Ficus trees hang over 24th Street in the Mission District. Many of the trees are slated to be removed soon despite the objections of residents. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Ficus trees on 24th Street to be removed after lengthy community fight

Thirty-three ficus trees will be removed from 24th Street in the Mission district despite passionate community opposition after a Board of Appeals vote on Wednesday.

Residents and community activists who have fought the tree’s removal for more than a year and a half tried to convince the board to reject the plan.

But after listening to statements on their cultural, environmental and historical significance, the board made their decision based on the argument that the trees, which were planted in the 1970s, pose a safety hazard due to falling branches.

“We’ve had two failures in the time that it’s taken to go through this year, year and a half process,” said Chris Buck, a forester for the Department of Public Works. “Many of them now are 40 years old and they’re beginning to age and their large stems are beginning to fail citywide.”

Buck said the trees were not pruned properly when they were smaller, which has led them to grow laterally, causing significant risk to cars and pedestrians below. In addition, he said that many of the ficus roots have caused damage to The City’s sidewalks, and at times impaired access for people with disabilities.

Not everyone on the Board of Appeals was convinced. Darryl Honda, the board’s vice president, said he watched a ficus tree lose one of its limbs into the street this past weekend, but he still couldn’t bring himself to uproot the urban forest he grew up admiring.

“It’s an assumed liability, and this is where we have to weigh out, fellow commissioners, what is that worth,” Honda said. “To me, to make 24th Street a desert for the next five to ten years is pretty tough, and it’s hard to fathom.”

The process originated with a proposal to remove 77 of the trees, but ultimately ended with a compromise to remove just 33, which will be replaced by 50 red maple and ginkgo trees on 24th Street, and an additional 95 trees in the neighboring blocks.

According to the agreement, the new trees will be planted within 3 months of the removal, and the community will be allowed to hold a socially distanced goodbye ceremony for their beloved ficuses.

“We know we can’t save every single tree, this is the cyclical nature of life, but the city can and must do better,” said self-described tree activist Joshua Klipp in a video he prepared for the hearing. “What this community has managed to achieve in this process is remarkable. It is a model for how communities can rally for one another and for the place we call home.”

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