December 18, 2013
Speaking For The Trees In San Francisco: The Urban Forest Plan
Once a largely treeless landscape of grassy hills and sand dunes, there are now an estimated 670,000 trees growing in the "Urban Forest" of San Francisco with an estimated 105,000 street trees located in the public right-of-way.
In collaboration with the Department of Public Works and Friends of the Urban Forest, San Francisco's Planning Department is now working on a plan to promote San Francisco's Urban Forest with a primary focus on managing and growing the city's street tree population, a population which could grow by upwards of 50,000 new trees over the next 20 years.
In conjunction with the Urban Forest Plan, a Municipal Street Tree Program under which the Department of Public Works (DPW) would assume the responsibility for the planting and maintenance of all street trees in San Francisco is also being considered.
Under a comprehensive municipal street tree program, property owners who currently care for street trees would no longer be required to maintain trees or repair sidewalks damaged as a result of a street tree. In addition, the City would cover the liability associated with tree-related sidewalk falls, which have averaged just over $23,000 per claim over the past eight years.
A municipal program would save property owners between $10 and $65 per tree annually compared to current costs (estimated at between $160 and $175 annually) incurred for maintenance, sidewalk repair and claims associated with sidewalk falls.
Funding to execute the Urban Forest Plan would likely come by way of General Obligation bonds, state grants, capital improvement funds or contributions while a parcel tax tiered by street frontage has been recommended for funding the municipal street tree program.
The first draft of San Francisco's Urban Forest Plan will be published next month.
First Published: December 18, 2013 3:00 PM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
Great to have more greenery. However...let's focus on trees that can weather our microclimates. The leaning tower of sycamores along Market St. is a testament that this species doesn't quite hold up to the wind and fog. Oh, and another homeowner on my street in the Sunset paved over his entire front yard. Now he can park both his cars while blocking part of the sidewalk. So much for the city ban on this practice.
Posted by: Mark at December 18, 2013 3:25 PM
Their first priority should be saving the street trees that exist. So tired of seeing trees - finally approaching a good size and maturity - being strangled by sidewalk grates and paving. This is particularly a problem in SoMa, I see countless trees being collared and girdled.
And homeowners should *never* have to maintain trees or sidewalks in the public right-of-way. Prop 13 may make budgeting a nightmare, but it's ludicrous to foist sidewalk maintenance (and liability!) onto private homeowners.
Posted by: Sierrajeff at December 18, 2013 3:28 PM
There are thousands of placard notices attached to trees right now in the neighborhoods explaining that we are now responsible for tree maintenance. Good luck getting everyone to keep the planes, elms and ficuses out of the MUNI wires. Quite expensive and onerous.
So DPW is now possibly taking back the responsibility?
As for the sycamores on Market, they are all sickly looking --turn brown and drop leaves in May and frankly look diseased year round-- and should all be removed. That we dutifully replace such an eyesore specimen (in this location), especially as we're doing such nice streetscaping all over the city, boggles.
Posted by: Invented at December 18, 2013 3:39 PM
And yes, I too love trees. I have helped plant many with the FUF around my neighborhood, as well as several in front of my own house. I also pay fully for the maintenance and upkeep of my trees.
I also pay for the sidewalk to be repaired and replaced, since the City will not do it, and it's my legal responsibility.
Our city has a terrible track record of planting and maintaining the correct trees on our public streets. It's a disjointed, weak program at best. And sadly, they will not enforce the codes against the neighbor who just paved over their front yard (as noted by Mark).
We have a broken and corrupt system here, and I think it will only get worse.
Posted by: Futurist at December 18, 2013 3:56 PM
I'm really supportive of planting trees but the city should plant species that will do well in our environment; (which shouldn't be that difficult considering we have a very moderate climate). Just by walking around it appears a significant portion of the tree stock in San Francisco is distressed and poorly maintained. ? Why can't we have the lovely leafy green trees they have in New York and Chicago?
As a homeowner I don't think being required to maintain a single, or maybe even two, sidewalk trees is that onerous. We are so far behind many cities when it comes to trees and there's really not many tree lined streets in San Francisco that I can instantly recall.
Posted by: Willow at December 18, 2013 4:00 PM
To be clear, I certainly welcome this new Urban Forest Plan, and do hope it succeeds and goes into effect. I am skeptical but hopeful.
