neighborhood, and palm trees are upgrading its image. In all, 882 palms from nine species are dotting the landscape, paid for by taxpayers.

The non-profit organization Friends of the Urban Forest is not opposed to palms, but says the city could have gotten a more environmental bang for the buck by planting a different type of tree.

"Mostly because you don't have all the leafy matter, the branches that absorb carbon dioxide, and absorb storm water and pollutants from the air and those sorts of things," says Kelly Quirke, from Friends of the Urban Forest.

Quirke says palms generally don't have aggressive roots so he's surprised to hear about the problems on upper Market Street.

It would cost between $20,000 and $30,000 each to replace the trees. DPW says that's not an option and not necessary.

"We are looking at creative ways to preserve the palm trees and fix the roadway, which we are confident we can do," says Short.

No cost estimate for that or timeline.

Copyright © 2023 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.