A Tree? For Me? Oh, You Shouldn’t Have!



The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the City of San Francisco is working through a process of notifying residents that the street trees next to their property are now their responsibility. Each tree is individually assessed and a notice is posted and sent to the property owner when the transfer happens.

The problem is that the city simply can't afford to trim and care for the 100,000 trees in public spaces in the city. According to the plan they've posted, they will be transferring 3000 trees per year to private maintenance.

Street trees continue to be planted at the rate of about 1200 per year, but those are now automatically placed in the care of the property owner.

So here's the thing:  these trees should be pruned every 3-5 years, according to the city and general common sense, but the city's only been able to trim them on a 10-12 year schedule.  People who plan to hire this out can expect to spend $300-$1000 to get this done, depending on the tree. 

And of course, the efficiency of having someone come along and trim all the trees on the block will, presumably, be lost when one property owner at a time decides to deal with tree-trimming.  It would be nice if people would work together and coordinate this and all chip in to get the work done on a regular schedule for a good price–but come on, this is San Francisco.  How likely is that to happen?

So–there's no good answer.  Money's tight, budgets are being cut, and tough decisions had to be made.  Sure, it might end up costing more in the long run, as things like street trees fall into disrepair or, at best, are unevenly maintained–but it's hard to see what else they could have done.

Any San Francisco property owners out there dealing with the unexpected gift of a few street trees?  Or any other communities dealing with the same issue?  We'd love to hear your thoughts.



  1. Planting a tree that needs to be pruned every 3 to 5 years is just bad planning. They should plant trees that will grow to fit the allowable space.

  2. My husband is a forester. We heat with wood. Problem solved. But seriously, I would cut down the tree(s) I owned and plant something appropriate. Budgets are tight for everyone, not just the city. Intentionally imposing an expense on someone should be against the law.

  3. …and what about liability? If a now-private tree falls on someone’s car will the “owner” be responsible for damages?

  4. I would have loved for my town to tell me I owned my street trees. Begged them for years to cut down an EAB infested Ash as well as a maple that had been maimed by a car and was dying a miserable death.
    Shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that some moron with a chainsaw will not becoming down the street anymore to ruin our trees? Sounds like a great opportunity for an IGC to start giving lectures on pruning street trees. Lets get serious people.

  5. Here’s a possible solution. Since trees add value to everyone’s property, perhaps the city could charge a fee to property owners based on the value of their property, the proceeds of which would fund a crew of people working for the city who would regularly trim trees. Oh wait, that would be GOVERNMENT and we can’t have that. So instead the first time the property owner finds out trimming costs $1,000, they will pay $2,000 and have the tree cut down. And a city without trees is so much better than a city with GOVERNMENT.

  6. This is a terrible plan from the city of S.F.
    All you have to do is look at certain areas of the city ( take the sunset district for instance ) and you’ll see that given the opportunity to cut down a street tree a homeowner will do it in a heart beat. … get this… … for additional parking.
    In a city that has suburban like neighborhoods within the city boundaries parking is a major issue. I can hear the chain saws buzzing.

  7. I have city-owned palm trees in my front yard. The neighbors and I gave up on the city pruning them years ago. We take care of it ourselves. We can usually get a discount if several of us have them done at the same time. If the city would let me I’d cut them down because they’re at least 50 feet high and to me look like telephone poles.

  8. Although it should in theory make sense that the city can trim all the trees on a street and save money on the efficiency of doing a bunch at once, it is still government that we’re talking about. It’s hard to believe individuals can’t get it done for less money than the city. That having been said, it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out, with people chopping down their trees, suing each other for injuries, sidewalks getting destroyed by overgrown trees, fines for not trimming, ets…

  9. In San Jose, many homeowners were informed that the street trees in front of their homes were theirs to maintain, to pay any damages stemming from them, and to follow the “heritage tree” laws/regs that many cities and towns have often prevent you from actually getting rid of them.

    My priestess was “gifted” with a common eucalyptus tree, which as some of you know, like to drop limbs periodically, completely smashing cars, and occasionally killing unsuspecting people in them.

    If I were given a choice of tree, I might handle such a law better, but that assumes a new division.

    While I have no “street trees” on my property, I was happy to find the yucca things, about the size and shape of the palm trees RJ mentions above, were not considered trees and got them yanked as soon as I could. I have none of the four trees Campbell considers protected, so I’m pretty safe.

    There are two crape myrtle trees that need to come out, right by our bedroom window, and often leaning on the house when in bloom (until *that* limb is removed) and allowing us to have marvelous purchases of Kleenex (yes, I do men the brand) all summer long. They also harbor the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which all the local vineyards hate.

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