More than 1500 people have signed a petition seeking to halt the planned removal of 19 ficus trees around San Francisco’s Main Library.
Signs announcing that the trees would be cut down due to safety concerns were posted earlier this year, though a timeline for the removal has not been finalized. The removal order is currently being challenged, with a hearing scheduled at the Board of Appeals on Jan. 25.
As of Thursday, more than 1,745 people had signed the petition to keep the Civic Center trees in place, which says the loss would exacerbate respiratory health problems and “local climate change,” among other things. Organizers hope to get 2,500 signatures.
The petition created by John Nulty, a community organizer who also filed the appeal, alleges that the mass clearing, which will be carried out by the Department of Public Works, is an effort to reduce maintenance costs.
Voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 shifting the burden for tree maintenance away from property owners and on to The City.
“DPW is acting under a 2014 standing order (#183151) to eliminate Ficus trees that neatly folds in with a recent 2016 voter initiative (Proposition E) returning maintenance of street trees to the City,” the petition states.
Nulty could not be reached for comment by press time, but Public Works Spokesperson Rachel Gordon denied the claims.
“There is not a direct correlation between Proposition E, now known as StreetTreeSF, and the recommended removal of these trees, other than our goal is to protect public safety. That was our goal prior to passage of Proposition E, as well,” Gordon wrote in an email.
The tree advocates point out that removing 19 trees at once “further diminishes the size and volume of our urban forest canopy,” which they say at 16 percent is “ already the smallest of any major American city today.”
But Gordon said that most of these trees will be replaced with a “more suitable species.” Red maples have been recommended.
A 2014 order spelling out the guidelines for evaluating whether a ficus tree is qualified for removal “does make it easier to remove ficus trees,” however, and lays out the criteria for removal, “such as pruning history and limb structure,” added Gordon.
“Ficus trees are known to be very prone to limb failures, which is why Public Works eased their removal,” San Francisco Public Library spokesperson Mindy Linetzky wrote in an email, adding that the library does not “recommend the replacement of any tree lightly.”
“The trees on Hyde and Grove have grown quite large and are lopsided due to the proximity of the building, and with the very heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic around the library, we are very concerned about the potential for serious injury if one topples over or has a major limb failure,” wrote Linetzky.
Around 2,700 ficus trees have been planted in San Francisco, and some of them have proven problematic. In 2014, a man sustained life-threatening injuries after he was struck by a part of a ficus tree in the Mission District.
On Thursday, a tree fell onto an unoccupied car in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, blocking traffic. Gordon confirmed that that tree was also a ficus.
Some 125,000 street trees are under the jurisdiction of Public Works, though this number “does not reflect the trees on the Recreation and Park Department land, private property backyards, the Presidio, etc.,” according to Gordon.