Tree at 826 Haight May Be Saved

In a little bit of good news, we recently received this letter from a supporters, telling of a possibly successful attempt to save a street tree on Haight Street, San Francisco CA. It’s published with permission.

Hi Folks,

Another partial win for a critical component of our urban forest — street trees, in this case a lone blackwood acacia at 826 Haight Street facing removal. The other day DPW [Department of Public Works] head Muhammed Nuru reversed a request to remove the tree after a Public Hearing was held for neighbors protesting its imminent removal.  The tree removal order was overturned, delayed for 90 days while BUF reassesses every means of saving this healthy, mature tree including construction of a larger basin and sidewalk repair that slopes to accommodate the tree roots and base.

See below for a copy of the decision #186300.  The decision urges BUF [Bureau of Urban Forestry] to consider all means to keep the tree in place and report back in 90 days.

The Bureau of Urban Forestry is starting to take notice of our objections to the summary removal of mature street trees after being schooled in the multiple benefits of a large urban forest canopy from the perspective of climate change, carbon sequestration, respiratory health, wildlife habitat, drainage, heating/cooling and mental health.   BUF has seen the necessity of taking a deeper dive into their usual standard operating procedure of posting a removal notice without seeing a stewardship role prioritizing street trees, especially after our opposition and intervention with Guy Place Park, 75 Howard Street and this lone acacia tree.

[We wrote something about that HERE: Killing our Street Trees in San Francisco ]

We organized 20 written protests, a change.org petition with 117 signatures and 5 neighbors giving oral testimony.  The organizing tool was Next Door.

Hopefully, this signals a small beginning and recognition by BUF and RPD of the need to preserve and expand each component in our dwindling urban forest canopy volume. And perhaps this can influence the City’s new responsibilities under Prop E and the minimalist approach both City Planning and MTA takes with area plans and streetscape improvement projects occurring throughout the City.

The Bureau of Urban Forestry is starting to take notice of our objections to the summary removal of mature street trees after being schooled in the multiple benefits of a large urban forest canopy from the perspective of climate change, carbon sequestration, respiratory health, wildlife habitat, drainage, heating/cooling and mental health. We organized 20 written protests, a change.org petition and 5 neighbors giving oral testimony.

Matthew Steen

DPW ORDER #186300:

“The Director of Public Works held a Public Hearing on Monday, July 24, 2017 at City Hall to consider Order No. 186127 for the removal with replacement of one (1) street tree adjacent to the property at 826 Haight Street.

Findings: Urban Forestry staff testified that the tree was initially posted for removal due to its age, species, structure, and sidewalk condition. Blackwood acacia, Acacia melanoxylon, does not tolerate root pruning well, once the root’s of a mature blackwood acacia are significantly pruned they tend to rot quickly. The accelerated root rot can often lead to full tree failures. Currently, the sidewalk is in poor condition, and must be repaired. The main branch union has poor structure, and all of the co-dominant scaffolding branches originate from the same location on the trunk, which can lead to large stem failures. Urban Forestry staff stated that if the tree were to remain, the sidewalk repair would have to be carefully completed without cutting any roots. The tree basin would also have to be expanded to at least 6’x12′. The canopy should be thinned & large scaffold branches with the worst structure should be removed or the weight reduced.

“The Bureau of Urban Forestry received approximately 20 removal protests from the public in writing, and five (5) members of the public spoke at the hearing against tree removal. A change.org petition was also created which received 117 supporters against tree removal. After the tree hearing Urban Forestry staff surveyed the underground utilities near the tree. It was found that high voltage electric lines run directly beneath the tree basin, and if removed, the tree will not be able to be replaced.

Recommendation: After consideration of letters and testimonies presented at the hearing the decision is to reverse the Bureau of Urban Forestry’s approval of tree removal with the following conditions: the sidewalk repair will consist of a basin expansion only and no roots shall be cut. Any additional concrete uplift will be shaved/sliced, not replaced. The tree canopy shall be pruned and significantly thinned within three (3) months to reduce the potential for large stem failures. If the Bureau of Urban Forestry concludes that the sidewalk repair cannot be made without pruning the roots, the tree removal will be approved and a courtesy notice and report documenting the efforts to retain the tree, will be provided to those who attended the hearing and/or submitted correspondence. The courtesy notices would also be placed on the trunk of the tree and nearby utility poles.”

So it’s not over yet, but we’re very encouraged that a good faith effort is being made to save this tree. Thanks, Matthew and everyone who worked on this.

