February 2014

Arkansas Street Trees Slated to be Removed

Public protests temporarily halted plans to cut-down nine large trees along Arkansas Street, between 18th and Mariposa streets, forcing a public hearing over the issue.  But the trees could be felled after the late-January hearing takes place.

The trees are located on the east side of the block, adjacent to MacKenzie’s Warehouse, which is responsible for them. “It’s a giant safety concern,” Michelle MacKenzie-Menendez, owner of the warehouse, said of the trees, which have been subject to regular complaints from neighbors and the City. She’s afraid a falling tree will kill someone. “Their dangerous trees,” she said.

A public notice posted on the trees states that the plants are dead or nearly dead, though to a casual observer they appear healthy. New trees will replace the ones that are cut-down; the replacement species hasn’t yet been determined.

“The Director of the Department of Public Works has determined that the street trees must be removed in the interest of public safety,” states the notice. It also indicates that the trees are in distressed conditions. It adds that there have been repeated branch failures during the past year, which MacKenzie-Menendez confirmed. She paid $5,000 when a tree limb damaged a truck.

“The owner has applied to remove the trees,” said a statement from DPW. “We then evaluated the health and structural condition of the trees and agreed that nine of them had enough structural issues to justify approving them for removal.” MacKenzie-Menendez’s permit for their elimination states that an arborist considers them to be hazardous.

The proposed tree cutting takes place along a block that’s slated to be developed into 320 residential rental units and roughly 10,000 square feet of retail space by Related California.  Lydia Tan, executive vice president, Related California, said her project and the tree cutting are unrelated.

DPW received two protests over the cutting, one from Debra Lardie, a Hill business owner who thinks the trees should be pruned rather than removed. “That’s a really big greenbelt,” she said. “It’s a huge loss to the birds in the neighborhood. That’s my distress.” Lardie also thinks DPW didn’t give enough public notice before the tree removal started, and said the notices placed on the trees are difficult to see. Not only do the notice’s color blend into the tree trunks, but DPW placed them facing the property rather than the street. DPW insisted that it followed proper protocol.

“By pushing responsibility for the maintenance of street trees onto property owners who are unable or unwilling to properly maintain them, the City and County of San Francisco unfortunately guarantees that many of those trees will eventually endanger rather than benefit the public,” said Dan Flanagan, executive director, Friends of the Urban Forest, which promotes a larger and healthier urban forest. “Other cities recognize that street trees are a vital part of the urban infrastructure, and maintain them just as they maintain the roadways, water and sewer systems. The new draft Urban Forest Plan for San Francisco calls for the City to establish a dedicated funding source to replace its grossly inadequate urban forestry program with the kind of robust urban forestry program its citizens want and deserve.”   

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