We are residents of Folsom Street in the Mission District of San Francisco who love the beautiful Chinese Elm trees that line our street and lead up to the open public park space on Bernal Hill. We object to the proposed transfer of street tree maintenance responsibility from DPW to local citizens. We fear that this transfer will put the trees and public health at risk.
The mature Chinese Elms that grow to 50 feet in height and 30-40 feet in diameter are a defining characteristic of Folsom street. These street trees are a public resource that should not be put in the hands of untrained citizens who lack the resources and expertise to properly take care of them. We believe that this plan is bad public policy that will put the trees and the community at risk.
Financing San Francisco's Urban Forest, a 2012 report prepared for the DPW, shows that this is bad policy. That report clearly explains that transferring maintenance responsibility to private citizens will undermine the health of the urban forest. It points out that the DPW is best equipped through economies of scale to more effectively maintain the city’s trees. The DPW’s report tells us that transferring maintenance responsibility to untrained property owners will inflate individual costs and lead to neglect and poor tree health. This will increase the risk of tree limbs falling and causing damage to property and life. Drought only exacerbates this risk. The DPW does not discuss that this plan makes property owners liable for public safety and damage caused by the street trees that the DPW planted. Meanwhile, the DPW continues to plant new trees it will not care for.
According to the SF Urban Forest Plan, the urban forest is a common resource that benefits the entire city in many ways. Trees divert 516,000,000 gallons of water from the city's sewer system every year. They cool the city, clean the air, sequester carbon and help save energy. All of this saves the city money and benefits quality of life. The DPW claims that this plan is designed to "standardize maintenance responsibility" but it will do little to standardize the quality of that maintenance. In fact, published analysis on behalf of the DPW and the SF Planning Department says that this plan will harm the urban forest, a very precious resource that must be safeguarded for present and future generations.
This relinquishment of responsibility plan is based on a context that no longer exists. This tree transfer plan is the result of the city de-funding tree maintenance budgets while it simultaneously asks DPW to plant more trees. This plan was made several years ago when city budgetary constraints arose due to the financial crisis. Now that the city’s tax base is healthier than ever, it no longer makes sense to compromise the well being of such a precious public asset. In today’s context, this is shortsighted planning that has little to do with current reality.