“S.F. homeowners pine for sane tree policy”

by Walter Olson on May 11, 2013

First the city of San Francisco decided that homeowners were responsible for pruning and otherwise maintaining the municipally planted trees on the sidewalks in from of their homes. Now it’s hitting them with big fines for doing it improperly. [San Francisco Chronicle via Amy Alkon]

{ 11 comments }

1 Richard Nieporent 05.11.13 at 4:27 pm

Two years ago, San Francisco began turning over responsibility for sidewalk tree care to residents to save money.

And no, this isn’t a case of the city trying to wring every possible dollar out of residents.

Doesn’t the writer know that he just contradicted himself?

This whole transfer idea was undertaken with the greatest reluctance,” says Carla Short, the city’s urban forester. “If there were some kind of dedicated, long-term way to provide care, that is absolutely our preference.”

I know. I know. Let’s increase taxes.

Wiener would like to pass a parcel tax that would create a city fund to care for all trees.

And, who pray tell, is going to have to pay this tax?

2 Bill Poser 05.12.13 at 12:08 am

I’m curious about the legal basis for making home owners responsible for something that is not part of their property and and was not imposed by their purchase contract. Is this not involuntary servitude? If the city can do this, why can’t it demand that all residents spend so many hours per month repairing municipal buildings?

3 Mark Biggar 05.12.13 at 12:21 am

SF should do an Indulgence system.

4 Canvasback 05.12.13 at 12:52 am

Once again, we don’t get the names of the bureaucrats in charge. We get the Supervisor’s name, and the urban forester’s name, but not the names of the people who levied the fine. I noticed the same thing in the HUD impasse in Westchester County, NY about alleged racial discrimination. Who is making the claim? I say out them, and have them defend their decisions in public.

5 John Burgess 05.12.13 at 8:17 am

@Bill Poser… it’s much the same in the District of Columbia. Land plots in most of the older neighborhoods show that the putative owners actually own only the land beneath the structure. Perhaps they own a bit of land outside it, but never to the extent of a ‘yard’. Yet the owners are responsible for maintaining the yards and the trees that grow on them.

I learned this expensively in trying to maintain a corner lot on Capitol Hill that was graced with two American Elms and a third on the tree belt. The one on the belt finally succumbed to Dutch Elm Blight and the city did take it down at city expense. Had it fallen, it would have obstructed the street.

The ones in the yard, though, were mine to care for, but not mine to take down or sell. So was the grass to be cut, the hedges trimmed. And when a sport mulberry tree destroyed a retaining wall at the back of the city/my property, replacing the wall was at my expense. The midnight disappearance of that mulberry tree somehow just happened. Gnomes, perhaps.

6 Bill 05.12.13 at 10:38 am

This is pretty common, at least in California. We lived in San Jose for many years, and the theory was that you owned the trees and the sidewalk, but the city had an easement that let them control both.

The city had specified which species of trees could be planted, required a specified number, and absolutely blew it by picking (in our area) varieties with spreading surface roots that absolutely destroyed the sidewalks and curbs. They shifted from repairing both in the early 90′s to dumping it on the homeowner.

And if one of the trees died, you had to replace it, again with a variety acceptable to the bureaucracy. Nothing new here. But it’s another abuse of power.

7 MattS 05.13.13 at 1:50 pm

“Wiener would like to pass a parcel tax that would create a city fund to care for all trees.”

Doesn’t this exist already under the name “property tax”?

8 mojo 05.13.13 at 4:11 pm

Just cut it down. One fine, instead of many.

9 gitarcarver 05.13.13 at 5:18 pm

Oh c’mon!

This is a great program and idea. It is a win for the city because they are no longer in the tree pruning business and without any any agreement with home owners, got to dump that maintenance on the home owners.

It is a win for the city because of all the regulations on how the trees have to be trimmed, the city will collect more in business taxes from the oodles of new tree trimming companies that will pop up to handle the demand.

It is a win for the city because the tree trimming companies will need to hire people, thus putting more people to work which means more taxes collected.

It is a win for the tree trimming companies as they get more work.

So it is a win for everyone!

(Although I keep thinking that someone is going to have to pay for all this and therefore be a loser in this deal, but I can’t figure who that would be. (sarcasm off) )

10 Robert 05.14.13 at 12:00 am

SF gets the government it deserves!

I live 40 miles south of it, and it’s been YEARS since I’ve set foot in it.

I feel much safer in Moscow and Sao Palo.

11 DensityDuck 05.14.13 at 8:37 pm

Trees that are pruned properly look good and grow well.

On the other hand, there’s “EZ-Kuts Tree Kare”, which consists of one white guy who drives the truck. He picks up Manuel and Jorge at the nearest Home Depot, drops them at your place, hands them chainsaws, and tells them “I’ll be back in dose hours, el no a you siesta”. That’s how you get a tree that looks like a phone pole with warts. But hey, he had the biggest flashiest ad in the phone book, and he promised that he had the cheapest rates in town, and they just said PRUNE the tree, not prune it GOOD, if they want it good they can pay for it themselves.

And, actually, that last isn’t a bad idea. I’d be okay with telling homeowners “it’s your tree, do what you want”. Unfortunately the city can’t seem to let itself give up that little bit of control, which is typical of local municipal governments. If they had the chance they’d legislate how long your hair could be.

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