A planning code amendment “to address screening, greening, street tree, and permeability requirements; creating definitions for “vehicle use area,” “ornamental fencing,” and “permeable surface;” [creating] requirements for the establishment of new street trees, replacement of dead street trees, and removal of street trees and [defining] climate appropriate standards for plantings in the public right-of-way” (a.k.a. the Green Landscaping Ordinance) was passed by the Board of Supervisors yesterday.
For the most part the new requirements are triggered upon new construction or an addition, or the paving or repaving of more than 200 square feet of a front setback.
San Francisco Planning Code Amendment: Green Landscaping Ordinance [sfbos.org]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by rr

    If the city is going to tell me what I can and can’t plant in my front yard, then I would prefer they just tax me and take care of the trees for me.
    The number of dead FUF trees I see walking around town is silly. They get planted by enthusiastic owners who never water them. What’s it cost per year to take care of a tree, $200? That’s what, 1% of a property tax bill? If the city managed all of the street trees, we could have healthy stock on most city streets.
    I know we’re not the midwest, but I do miss the towering elm canopies on the streets in my old neighborhood back in Minneapolis.

  2. Posted by Eric in SF

    *nod nod nod* 4 new Magnolia grandifloras were planted along Frederick at Ashbury yesterday. My partner and I are taking bets on how long they live. Too soon to tell if someone will take an interest in watering them but our expectations are low.

  3. Posted by Alexei

    Some of them survive and flourish. And if they die, they can be replanted. $200 might be 1% of a really fancy just-sold property’s tax bill, but it could be 20% for someone who’s been around a while.

  4. Posted by montananewsom

    @Eric: Why don’t you water them?

  5. Posted by Eric in SF

    If they were within 2-3 houses of me, even across the street, I would but they are about one block away.
    Alexei – tress that originate in summer-rainfall areas of the world, like Magnolia grandiflora, die very quickly in our very VERY different dry summer climate here in NorCal. They will require constant watering for several summers while they grow roots down into the water table. The best ones I’ve seen are in parks with year-round automatic irrigation systems.

  6. Posted by yao

    Some of them survive and flourish. And if they die, they can be replanted. $200 might be 1% of a really fancy just-sold property’s tax bill, but it could be 20% for someone who’s been around a while.
    thank goodness we have prop 13!

  7. Posted by EBGuy

    From what I can tell (reading the ordinance), they basically banned a standard chain link fence. Interesting.

  8. Posted by rr

    @Alexel
    point taken. But if you take the number of trees * $200 and divide it by the total revenue in property tax, I bet you can raise taxes by 1% or less and cover it.
    I mean, how much in property tax does, say, 1 Rincon Hill generate versus the number of trees around it the city would have to support? I realize that someone who lives in a big mansion in Pac Heights who pays nothing in tax would get several trees for basically free in my proposal, but I can’t think of an easier or more equitable solution.
    They just finished the divisadero streetscaping project with some sort of maple in the median and flowering pear down the boulevards. The city must plan to take care of them, and it would be really easy to calculate how much the city is spending per tree to do so. They only need to water them for a the first 3 years or so until they hit the water table (as Eric mentioned), and then prune/restake them every few years after that
    Even better would be to stagger planting during wetter years. I have been nursing our flowering pear back to health since we moved in, and this year has made it very happy with the rain/sun/rain/sun

  9. Posted by abc

    Magnolias do just fine in Northern California. There are a few on my block in the Mission that seem to be thriving (and they are not regularly watered), and if you’ve ever been to the suburbs (Palo Alto, Menlo Park, etc) you’d see that they flourish there.
    It appears that the supervisors continue to spend their time creating bureaucratic rules like the ones outlined in this report. Don’t they have anything better to do?

  10. Posted by Eric in SF

    abc – did you read what I wrote?
    Until the Magnolia grows roots down into the water table, it needs regular summer watering. No plant can survive 5-7 months with zero water. The issue is that new street trees *require* regular, deep watering during the summer for 2-4 seasons to encourage them to grow roots down to the water table.

  11. Posted by abc

    Yeah, I read what you wrote: “tress that originate in summer-rainfall areas of the world, like Magnolia grandiflora, die very quickly in our very VERY different dry summer climate here in NorCal.”
    And I think the evidence of lots of Magnolias surviving in this area indicates otherwise. Cheers.

  12. Posted by Eric in SF

    You sir are dense and a pedant. The sentence IMMEDIATELY following that was “They will require constant watering for several summers while they grow roots down into the water table.”
    Furthermore, my additional comments beyond the first one make it clear to anyone who isn’t dense, a pedant, or a comment troll, that I understand that these trees do fine once they are established and have a year round source of water.
    Do you nitpick like this in face to face conversations?

  13. Posted by BT

    The mortality rate among young San Francisco street trees is something that makes me very sad. Vandals (usually teens) snap them off, the ferocious wind blows them over and nobody bothers to stake them upright again. Then there’s the watering problem.
    I had to personally go to a hearing some time ago to keep a business near me from removing 2 nearly mature, healthy trees so their signage would be more visible (the trees were there when the moved in).
    The city does need to take a more active approach. It seems like right now their attitude is “plant and forget”. I think they’d do better to plant fewer trees but take care of what they do plant. Same goes for non-profits like Friends of the Urban Forest who plant trees in the city.

  14. Posted by Life beyond Yelp

    I view these sorts of things with a bittersweet feeling. I agree with those who say that most of SF a very ugly city from the street level.
    So yes, I want this, and I want even more. But I know that in many neighborhoods this will not happen anytime soon, because the city doesn’t even have the balls to enforce current regulations and for example come down hard on sidewalk parking. So far we have unsuccessfully:
    1) tried to get a permit for sidewalk landsaping. The $215 check was cached, but the city never got back to us, despite a great number of phone messages left. Currently our supervisor’s office has an inquiry with the DPW about our application, to no avail (as yet). — Needless to say, we already went ahead and ripped out the concrete and planted the area without waiting for the permit.
    2) tried to report instances we saw when front yards were being paved over. Nothing ever came out of those complaints. Those front yards now are gone and cars parked on them.
    So… great in theory. In the real world, we’d need a whole lot more enforcement and political will to get anywhere.

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