SF Takes Over Tree Husbandry July 1st

We’re going to go out on a limb to state that July 1, 2017, will go down in history as the resurrection day for San Francisco’s urban forest. That’s the day when San Francisco Public Works takes over responsibility for the care of all the street trees.

The back story
San Francisco has long had a dysfunctional system for managing street trees. Historically, fronting property owners bore most of the responsibility for street trees, with nearly two-thirds of them in private hands. San Francisco Public Works, meanwhile, had maintenance responsibility for the remaining third, and over the past several years had been shifting more to the care of reluctant property owners. Which trees didn’t always make sense. As a result of this system, street trees were maintained inconsistently, at best. And it was clear that many of the potential benefits of a healthy urban forest were never fully realized.

The City tried to remedy that and developed the Urban Forest Plan. One of the big takeaways from the comprehensive plan was for San Francisco to establish the Citywide Street Tree Maintenance Program that would have Public Works take over maintenance for all of San Francisco’s street trees, which a newly-published census numbers at 124,000.

The plan also recommended growing the urban forest by 50,000 street trees over the next 20 years. The ambitious goal, however, could not be achieved with the wave of a magic wand. The City commissioned an economic study to find out how much it would cost for Public Works to properly maintain all street trees. The answer: $19 million a year—about triple what the department has been spending.

It was clear that a funding strategy was needed. In stepped the nonprofit group, Friends of the Urban Forest, which lined up support on the Board of Supervisors to place Prop. E on the November 2016 ballot. The measure called for setting aside $19 million a year out of the City’s general fund to pay for tree care and to repair sidewalks damaged by tree roots. Voters gave overwhelming support, with 79% casting yes votes.

It’s estimated that 19 million pounds of carbon are filtered out of San Francisco’s air by the city’s urban forest.

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