Prop E means San Francisco now picks up $19M tab to trim trees

Tree trimmining in San Francisco. July 19, 2017

If you live in San Francisco and have a tree in front of your house, you know how expensive it can be to maintain it and the sidewalk, which can buckle when roots grow out of hand.

For the first time, the city is picking up the tab to keep residents' trees trimmed and sidewalks fixed at a cost of $19 million  a year.

On Wednesday, in sunny Noe Valley, tree trimming crews stood by with a cherry picker, wood chipper and harnesses as Public Works rolled out its "Street Tree SF" program, a voter-backed initiative that places the maintenance of the city's 125,000 street trees under city care.

Vince Shortino lives on 23rd Street near Castro Street where crews got busy trimming his 25-foot-tall Chinese elm tree which has fanned out so much, it's entangled in power lines. To trim it himself, would have cost at least $500.

"Now it's starting to damage the sidewalk a bit, maybe the street, could be some sewer lines under there we're not sure," said Shortino. In the past, he, along with hundreds of other homeowners, would have had to have coughed up more than ten thousand dollars to repair buckled sidewalks and sewer lines pierced by invasive roots.

But as of Wednesday, Proposition E swung into effect, the initiative passed by 79 percent of San Francisco voters.

"I'm delighted the city is now taking over the cost," said SF Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who lives in nearby Glen Park. He had to shell out $3,000 when a storm knocked down a tree in front of his house, uprooting the sidewalk.

"I just think it's so hard for people on fixed incomes, it's so expensive to live in the city and I really think it's a a disincentive for people to even plant a tree!" he remarked.

The city would like to plant 50,000 more trees within the next 20 years. Public Works has a list of city-approved trees, and through the non-profit group "Friends of the Urban Forest", residents can have a tree planted for free.

"San Francisco's tree canopy is not enough compared to many other cities, like Sacramento, Portland even," said Mohammad Nuri, the Director of Public Works.

San Francisco's hope is to go greener with tree-lined streets that offer shade, beauty and cleaner air without hitting property owners in the pocketbook.

"It's been kind of a pain to maintain so it's great that the city is taking initiative this time," said Shortino.