Rules on street-tree maintenance may toughen 

The City wants to heighten its greening requirements for property owners, which could lead to more vibrant street trees in San Francisco and parking lots screened in with ornamental fencing.

Property owners in San Francisco not only must ensure sidewalks along their properties are in good condition — they also must maintain nearby street trees. And those requirements could become tougher.

The proposed “greening” requirements on property owners add to a host of other city laws cracking down on the conditions of properties, having to clean up graffiti within a certain time frame or face penalties.

There are currently 108,000 street trees in San Francisco, of which about 68,000 are the responsibility of property owners.

The Planning Commission approved the legislation in a 5-2 vote Feb. 18, with some commissioners expressing concerns about water usage and the effect on homeowners.

“I’m not ready to start conserving water so somebody else can start watering their plants,” said Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya, who voted against the proposal. “This is mandating increased landscaping all over The City. It has huge water conservation consequences.” He added, “It’s expensive to maintain street trees so [homeowners] let them die.”

Under the legislation, the Department of Public Works director could penalize property owners whose trees are not “established” after three years, the period when the tree is determined it can survive living off of the annual rainfall and is no longer in need of watering.

“It doesn’t seem that onerous,” said Noni Richen, property owner and president of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute. “I think people should take care of their street trees.”

The penalties can reach several hundred dollars in addition to the cost of replacing the tree. The DPW director would also be able to establish rules “for proper care and maintenance during the establishment period.”

In addition, dead street trees would have to be replaced within six months.

The legislation, introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Carmen Chu, would also amend the planning code to expand the tree planting requirement — planting a sidewalk street tree every 20 linear feet of the property — to every part of The City. Also, it would establish new “triggers” for when tree planting is required. Instead of just new development, it would apply to property owners who add a new dwelling unit, a new garage or repave 25 square feet of the front setback.

Landscaping requirements to ensure more permeable surfaces to reduce flooding and sewer-system overflow during rain storms, are also included.

“The ordinance allows The City to make substantial environmental and streetscape improvements that will provide a better quality of life for San Francisco residents, pedestrians and visitors,” Newsom’s spokesman Joe Arellano said.

The Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation in the coming weeks. 

Green landscaping

How the proposed ordinance would affect San Francisco:

- The maneuvering area around areas such as gas stations, car washes and repair shops would be subject to proposed “green” screening requirements
- Front setback includes 20 percent plant materials, and at least 50 percent of the setback to be permeable
- Parking and “vehicle use areas” that are greater than 25 linear feet would be subject to new screening requirements
- Would expand the tree planting requirement to apply to all zoning districts
- Property owners would have to ensure trees are adequately cared for during the three-year establishment period. Property owners may be fined for failure to provide proper care 
- If a tree dies, it would have to be removed and replaced within six months. The City may allow alternative planting locations for the replacement tree or may allow payment of the in-lieu fee instead of a physical replacement
- Would increase the “triggers” for when street trees would be required: the addition of a new dwelling unit; the addition of new parking or a new garage; the paving or repaving of more than 25 square feet of the front setback

Source: Planning Department

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