With views at stake, trees often lose 

First, The City’s municipal complaint line started receiving anonymous calls about views being blocked by trees in a triangular median.

Then, neighbors awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of chain saws and ran out to find large chunks of a 70-year-old Monterey pine missing and men with power tools running away.

Finally, men dressed in uniforms resembling those of municipal workers came at 10:30 a.m. one day and cut about two-thirds of the way through one tree and did significant damage to another before someone called authorities and they took off.

The Department of Public Works had no choice but to remove the old Monterey pine entirely and do major damage-control pruning on the others that had been mutilated. A police report was filed, but no evidence has yet conclusively linked the case to any particular neighbor.

The lost tree, rooted until recently at Winding Way and Prague Street in the Crocker Amazon neighborhood, was just one more casualty of a war that rages perennially in modern-day San Francisco — and in the war between trees and views, trees often lose, Urban Forester Carla Short said.

“Many people seem to think a view of the Bay is better than a view of a redwood,” Short said. “I’m not among that crowd.”

In many cases, she said, people simply don’t know that they need a permit to prune or remove a tree in the public right of way. In more-rare cases, like the one on Winding Way, they know but manage to furtively prune or remove the trees anyway. In either case, if they’re caught at it, they receive a fine of at least $1,489.

Steven Currier, president of the Outer Mission Merchants and Residents Association, said the Winding Way case is far from the only instance of illegal tree removal in the neighborhood. He said another recent case occurred when someone removed a tree illegally and then claimed they’d received approval from PG&E, which is not authorized to take such action.

In another case, a person removed the tree because of a view conflict and then were fined and told to replace the tree. They did purchase another tree, but just let it sit in its bucket on the street till it died. That was more than a year ago, and the dead tree is still sitting there in its bucket, Currier said.

Short said people need to remember that trees don’t always have to be the enemy of their view.

“We’ve seen some really great examples of surgical pruning of trees that create view windows through the trees; they allow some views through the pruned holes but preserve the integrity of the view,” she said. “If you can look at the Bay through the redwood, then wow, that’s a really special view.”

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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Katie Worth

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