 

Killing Our Street Trees in San Francisco

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
William Blake, The Letters, 1799

Most of these Jefferson Street trees were saved due to neighbors’ efforts! Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

San Francisco has a lot of projects going on. SFMTA seems to be flush with wealth, and is “improving” a lot of roads. Developers are planning fancy new buildings.

Unfortunately, every project seems to start with destroying trees – and neighbors never know about it until it’s a done deal and the trees have 30-days-to-death notices on them. Then they object… but the odds are against them. Though they sometimes succeed in saving the trees, more often it’s too late.  Meanwhile, the City seems to be entirely accepting of tree destruction for any and all reasons.

San Francisco has a tree canopy of only 13.7%, the lowest of any major city, and nearly half the appropriate canopy cover of 25%.

(From SF Data: In preparation for the San Francisco Urban Forest Plan (2013), the Planning Department performed an Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) Analysis using aerial imagery and additional data sets to determine a canopy estimate for the City & County of San Francisco. This analysis estimated San Francisco’s tree canopy at 13.7%)

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City

This is an embarrassment for a “green” city, quite aside from the ecological, environmental and health reasons for saving our trees. Unfortunately, between Nativists, developers, and project managers, there seems to be a wave of tree cutting hitting San Francisco. We’re not augmenting our canopy, we’re shrinking it.

REASONS TO SAVE OUR TREES

  1. Trees fight pollution, especially particulate pollution that is dangerous to human lungs.
  2. Trees improve air quality
  3. Trees are good for physical and psychological health; to get the same benefit as living on a tree-lined street, you would have to be ten years younger.
  4. Trees provide habitat for wildlife, especially birds and butterflies.
  5. Trees help regulate water by absorbing it into their roots and gradually releasing it through their leaves.
  6. Trees reduce crime and improve business.

For a detailed list of benefits, read Twenty Reasons Why Urban Trees are Important to Us All

TREES AT GEARY AND MASONIC – GONE

Two years ago, neighbors fought to save this lovely grove of trees at Geary and Masonic. They were cut down because of plans that merely considered them as “green things that are in the way” and were not designed to preserve them.

These trees are now gone. Here’s what that grove looks like now:

THE TREES AT FULTON – GONE

This charming line of street trees, fighting pollution and climate change, and breathing out oxygen in downtown San Francisco, is also gone. In its place there will be a tower block with a footprint out to the sidewalk.

Where once there were trees.

THE BEAUTIFUL FLOWERING PLUM TREES AT FORT MASON – GONE

Plum trees the neighbors loved were removed at Fort Mason, leaving the neighbors in shock.

Fort Mason Flowering Plum Trees - Before

Fort Mason Flowering Plum Trees – Before

Shocked neighbor views the missing trees

TREES THAT CAN STILL BE SAVED

The tree destruction continues, but in some cases at least it may be possible for neighbors to prevail.

The Rincon Point Neighbors are fighting to save ten trees at Howard and Steuart streets. The hearing is May 31 at 5 pm in room 416, City Hall.  Comments should be submitted on the Thursday prior to the Hearing, May 25th, 2017 (Today!) according to Board of Appeals rules. You can email them at: Boardofappeals@sfgov.org

Neighbors are seeking to save this tree, one of the few large shade and habitat trees remaining on Haight Street. It’s disrupting the sidewalk, but an arborist has determined that the tree can be saved simply by enlarging the tree basin to accommodate its roots, fixing the sidewalk, and pruning some of the branches.

If you want to help save this tree, you can sign the Change.org petition here, and also email the Bureau of Urban Forestry  at urbanforestry@sfdpw.org and tell them you protest the removal of the tree at 826 Haight. — deadline June 21, 2017)

Threatened tree at 826 Haight Street San Francisco

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is acutely aware of the value of Green Infrastructure, and we support the efforts of neighbors and neighborhood groups to preserve non-hazardous trees.

Can We Save These San Francisco Trees?

street tree with removal noticeThere are plans under way to cut down hundreds of street trees along some of San Francisco’s main thoroughfares. Generally, these plans get little publicity until the trees are posted with 30-day notices (these are the notices that inform neighbors that the trees are to be cut down). Neighbors are often shocked and dismayed at these plans. Though the notices usually provide a contact to protest the removal of the trees,  by that point it’s an uphill battle to save the trees.

It can be done: Consider the saved trees at Fisherman’s Wharf, and next time you visit there, consider how bare the road and brick walls would be without the trees! But it takes mobilization, determination, speaking up, persistence and luck.