But recently, I was involved with the FUF to get approvals from neighbors on just MY block to put in more street trees. My particular block has only about 15 street trees, where there are defined locations for about 20 more. Time after time, each property owner did NOT want a new tree planted in front of their property. All ages, all incomes, new and old homes. They did not want to be "bothered" with a new tree.
Will the City take action and change this policy now to simply plant a tree in front of every house that can have one?
Citywide neighborhood support will be key to planting 1000's of new trees in SF. Good luck with that policy in parts of the Outer Sunset and Richmond where trees are resisted and yards are paved over, block after block.
Posted by: Futurist at December 18, 2013 4:19 PM
I hope that the city only takes responsibility for the "good" species of trees. There are a few species that look great but perform badly in a constrained street environment, resulting in high maintenance costs.
Oddly the FUF still promotes liquidambar as a street tree. Liquadambar will turn a flat sidewalk into a jumble of cracked concrete within a few years. Though beautiful, it is one of the highest maintenance of all street trees.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 18, 2013 4:38 PM
There was a piece on SFGate back a few months (also here in 2010) stating that the City is getting more active about fining folks w/paved-over front yards, and that some progress is happening - slowly.
Posted by: sfjohn at December 18, 2013 4:49 PM
No trees. We need to preserve the views.
Posted by: Homes R Us at December 18, 2013 5:00 PM
It is a great sign that the city is trying to build a more comprehensive program around this.
If we are serious about an urban forest, we need to be serious about undergrounding utilities. There was recently some renewed efforts at that -- I hope we can see more of that! over head utilities limit tree growth, and are ugly, and also a major systematic risk in an earthquake.
bury the wires, let the trees grow!
Posted by: BigV at December 18, 2013 5:07 PM
Yes, putting utility wires underground is an important part of any tree plan. The city mostly has done this for wealthy north SF neighborhoods but not for the rest of us. I love the street trees in Bernal but they get tangled up in the power lines.
Posted by: Snark17 at December 18, 2013 5:54 PM
25 years ago, we planted a FUF recommended street tree in front of our house. The tree is happy, but the sidewalk is not. Every few years we must spend thousands to replace cracked/heaved sidewalk squares. This includes permit fees, and fees to temporarily remove a parking spot, plus barriers to define a path for pedestrians. This is an income source for the city.
When I call FUF for advice, they recommend the same tree that is causing problems. FUF, please figure out what trees are suitable for our streets, especially if we must pay when you guess wrong!
Posted by: mission dweller at December 18, 2013 6:29 PM
I'm happy to hear the City is taking a more pro-active approach to tree maintenance for the enjoyment of all San Franciscans.
The proposal by Supervisor Scott Wiener for a parcel tax based on street frontage would charge a SFH the same amount as an apartment building or business if the footage is equal; and this does not sound reasonable or equitable.
Posted by: Jackson at December 18, 2013 7:33 PM
What a LOAD! 1st of all the anti-tree crazies are deforesting San Francisco. I was at the Presidio last weekend where they have leveled acres of 'non-native' trees, and the wind off the bay just howls through the place. Its awful. Secondly the city has dumped street tree care on the backs of whomever is closest to the tree -- resulting in a lot of abandoned tress -- because you know, our 2014 $8 billion budget for 49 square miles just isn't enough for tree care and all those fat pensions. San Francisco city hall, get a CLUE: we see through you and your spindly ideas. Your roots are shallow and you are overdue for a pruning.
Posted by: Stucco_Sux at December 18, 2013 8:50 PM
I have one of these in front of my house:
If I water it well it drops a lot of fruit and kind of makes a mess, as well as a slip hazard. If I don't water it, it looks kind of sad. I wish the tree covering the sidewalk did not drop fruit.
@Mark Report your neighbor for paving over his front yard. Most enforcement is going to be based on complaints, no one drives around looking for violations. You can also get them ticketed for parking on the sidewalk, but if DPT comes out, they are supposed to ticket everyone on the block in violation.
Posted by: NoeValleyJim at December 18, 2013 10:03 PM
mission dweller - what sort of tree is causing your problems?
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 18, 2013 10:39 PM
Street trees need to have their roots be coaxed downward. You do this by slow-drip watering them in their youth - this encourages the roots to grow downward, as opposed to horizontally. This makes them more wind resistant, but also makes their roots not crack the sidewalk.
I'm surprised FUF didn't make this clear. It takes work to get young street trees going on track, but once they are you can relax a bit more about them. That said, disease and power lines will always be issues.
