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SF officially reclaims responsibility for street trees

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A San Francisco Public Works employee cuts a street tree at 23rd and Castro streets on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (Sarahbeth Maney/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco officials pruned several trees — and some residents’ stress — on Wednesday to celebrate The City reclaiming responsibility for its street canopy.

Mayor Ed Lee joined other city officials and advocates in Noe Valley to kick off the Street Tree SF, a measure transferring the responsibility of about 125,000 street trees and the 31,000 sidewalks they damage from property owners to The City.

The Department of Public Works took up the baton July 1, prioritizing the trees that can endanger the public, said Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. The tree care should become routine with time, following a three- to five-year pruning cycle, he added.

To maintain the trees, The City plans to allocate $19,000 every year, “so that DPW wouldn’t scream about the lack or resources,” Mayor Lee said.

Public Works plans to hire 50 new arborists and inspectors and order new trucks built specifically for tree maintenance purposes, Nuru said. Public Works contractors do most of the maintenance now.

Before Proposition E was approved in November, property owners had to take care of the street trees, something they did not always have the money, knowledge or will to do, Mayor Lee said.

“All of that confused and frustrated residents and property owners around The City, as well as the Public Works,” Mayor Lee said.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy said the cost of tree trimming, about $500, often discouraged residents from planting new trees.

Residents can still choose to maintain the trees themselves, but Nuru said not one person has opted to do so.

Monica McGuire, who has lived in Noe Valley for 34 years and dealt with concrete cracking and trees obstructing light, said she was satisfied with The City reclaiming ownership.

“I’m just really, really happy,” McGuire said. “It looks better already, and they are not even finished.”

In addition to making The City healthier and prettier, trees bring character to the San Francisco neighborhoods, Sheehy said.

“These trees are just as diverse as San Francisco,” Sheehy exclaimed, pointing up the 23rd street.

Mayor Lee noted San Francisco could not do without the trees.

“But,” he said, “we need to maintain them.”

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