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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.


Posted by

Amy Stewart
on January 25, 2012 at 5:28 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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