Posted by: Ben at December 18, 2013 10:52 PM
If every tree hugger in the city personally starting taking care of one tree. No more tree problem.
Posted by: inclinejj at December 19, 2013 8:15 AM
That sort of grassroots community action is the kind of thinking that takes jobs away from taxpayer-funded, unionized city workers. Do not touch that tree or you will be arrested and cited.
Posted by: Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM)) at December 19, 2013 10:04 AM
If we want to be serious about the "urban forest" then the City needs to start maintaining the sidewalks. Until then, we will continue to have lopped off lollipop trees, or none at all, because no one wants to have to pay for pavement replacement. The current state of our urban forest is: sad. Glad to see the City is contemplating a solution.
But we will never be New York or Chicago. We are a windy, semi-arid city built largely on sand dunes. Almost any tree is stressed here, almost by definition. Some do better than others, and FUF could perhaps do a better job at pointing out which ones are best. (Honestly, I think they try..but folks like flowering plum because they flower and have red leaves, they like LiquidAmbar because they have fall color...etc. I'm sure FUF is responding to pressure to find aesthetic trees).
I am always amused by people who think trees are "messy" though. If they are a flowering variety, it follows that they usually also have fruit. Oh, and they tend to drop their leaves too. But re: NoeValleyJim's problem...have you considered increasing the size of your tree well so it catches more of the dropping fruit?
Posted by: curmudgeon at December 19, 2013 10:05 AM
I remember reading several years ago about Washington, DC using recycled tires to create flexible "concrete" to place around trees to prevent roots from rising and cracking the sidewalk.
Posted by: Mark at December 19, 2013 10:59 AM
FUF planted a bunch of trees in Presidio Heights a few years back, and they are all dead or so neglected they need to be replaced. Provided there is some provision made to allow deep-watering, tree maintenance is not a big expense, but some homeowners do not care.
The tree huggers themselves are another obstacle. Street trees are (with very few exceptions) individually unimportant things that an owner ought to be able to replace or eliminate as he wishes. Now they have become a liability, as one is supposed to pay a fee, hold hearings, etc. before doing anything other than pruning. Better not to plant the things at all. I just said to hell with it and tore out two nasty old trees when I re-did my sidewalk, and replaced one with a much nicer tree. Come and get me, coppers!
Posted by: Philip at December 19, 2013 11:24 AM
Yet the city insists on shelling out thousands per palm tree.
Posted by: Mark at December 19, 2013 11:28 AM
Didn't the City just spend a whole lot of money studying and then implementing a program to turn maintenance over to homeowners?
Left hand, right hand, both get paid, apparently.
Posted by: BobN at December 19, 2013 12:45 PM
Thanks to Curmudgeon for helping me understand the background of why trees in San Francisco look so sad and stressed out, especially compared to the East Bay. I had not considered that the sunnier, warmer, dryer weather in Oakland and Berkeley causes their trees to look magnificent, while the same species of tree planted in San Francisco looks like it is near death within a year.
Posted by: Anon94123 at December 19, 2013 1:59 PM
"Thanks to Curmudgeon for helping me understand the background of why trees in San Francisco look so sad and stressed out, especially compared to the East Bay. I had not considered that the sunnier, warmer, dryer weather in Oakland and Berkeley causes their trees to look magnificent, while the same species of tree planted in San Francisco looks like it is near death within a year."
That may be part of it but I have a number of leafy green trees that are thriving in my backyard. I honestly feel some of the "approved" trees for planting are simply the wrong ones.
Posted by: Willow at December 19, 2013 4:16 PM
@willow, good point. It seems the Presidio understood what trees worked for that microclimate 100 years ago, but now some of those trees are being removed because they are "invasive" and "non native". Considering there was no forest originally at the Presidio, I am not sure what the Presidio Trust is trying to accomplish by removing the mature beautiful pines and eucalyptus trees. At least the original forester brought in during the late 1800's to plant trees at the Presidio selected what could survive and thrive. They might not be native, but the presidio forest now feels to me as if it was always there, and I prefer the landscape to faux Palm Springs landscape choices in some parts of the city.
