Opinion: Trees Are a Real Threat to The City

May 18, 2022

San Francisco residents passed Proposition E, which became effective July 1, 2017. The proposition transfers back responsibility from private property owners to the City of San Francisco to care for and maintain street trees as well as the surrounding sidewalks that may be damaged from the tree roots. Unfortunately, the city has once again has failed to deliver on the necessary maintenance services to keep our trees properly trimmed, but more importantly safe.

Throughout San Francisco you’ll see overgrown trees with limbs growing into clearly hazardous electrical lines and PG&E’s high voltage transformers.

All it takes is one tree to catch fire and we’d see serious consequences that could involve someone’s life. I’ve seen many trees so overgrown that they are leaning against and blocking important safety signage. Sidewalks are buckling and can lead to serious safety issues.

The City does offer a calendar that enables property owners to see when their trees are scheduled for trimming. One of my clients has a retail building with a tree leaning against his building. He recently went on the website to schedule a trim and couldn’t find availability sooner than 2023.

What has worked with this new law is the City’s ability to tax us for illegally trimming our trees. A small bakery on Ocean Avenue made the mistake of trimming their tree and was fined $4,600. My own mother who is 90 years old and nearly blind decided to trim her tree professionally, not knowing that the city was responsible and was fined $2,500.00.

San Francisco does allow you to trim your own trees, but it must be done to their specific standards which seems to vary depending on what the tree trimmers believe and what the city allows which once again creates a bureaucratic “rat hole.”

My mother was required to attend a court hearing over Zoom, as this was during the pandemic, where she apologized and promised she would never trim her tree again.  They fortunately waived her fee but required her to attend a tree education class instead. (Eventually this was waived as well.)

How can the city penalize our citizens to these excessive amounts and not properly take care of what they are responsible for? Seems like the city should be penalized the same way. Clearly, they need to go to their own tree education class themselves.

Do we really have to wait for a major fire to occur, or an overgrown tree to fall on someone, or someone getting severely injured tripping on broken concrete before the trees are maintained?

We all can be more vocal with our city leaders and ask them to take trimming our trees more seriously.  This is not a cosmetic issue; this is a real safety issue, and it needs to be addressed now.

Image via Pexels


Written by: Hans Hansson

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Hans Hansson is President of Starboard Commercial Real Estate. Hans has been an active broker for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in office leasing and investments. If you have any questions or comments please email [email protected] or call him at (415) 765-6897. You may also check out his website, https://www.hanshansson.com