Toppling trees terrify Richmond district residents

It has been more than a year since a woman visiting the Richmond district parked her car, walked toward a nearby house and then had a limb crush her vehicle — and though work has been done on the perennials in the area, neighbors say hazards remain.

The deadly issue of falling trees has plagued the deficit-ridden Recreation and Park Department for years, but residents along a 15-block stretch of Park Presidio are calling on the agency to do more.

Tom Opdycke said for years neighbors had known of the hazards of trees in the area. As a result the Park Presidio Neighbors was born in 1992 to give the area better organization and greater voice.

Opdycke has photographically documented cars that have been smashed by fallen limbs and trees that have toppled over onto the walking path that is used by joggers and walkers.

The stretch of trees is along the thoroughfare that runs north and south between Fulton and Lake streets — roughly between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. The green space is seen as an extension of Golden Gate Park, which is why Rec and Park has jurisdiction over the tree maintenance. The Department of Public Works is in charge of many other street trees across The City.

In the last year, Rec and Park has removed several dozen trees. City documents show the Recreation and Park Commission approved spending $300,000 to fell more than 60 of the 1,077 trees that were marked as dead, decaying or dangerous. Many of the trees identified were more than 100 years old and mainly of the eucalyptus species, Opdycke said.

Opdycke, however, said more needs to be done.

“The worst were removed,” he said, “but we could probably remove another 100 trees.”

The issue of deadly trees came to light in April 2008 when a massive branch fell off a tree in Stern Grove and crashed down on
Kathleen Bolton as she stood in a parking lot.

After the fatal incident, Rec and Park passed a $4 million clean and safe neighborhood parks bond that would fund tree removal. A study to identify the worst of The City’s trees was expected to be completed this year.

The park department, which maintains 131,000 trees across The City, like all city departments is facing major budget cuts.

Officials say the department is more than 200 gardeners short to maintain the parks at a minimum, which contributes to the challenges the department faces.

“Our top priority is to provide clean and safe park experiences  to the public, and identifying and reducing the number of hazardous trees in our parks is key to that mission,” said Rec and Park spokesman Elton Pon.

And while the study of dangerous trees is completed, Opdycke said efforts to continue pruning or removing trees along Park Presidio has all but stopped.

“It’s pretty unpredictable,” he said of the falling trees. “It’s amazing, because there will be calm, sunny days when all of a sudden one would just fall over.”

Plunging plant life

The greenery along Park Presidio in the Richmond district is in need of maintenance.

131,000:
Total trees Rec and Park maintains
1,077: Total trees on 15-block stretch
61: Trees that were removed last fall
22: Trees that were pruned
$300,000: Spent on the work for the 83 trees

Source: Department of Recreation and Park

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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