Posted by: Anon94123 at December 19, 2013 4:56 PM
Anon, i agree with your comments about the Presidio. I run there almost daily and my heart has been broken over the last 5 years as they keep removing more and more trees. They are destroying a lot of single track paths and turning the rustic beautiful presidio into a tourist destination with superwide paths, fewer trees and a ton of signs. They ahve virtually destroyed multiuple good trails, including the coastal trail by trying to make it so super accessible to overweight lazy tourists. Its really sad to see an urban forest being destroyed. I dont want the presidio, which to me is the only oasis in the city, to be turned into a circus like Golden gate park.
Posted by: moto mayhem at December 19, 2013 5:07 PM
"the [presidio forest] now feels to me as if it was always there"
This is a beautiful phrase. Poetic in the way it reaches the key issue of any planning issue. Here's an exercise. Which of the following could not for many people replace [presidio forest] in the phrase above?
-Amount of parking my neighborhood provides
-Number of formula retail businesses in my area
-Availability of bike lanes in the city
-Availability of mass transit
-Amount rent/taxes/fees that I pay
So much of our feelings about all of these issues come back to how we confuse our perception of present circumstances with permanence. I am sure some infantry officer thought it was pretty unwise when his men were asked to stand down from the disappearing guns that flank the Golden Gate. Or the Nike missile installation in the Marin Headlands.
Could we even imagine such scenarios now?
Posted by: soccermom at December 19, 2013 8:24 PM
Holy monkeys! soccermom!
Can we please, please just stick to the subject at hand for a change, instead of dragging in other topic? I'm not even going to dignify the other words you mentioned that always create a rant around here.
This is about TREES. Let's just talk about trees and how wonderful they can make the city a better place.
Posted by: Futurist at December 19, 2013 9:08 PM
Agreed with Futurist! There is someone truly in need of medication when a certain subject is brought up, and this conversation is about TREES. My question is, how is a city with such difficult weather like Chicago able to have so many large tree canopies over their streets ? I never saw them cut trees back in Chicago to the stump the way they do in San Francisco . When I would come home off of Lake Shore Drive I always looked forward to the tree canopy of Fullerton Avenue in the Lakeview District.
Posted by: Chi2SF at December 20, 2013 7:00 AM
Chicago or NY are not difficult climates or environments for temperate climate deciduous trees. SF has sandy soil.
Posted by: Truth at December 20, 2013 7:45 AM
trees trees trees! i love it. just moved here 6 months ago from Boulder and i spent a lot of time with our tree program out there (name link).
found friends of urban forestry and volunteered a couple of times last month.
can't wait to start working on behalf of the better part of nature for the city. i would love to work on instituting permeable surface sidewalk policies for the city (pavers/gravel/perforated bomanite). i wrote my masters on the idea as a way of helping ensure the success of street trees and sidewalk planting. some accessibility challenges but all part of our responsibility to mother earth...
Posted by: singletracker at December 20, 2013 8:48 AM
Chi2SF, San Francisco has much more difficult weather for trees than your home city, particularly large deciduous canopy trees. Just look for a historical picture to see what the "natural" state of our peninsula was. For one thing, Chicago gets twice as much precipitation, and it happens all year. Trees thrive in that environment.
The survival of street trees in SF is about weather, soil, care (entirely up to the homeowner), paving (most street trees are in relatively tiny tree wells, although the City is finally allowing homeowner to enlarge these significantly). And yes, conditions ARE better in much of the East Bay, despite the dig made earlier, if only because it's less windy in most places. Proper tree selection certainly helps.
Also, it is no surprise at all that backyard trees do better. They aren't exposed to a fraction of the stress of a street tree. Their roots and branches have room to move for one thing.
Posted by: curmudgeon at December 20, 2013 9:38 AM
i'd love a few trees in front of my house - but not those on the approved list - and not until my street is underwired.
i'd also love a more permiable and softer sidewalk but again can't imagine having to maintain it.
i'd actually like fruit trees in large raised boxed planters, (citris or apples) and would be more then happy to maintain them and let the neighborhood and walkers forage. i think we need a more edible landscape, (herbs and berries and fruit trees) and do my own share of "street shopping".
there are a lot of city rules and concerns that get in the way (and it doesn't help that others have trees that drop fruit to rot on unmaintained sidewalks).
my current sidewalk is double the depth needed for wheelchairs. it could use some life.
Posted by: modernedwardian at December 20, 2013 10:09 AM
^Citrus makes for great casual fruit harvesting because the ripe fruit hangs on the tree for many days; waiting to be picked and not making a mess of the pavement. Unfortunately citrus don't do very well so close to that 55F Pacific. Are there any other fruit trees that both can handle the SF climate and "sell out" before the fruit drops to the ground?
