Ballot Measure Would Make City Responsible for Public Tree Care


A few months ago, Bernalwood told you the sad tale of Neighbor Laura from Lundys Lane, a schoolteacher who had just been told she had to foot the bill to pay for the astronomical cost of maintaining a tree that sits on City property next to her house.

That’s standard procedure under the Tree Maintenance Transfer Plan, which puts San Francisco homeowners on the hook to pay for required maintenance on the tens of thousands of streetside trees that used to be maintained by the City.

Now  San Francisco Chronicle reports that D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener plans to introduce a ballot measure that would eliminate costly tree-care bills for homeowners by making the City responsible for sidewalk trees again. The Chronicle says:

It’s the same old story: too many street trees and not enough money to take care of them all.

The city couldn’t afford the maintenance and upkeep for its 105,000 trees, so in 2011 it began transferring ownership to homeowners. Residents often didn’t have the cash for costly pruning and associated sidewalk repairs either. But a new piece of legislation could soon bring relief to those neighbors and infuse about $18 million into the city’s tree maintenance budget.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Scott Wiener will introduce a November ballot measure that would mandate that the city take back ownership, maintenance and liability of all street trees. It would be funded by a combination of a progressive parcel tax — one that increases with the property’s size — and an $8 million annual budget set-aside, the average of what has been spent on urban forestry over the past 10 years.

“This has been a festering problem for decades,” Wiener said. “Trees are getting dumped on adjacent property owners who don’t want them, and that’s an unfair burden. For most property owners, they are going to save money. They will pay a $30 or $40 tax, and they will no longer have to hire an arborist or a contractor or insurance.”

All properties must pay the property tax. Properties with less than 25 feet of street frontage would pay $29.50, while those between 25 to 150 feet would pay $1.42 per frontage foot, and properties with more than 150 feet would pay $2 per frontage foot. The average resident or business would pay about $35 annually.

PHOTO: The tree assigned to Neighbor Laura, by Neighbor Laura

22 thoughts on “Ballot Measure Would Make City Responsible for Public Tree Care

  1. Inquiring minds want to know: Where is all the new property tax being collected from the $1 million plus homeowners going? Where are the astronomical fees for getting a building permit going? This city should be rolling in revenue yet they’re whining about being broke like it’s still 2009.

    • to pay for other services, like homeless shelters, street paving and so on. Nobody is willing to find the money for it and keep it in the budget. Supervisor Campos’s office would barely respond and when it did, it was only to claim that they couldn’t do anything about the budget (I guess after 7 yrs in office, well, he is on the budget committee). This way, the money would be dedicated.

      • Actually isn’t the street repaving being paid for by that bond measure we passed? Does that mean it operates outside of the budget or is the budget used to pay for the financing of the bond measure?

  2. Yes! Trees are a valuble part of SF and should be maintained by the city. The beautiful view of the trees going up Folsom is undeniable, but if they aren’t maintained properly, could be a huge danger. Then what happens? The trees are cut down. I vote for the city to maintain the trees again!

    • The City doesn’t even maintain the trees they’re suppose to be maintaining! Look at the trees in Precita Park. Anyone who parks their car under the giant tree by the bench has a 50/50 chance of coming back to a giant branch resting on top of their car. How exactly is the City going to maintain these additional trees? I’d rather pay for my own tree and know it will be kept healthy, then wait for SF to get their act together to come out and trim it.

  3. This is great news but I have the same question as Gale… the city budget is apparently now $9b a year, which is double or a third more (not 100% sure of the increase) than in 2007. I get and fully support that money going to homeless shelters and other important city services, but it doesn’t feel right that we have billions more in the budget and there is even a question that the city should be maintaining these trees without imposing new taxes. It’s on my list now to research where all this extra money is going…

  4. A question for those who understand municipal procedures better than I: why can’t the board of supervisors just write and pass legislation on their own, rather than make it a ballot initiative? Isn’t this why we have elected officials? This hardly seems like something for which we need a city-wide referendum.

    • Sydney — they could, and I agree!! But they haven’t! and Mayor Lee won’t address it or support it! Every member can put forward their budget priorities, particularly members of the budget committee, like Supervisor Campos. But they haven’t!

  5. I’ll happily vote for this and pay for it, but what a crock the city doesn’t have the money. More realistically, the program doesn’t have any influential allies.

    @Sydney — Agree they should just take care of it, but in this case the referendum process may be legally necessary because of how the measure will be funded.

  6. I offered to buy every house on my street a tree when the city was planting in my neighborhood. Not one person accepted.

    I will gladly pay the $177 a year to the city. I had to pay 10K to fix all my sidewalk 10 years ago because my neighbors tree buckled all of my sidewalk. I replaced the stretch with as many trees as i could. The neighbors tree has buckled my driveway again so hopefully this passes before the city tags me this time.

  7. Anothere view from the hill, SOCO side. I will not vote for any measure that includes a “parcel tax.” Parcel taxes are a way to get around Prop 13 and each and every parcel tax starts to add up, compound on each other and never goes away. Yes, the City should take responsibility for the trees on its property – not the property owners adjacent to the trees. I support the idea, but not the Scott Weiner parcel tax way to pay for it. The parcel tax is beyond disingenuous when the issue of the tress falls squarely on the City – it is the City’s responsibility, not the responsibilty of the property owners to care or pay for the City’s trees. We pay enough property taxes and look what we get for it. What we pay is not allocated properly and money is moved around to fund pet projects at our expense. If the City and the Board were “responsible” and “accountable” to and there was transparency with the electorate (which is debatable on all issues confronting Silly Hall) for what they have done to the City so far – especially what Ed Lee has done to ruin our fair City by the Bay with his tax and give-away policies – then they should fund it appropriately instead of budget expenditures and give-aways to enhance political connections and contributions to politcians in power. Just say NO to any parcel taxes! Once the camel’s nose is in the tent with a “paracel tax,” look out property owners…

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