Polk trees survive city’s mulcher

The fight was about two trees on Polk Street, and it appears they won.

There were plans to fell the more than 20-year-old ficus macrocarpa “Nitida” trees as a part of San Francisco’s Great Street program, which is designed to improve the look of roads around The City.

Longtime Lower Polk residents Hank Cancel and Jim Han Xu — who have watched the trees grow and survive in the 1300 block of Polk Street despite high winds and occasional gashes from the top edges of tall vehicles — decided they would not let the trees go down without putting up a fight.

Cancel and Han Xu filed an appeal objecting to the tree removal and built up support by recently posting several 9-by-11 signs in the area asking residents to “Save the Polk Street trees” and to turn out at Wednesday’s Board of Appeals meeting, when the appeal would be heard.

The Department of Public Works’ reason for removal was the “evidence of trunk wounds” and how the trees would “conflict with the lighting design” of the street’s “improvement plan.”

Under the program, improvements to Lower Polk Street include putting queen palms at intersections, a small variety of Southern magnolia at midblocks and Kwanzan cherries at alleys. It also includes installation of historic overhead light fixtures.

Cancel said the reasons given by The City were not good enough.

“We’ve seen the two trees grow for many years,” he said. “They’re very healthy trees.”

Memo Celen is part owner of a City Kebab franchise, which sells Mediterranean food, and has an entrance facing one of the two trees. He said The City should instead “put another beautiful tree somewhere else that doesn’t have one.”

Chris Hogg, who was walking past the trees Monday afternoon, said The City should keep the trees since they diversify the area.

“You don’t want everything looking uniform,” he said.

Public Works spokeswoman Christine Falvey told The Examiner that the department has reconsidered and will not cut down the trees after all. She said the decision was made based on community support and the follow-up analysis of the trees’ conditions. Falvey said Public Works had decided “weeks” ago to spare them, but had failed to contact Cancel.

He was a little confused why The City had not contacted him.

“They have my number,” Cancel said.

But he called the decision “wonderful.”

“It’s good for the trees. It’s good for the neighborhood,” Cancel said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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