As a city that prides itself on being “green” and progressive, one might expect San Francisco to be among the most tree-friendly in America. After all, these enduring plants sprout beauty and soak up carbon — just what we need in an era of workaholic anxiety and climate change. Yet San Francisco suffers a low and shrinking tree canopy — and a multimillion-dollar revamping of South Park is about to make that worse.
This week, a $2.8 million renovation of South Park begins destroying and removing 38 trees, despite a certified arborist report that recommends removing only two and pruning the rest. Why, in a time of tree shortages and constant fiscal trimming, would we spend so much money removing trees, to revamp a park that is enjoyed by diverse groups of people every day?
Why not minimize tree destruction, retain as many of these towering beauties as possible, and maximize our city’s tree canopy by using that money to plant trees where they are desperately needed?
A recent report by the San Francisco Planning Department reveals a low and shrinking tree canopy: Just 13.7 percent of The City receives tree cover, compared with 24 percent for New York, and 22 percent for cities nationwide. Entire neighborhoods are overrun by barren concrete; particularly in poor areas such as the Tenderloin, green is a scarce commodity, in both money and leaves.
Yet in largely wealthy, politically connected South Park, chock-full of multimedia and tech firms, The City is poised to tear out 38 trees and spend nearly $3 million to overhaul a park that is already enjoyed daily by a diverse range of people, from area employees, to neighborhood residents, to homeless folks. (We can only hope that this pricey park overhaul is not going to discourage or diminish this diverse community access.)
A recent report by the city controller’s office shows a wide disparity in park maintenance, with wealthier neighborhoods scoring up to 87.5 percent, while poor neighborhoods in the Excelsior and Bayview score radically lower. Why not spend some of the South Park renovation money to help those parks in poor neighborhoods that need it most?
Meanwhile, a certified arborist — a respected horticulture firm commissioned by South Park renovation advocates — concluded, “Trees at South Park are vigorous and in generally good health.” While some trees are in “fair or moderate” health, the certified tree expert recommends removing only two dying trees, while maintaining the rest.
San Francisco should strive to maximize tree population wherever possible, and prioritize planting new trees in poor neighborhoods and parks that are abandoned and struggling — rather than spending millions of dollars and removing trees in areas that are plentiful in both money and greenery.
Beyond South Park, this is an important citywide fiscal and ecological issue: We should be spending our dedicated parks dollars wisely, to expand greenery and diverse park access, particularly in areas beset by poverty and disproportionate toxins and pollution.
More than 125 neighborhood and city residents have signed a Change.org petition urging District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim and Rec and Park department officials to save as many trees as possible. That tree removal money could help plant new trees in a tree-deprived part of her district.
Improving and maintaining our city’s parks is a vital ecological and social project, for neighborhoods, families and kids. Like libraries, these are vital and rare public spaces that offer social connection and healthful respite from the urban concrete jungle. We should spend our parks money on expanding and maintaining greenery and tree cover, rather than unnecessarily tearing up trees.
By pruning South Park’s excessive tree removal, we can save money, time and trees — and help expand rather than reduce our city’s already-low tree population. Please sign the petition at www.change.org.
Christopher Cook is an award-winning journalist, author and activist based in San Francisco.