San Francisco, already one of the least-leafy major cities in the U.S., is losing trees faster than it’s planting them. Years of neglect of street trees have resulted in a dangerous environment in which unhealthy trees regularly drop branches or topple altogether, especially during windy or rainy weather.
Our sidewalks are also in terrible shape; more than 6,000 of them are cracked, buckled and uneven. Unrepaired sidewalk damage causes dangerous walking conditions, especially for seniors and people with disabilities. Trees are by far the biggest contributors to The City’s broken sidewalks. Trip-and-fall injuries are the top cause of injury-related hospitalizations and death for seniors.
Both of these problems are the result of a longtime policy failure that could be corrected in one fell swoop. This failure has provoked public outcry recently, as The City has made budget-based decisions to transfer responsibility for the maintenance of thousands of street trees and sidewalks to the adjacent property owners — many of whom don’t have the knowledge or means to provide such maintenance, and some of whom don’t even realize The City holds them responsible for it. Even prior to this deeply unpopular program of “relinquishment,” tree and sidewalk maintenance has been completely inconsistent: a mish-mash in which The City has maintained some of them and expected homeowners to maintain the others.
Voters will have a chance to fix this mess by passing Proposition E in November. Prop. E will make The City responsible once again for the maintenance of all street trees and the repair of tree-related sidewalk damage. It will pay for these costs through a $19 million set-aside from the General Fund and, therefore, will not impose any additional burden on taxpayers.
This level of funding will also cover maintenance costs for the 50,000 new trees The City aims to plant over the next 20 years to reverse the decline of our urban forest. A portion of the funds will also be used to maintain trees in public schoolyards.
Passage of Prop. E will ensure that street trees no longer place a disproportionate financial burden on San Franciscans in less affluent neighborhoods, which are currently (and unsurprisingly, under the circumstances) far less leafy than our affluent neighborhoods.
A robust and well-maintained urban forest reduces pollution in our air and water, provides wildlife habitat and improves public health. That’s the kind of urban forest San Francisco can and should have.
Prop. E will keep the public right of way safe for everyone, especially those will limited mobility, and will give us the opportunity to become a leader in creating an equitable and safe urban forest for all our residents.
Please join us in supporting Prop. E, for healthy trees and safe sidewalks in every neighborhood in San Francisco.
Laura Tam is the sustainable development policy director at SPUR. Amandeep Jawa is president of the San Francisco League of Conservation Voters.