San Francisco’s tree canopy is already inadequate at 13.7%, as against an ideal of 25%.  Street trees are enormously valuable to the community. They reduce pollution by trapping particulates in the air and thus keep them out of our lungs. They provide habitat for birds and butterflies like the Western Tiger Swallowtail that breeds in our London Plane Trees. They sequester carbon and thus fight climate change. They absorb sound and thus reduce noise pollution. They reduce storm water runoff. (Here’s a link to an article discussing all the benefits of urban trees.)

They have also have very significant health benefits. A recent article in the New Yorker mentioned research that quantified how much. The article noted that ten mature street trees per block was the equivalent of giving every household on that block $10,000:

“After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. “To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars—or make people seven years younger,” Berman told me.”

Removing mature trees and planting saplings instead doesn’t provide the same benefits. It takes decades for the replacements to grow to the same maturity – and  meanwhile, all the benefits to environment, health, and habitat are accordingly reduced.

We would also point out that urban trees (or any trees) are seldom perfect. They grow in challenging conditions. Often, the justification for removing trees is that they are not in “good” shape. We would point out that unless a tree is actually hazardous, the standard should not be perfection, but that it is “good enough” to survive in the location to which it has adapted.

If you wish to fight to save these trees, there are two hearings coming up shortly. They will be held in Room 416 at San Francisco’s City Hall. [Edited to Add: If you cannot attend, you can still email your comments to the Department of Public Works and they become part of the public and official record. These are the email addresses: Chris.Buck@sfdpw.org and urbanforestry@sfdpw.org ]

GEARY AND MASONIC: HEARING ON 24th Sept 2015

At Geary and Masonic, there’s a grove of trees that softens an otherwise gritty and urban intersection. For pedestrians – including those who use the nearby bus shelter under the trees it provides a welcome green environment. These trees have been slated for removal. Neighbors are extremely upset, the more so because this project has been extensively discussed – but not the tree removal part. Instead, all the focus was on the loss of parking spaces as bike lanes were created. “I had the impression,” one neighbor said, “That they would be keeping all the existing trees and planting more trees.”

There’s a hearing scheduled for September 24th. A neighbor fighting to save these trees sent us this poster. You can print out the PDF here if you want to disseminate it: Geary_Masonic_Tree_removal

Masonic Geary trees slated to be felledVAN NESS CORRIDOR: HEARING on AUGUST 24th  2015

A neighbor wrote to us recently to say that 193 trees had been posted for removal in the Van Ness/ Lombard corridor:

“I want you to know that the SFMTA just put out tree notice removals on Van Ness and Lombard for their rapid transit project. There was no mention of this before to anyone living along the corridor when they began discussing this project. They are planning to cut down 193 mature trees along the corridor, and this is an outrage. These trees are important to the people who live along Van Ness and Lombard and they provide shade and bird habitat. They say they will plant 400 trees once the project is finished. What about all the birds who live in the tree opposite my mother’s home now? What about the hawks who nest opposite us?”

Here are the details of the hearing:

“I encourage you and any other interested party to attend the Public Hearing regarding the removal of the trees on August 24 at 5:30 p.m.in Room 416 of City Hall, located at 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place. If you are unable to attend the hearing, you may submit written comments regarding the subject matter to the Bureau of Urban Forestry, 1680 Mission Street, 1st floor, San Francisco, CA 94103. These comments will be brought to the attention of the hearing officer and made a part of the official public record.

TREASURE ISLAND

We don’t have any details yet, but the Treasure Island Development Agency is planning to cut down trees as part of its development plans. We would note that this is one location where Monarch butterflies overwinter in some years.

[Edited to Add, 9 Feb 2016: Trees are going down on Treasure Island/ Yerba Buena Island.]

MORE PROJECTS?

We believe even more tree removals are planned, for instance along Geary. The San Francisco Forest Alliance will try to keep track of these projects and post what information we can about the proposals.

San Francisco can do better than this. If all our public agencies realized the true benefits and value of mature trees, they would seek to preserve them rather than cutting them down and replacing them with saplings. Or nothing at all. We all recognize that trees sometimes need to be cut down to allow for roadwork or construction. But we do think that preserving trees needs a much higher priority than it currently gets, and the public needs better (and earlier) information than it currently gets.

We wrote about Seattle, where road-work was accompanied by notice to save trees, not remove them. Here’s another. It’s a tree not even as pretty or mature as the San Francisco victim at the top of the page, but it’s been saved.

saved tree in seatttle

Trees are cut down for all kinds of reasons in San Francisco. Poorly designed projects are a major factor. So is poor maintenance. We support Supervisor Scott Wiener’s effort to fund tree maintenance by city experts rather than leaving street trees to home owners who may not have the expertise or resources to care for it and instead destroy it.

overpruned tree

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
William Blake, The Letters, 1799