San Francisco tree upkeep is target of budget trim 

Private property owners will assume financial responsibility for the care and maintenance of four out of five trees along San Francisco’s sidewalks under a budget proposal from Mayor Ed Lee designed to help save about $600,000.

The Department of Public Works, which oversees San Francisco’s urban forest on its public rights of way, said it has long been unable to properly maintain trees and wants to transfer 24,000 to private care.

Private property owners are currently charged with caring for 65,000 trees along city sidewalks. The Department of Public Works currently maintains about 31,000 street trees and approximately 7,500 that are planted in medians.

The department said the proposal stems from a lack of funding. But before the transfer can begin, the Board of Supervisors would have to approve it. The board’s City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the proposal June 13.

Mission district homeowner Ben Margot planted the red maple tree in front of his house four years ago during an event at which Friends of the Urban Forest helped a handful of residents purchase and plant their own trees. He said he was surprised about the proposal, but said he wasn’t too worried about the costs.

“If it were $1,000, I’d be angry. But if it were $10, I wouldn’t be so angry,” he said. “I’m worried more about my neighbors who are on a fixed income.”

Perhaps Margot should worry more. The cost of care per tree is estimated to run between $300 to $1,000 every three to five years, depending on the type of tree.

“DPW does not have the resources to prune and maintain trees at a frequency recommended by the tree-care industry to sustain their health,” a department fact sheet said.

While trees should be pruned every three to five years, that info indicated, the department is pruning them every 10 to 12 years.

“Three successive years of budget cuts to DPW’s Urban Forestry staff has exacerbated this problem,” the fact sheet said.

The plan is to start by transferring 6,400 trees next fiscal year, and to complete the transfer of all 24,000 trees within seven years. A public hearing process would be established for any property owner who wants to object to a transfer once being notified.

The department spent $2.2 million on street-tree care in the current fiscal year. The mayor’s proposed budget would cut that amount to $1.6 million, which would pay for seven arborists who respond to tree-related calls.

“This is not something we want to do, but our budget constraints don’t provide many options,” DPW spokeswoman Gloria Chan said.

Urban forest

The Public Works Department wants more trees cared for by property owners:

Trees                                                         Before transfer        After transfer

Privately maintained                           65,000                             88,715

DPW maintained street trees            31,033                              7,318

DPW maintained median trees         7,526                                7,526

Source: Department of Public Works

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