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 20, 2013 12:18 PM
Trees need water.
So we're saying that greenery is more important than water conservation now?
Seeing green is now more important than being green. How wonderfully San Francisco Ironic.
Posted by: Toady at December 20, 2013 12:36 PM
^^^ Yes trees need added water. But only for their first few years. After that the roots have grown deep enough to find their own water.
If we want to make the urban forest "greener" in your context then they can be watered with graywater. Or use more permeable pavement materials to raise the effective water table to reduce the years before a new tree's roots reach natural water. (which will also cause the urban springs in places like upper Noe and Glen Park to flow greater and longer too :-)
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 20, 2013 3:48 PM
Oh yeah, permeable pavement also reduces the storm load on SF's water treatment plants. Something I learned here. Thanks Socketsite !
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 20, 2013 3:52 PM
My apple tree doesn't have an issue with dropping fruit (it is not in SF), but our condo complex has an apple tree and it does produce apples so they can grow in SF. It is not on the street though.
Posted by: Rillion at December 20, 2013 4:17 PM
my meyers lemon gets water every 5-7 days from april to october as does my lime in a wine barrel in my backyard. both are good fruit producers in noe valley. my backyard soil is surprizingly damp at times whether from coastal fog or drainage from diamond heights on down (i'm not far from cesar chavez which was a creek at one point in the past). a friend's glen park pear and apple fruit with no additional water and much neglect. i think the coastal climate means one needs to choose the right fruit trees but fruit is possible i'm also not opposed to installing a grey water system and we use NO DETERGENT for our laundry thanks to out purewash system).
also green is a relative concept. organic and local means no shipping and a more diverse animal and insect population. no need to pave over everything or return to sand-dunes.
Posted by: modernedwardian at December 20, 2013 7:35 PM
"Street trees need to have their roots be coaxed downward. You do this by slow-drip watering them in their youth - this encourages the roots to grow downward, as opposed to horizontally. This makes them more wind resistant, but also makes their roots not crack the sidewalk.
I'm surprised FUF didn't make this clear. It takes work to get young street trees going on track, but once they are you can relax a bit more about them."
Late reply to above post--FUF did make that clear, and we followed instructions. After the cardboard tube for deep, slow drip watering bio-degraded. Some years back, we also increased basin size as much as possible. My point is that we followed FUF recommendations, to no avail. Each time we re-do the sidewalk, I call FUF, hoping for new & helpful info--the 2 small trees they suggest flowering cherry (which is what we have) or flowering plum (which have slightly less aggressive roots, at least around my house).
We have also consulted 7-8 arborists over the years--alas, they had no suggestions about root taming. We were tree amateurs. FUF is supposed to be professional--find a better tree, or a better planting method--maybe a plastic or metal watering pipe? Replacing the sidewalk every few years is not a green activity.
Posted by: mission dweller at December 24, 2013 10:32 AM
I have no experience with those particular trees however if you like flowering trees you might want to consider a Bradford Pear. We planted one many years ago and now have a large tree. It is just now starting to mess with the concrete, mainly because the trunk got so big (16-18") and is lifting up one panel of concrete. Another flowering tree I've noticed that is kind to concrete is the Crepe Myrtle which also keeps a fairly small form.
I noticed another odd tree listed on the FUF list: Coast Live Oak. A wonderful tree that is also native to the Bay Area. But they get HUGE and would only fit into exceptional situations along the street.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 24, 2013 11:11 AM
Bradford pears are genetically engineered to be perfect street trees. Fruitless, perfect neat, orderly shape and are deciduous which is a good thing as they let sunlight through to the sidewalks. They're v popular on picture-perfect upper east side. I love gingkos (who doesn't), slow growing, handsome --disease resistant -- just stay away from the ones that have large seeds. Messy and odor.
Amazingly I see owners planting ficuses. We have 6 that I don't believe I can swap out and the expense of trimming and concrete is pretty high.
Posted by: Invented at January 24, 2014 6:36 PM
Bradford pears sometimes produce fruit. About every other year my Bradford creates a large crop of hundreds of little cherry sized fruit.
stinko ginko trees generating messy fruit: unlike most trees which are hermaphroditic, they come in male and female individuals. The females produce the stinky fruit. I've noticed Vietnamese people collecting the fruit so there must be some use.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at January 25, 2014 10:15 AM