SF makes plan to plant more trees, take responsibility of existing ones

For a city that prides itself on being green, San Francisco is well behind places such as New York and Los Angeles when it comes to the very real greenery that is a tree.

Now there is a plan in the works to grow The City’s canopy and in the process put all street trees under The City’s protection.

San Francisco has about 700,000 trees growing on its soil — a canopy that shades a meager 13 percent of The City. The San Francisco Urban Forest Plan envisions growing The City’s canopy over the next two decades so it eventually covers a quarter of The City.

The plan also would fully fund the care of most city trees so that city arborists, not property owners, take responsibility for street trees.

“What we would like to do and what this plan is proposing is that The City would have dedicated funding that would enable us to maintain all street trees in the public right of way,” said Carla Short, an urban forester with the Department of Public Works, which presented the plan to the Planning Commission last week.

The annual cost of the plan would be about $20 million, which would fix sidewalks, maintain trees and plant new ones.

Of The City’s 700,000 trees, 105,000 are street trees. The plan hopes to plant 50,000 new street trees by 2033.

Short said funding options are still being discussed. Two top contenders are a small parcel tax or an assessment.

Because of budget cuts, since 2007 The City’s arborist crew has shrunk from 19 to 11 members. Cuts also initiated the transfer of many street trees to the care of property owners. Public Works currently cares for 40,000 street trees, with the rest falling under the responsibility of property owners.

These trends have not been good for The City’s forest, said Friends of the Urban Forest Executive Director Dan Flanagan. Either property owners can’t afford to take care of the trees, or they hire untrained trimmers who end up harming the trees instead of trimming them.

“It’s really sad to see The City moving in the wrong direction,” said Flanagan of the past few years.

If incorporated into The City’s general plan, the Urban Forest Plan, which has three phases, would reverse much of this damage, Short said.

The first phase of the plan focuses on street trees, the second would focus on park trees and the final phase would focus on private trees.

A presentation about the Urban Forest Plan is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center at 1800 Market St.

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