EXCLUSIVE: Small SF bakery slapped with $4500 fine for pruning trees in effort to make street safer

"Without warning that's a little too much for a small business owner," he said. "I didn't know pruning is illegal."

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022
EXCLUSIVE: Small SF bakery hit with big fine for pruning trees
A small San Francisco business owner's good intentions to help make the neighborhood safer ended up leaving him with a huge bill.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A small San Francisco business has been hit with a big fine for trimming trees that the business owner claims were posing a danger to customers and his community.

For the past 30-years, owner of Ambrosia Bakery Keith Truong along Ocean Avenue has been making his signature pastries and cakes. He points to a green domed confection and a white cake with chocolate shavings he calls the "Fantasia."

"This is my creation and one of a kind!" Truong beams. "This business has to do with passion and if you don't have that, it's not going to last you long."

While Truong worked six days a week for almost the entire pandemic, he noticed a problem outside.

"Nobody was taking care of the trees, it was overgrown," says Truong before showing a photo of the two trees outside his building.

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The bushy leaves and overgrown branches, according to Truong and other business owners, were blocking a giant stop sign.

"It's very, very dangerous," says Truong.

It's a sentiment echoed by Kath Tsakalakis, president of the Lakeside Village Business Council.

"People were getting hit in the crosswalk and many, many near misses," says Tasakalakis, who has been corresponding with the San Francisco Department of Public Works for the past two years. She says for months, there was no specific date for when the trees would be pruned.

So Truong, desperate to keep his customers and neighborhood safe, took matters into his own hands.

"I had a gardener prune these trees. We used our own money, about $550."

Shortly after, Truong was hit with a $4,500 fine.

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"Without warning that's a little too much for a small business owner. I didn't know pruning is illegal."

The department of public works tells ABC7, they are responsible for 125,000 trees across the city. An inspector was sent out to Ocean Avenue, but deemed the growth on the trees outside of Ambrosia Bakery not egregious enough to warrant immediate pruning.

"There might have been some partial coverage of the stop sign but it wasn't completely covered. There was also writing on the sidewalk to stop. We made the determination it wasn't urgent and that it could wait until scheduled pruning this year," says DPW spokesperson Rachel Gordon said.

She also continued to say the trees were incorrectly pruned and could be "damaged beyond repair."

A Change.org petition started by Tsakalakis now has more than 1,500 signatures, calling for the city to revoke the fine.

"That's amazing," says Truong. "I have so much support from neighbors and customers as well. I'd like to thank them for that."

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A hearing with the DPW is scheduled for next month-and if Truong takes a tree class, the fine can be reduced.

"My intention was to help the customers. Not sabotage the trees. I love trees and I love gardening," says Truong.

He and Tsakalakis hope this experience will result in more communication and plans between DPW and the community going forward.