SF makes it easier to remove ficus trees

Carolyn Tyler Image
ByCarolyn Tyler KGO logo
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Fallen ficus trees in SF
A large portion of a ficus tree fell on a cab at Oak and Broderick streets in San Francisco Sunday.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Often when it rains, there are reports of ficus trees falling in San Francisco. The city now has decided to relax the rules to make it easier to remove ficus trees.

A large portion of a ficus tree at Oak and Broderick streets fell on a cab Sunday. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Last month a man was injured when a ficus toppled, pinning him in the branches. Incidents like these over the years have convinced the city to change what has been a conservative approach for removal.

"If the tree is healthy and sustainable, we would typically not grant a removal permit. In this case, we recognize that while these trees are healthy, they are structurally compromised," said Public Works arborist Carla Short.

The city has given property owners responsibility for at least 1,200 ficus trees in front of their homes. Most of them were planted decades ago and are top heavy and weak. Now as those trees increasingly begin to topple, the rules have been relaxed for those who want permission to get rid of them.

New guidelines include trees that are at least 50 feet tall, have two or more trunks, or are near streetlights or power lines. A permit is not guaranteed but approval is more likely.

"Removing those trees will be a challenge for us but public safety is our paramount concern." said Short.

The nonprofit Friends of the Urban Forest has been working with the city to find a suitable alternative for the ficus which makes up a significant portion of San Francisco's trees.

"We think of the importance of low water, of reducing wind speed in San Francisco and tolerant of microclimates we have," said Doug Wildman of Friends of the Urban Forest.

The removal permit will cost $339 and any ficus removed has to be replaced with another species.