Street Tree via SocketSite.com

The language for a ballot measure which would transfer the responsibility for maintaining the street trees on public property in front of a privately owned business or home, and any resultant sidewalk damage the trees cause, back to the City of San Francisco has been drafted and should appear on the November ballot.

From the legislative overview of the proposed “City Responsibility and Parcel Tax for Street Trees” charter amendment:

Effective July 1, 2017, this ordinance would add a provision to the City’s charter to transfer to the City the responsibility for the maintenance of street trees, including any sidewalk damage caused by the tree’s growth or root system. The charter provision would not: (1) affect the rights or responsibilities of the City or property owners with respect to the removal, establishment, or relocation of street trees; (2) prevent the City from entering into or continuing to abide by prior voluntary agreements with third parties for them to assume responsibility for street tree maintenance; (3) prevent the City from imposing penalties or fees on persons who injure, damage, or destroy trees; or (4) relieve abutting property owners of their responsibility for the care and maintenance of the sidewalk areas adjacent to any street tree, other than the transfer to the City of the responsibility for sidewalk repairs related to the tree’s growth or root system.

Under the proposed charter provision, abutting property owners would no longer be liable for injury or property damage to the extent that the injury or property damage was caused by the City’s failure to maintain a street tree under the new law. However, the City would not be responsible for any injury or damages related to the maintenance of a street tree if the injury or damages occurred as a result of the abutting property owner’s responsibility to maintain the street tree prior to July 1, 2017, or if the maintenance of such tree required that the City access private property, and the private property owner refused to grant access to the tree after the City’s good faith effort to obtain permission to access the tree.

In exchange, the ordinance would impose a parcel tax for every property in San Francisco based on the number of linear feet the parcel is adjacent or tangent to a public right-of-way at the following rates, which would be consumer price indexed and adjusted annually:

(1) Parcels with less than 25 feet of Frontage, including Parcels with no Frontage, and all condominiums, shall be subject to an annual Tax of $29.50 per Parcel.

(2) Parcels with Frontage of 25 feet or more but less than 150 feet shall be subject to an annual Tax of $1.42 per linear foot of Frontage.

(3) Parcels with Frontage of 150 feet or more shall be subject to an annual Tax of $2 per linear foot of Frontage.

Parcels on which no property tax is levied, and parcels owned and occupied by an individual who is 65 years of age or older, would be exempt from the tax to be attached to property tax bills.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by soccermom

    Yes. Tree providers subsidized by sidewalk parkers.

  2. Posted by R

    I’d be all for this, but realistically, I’m going to pay $150 for the city to take care of the trees in front of my house – which they won’t do – and so then I’m going to have to pay my normal arborist to actually get it done. Oh well.

  3. Posted by 94116

    I have no trees in front of my house but yet I have to pay for those who do. 2016 is turning out to be the year of the parcel tax. Measure AA passed raising the parcel tax, BART will be soon to raise the parcel tax for infrastructure and now a parcel tax for the trees. This is not to mention the increase in sales tax by the mayor. No wonder the middle class is being squeezed out of this City. I will vote NO on all of them.

    • Posted by beachplease

      The middle class is being squeezed out because they are unable to afford homeownership. Hard to take you seriously when you’re a homeowner complaining about $12 or $30 a year when other people can’t even afford rent, and many other people feel that homeownership and parcel taxes are something they’ll never experience in their lifetimes.

      • Posted by 94116

        Money is not the point. The point is the City, with its 9 + Billion dollar budget, is nickel and diming everyone. Those people you mentioned who don’t own a home are going to have their rents raised as landlords can pass on the increase in their rents. So, throw me your $30 if you want to flush it down the drain.

        • Posted by Futurist

          And yes, renters SHOULD help pay for tree maintenance, planting trees and keeping our sidewalks in good shape. They benefit the same as property owners do.

          • Posted by eastbay

            They do. They pay rent. The rent goes to the landlord who then pays the taxes.

    • Posted by 94110

      You are not willing to pay for maintenance because you don’t have any trees in front of your house?! got it.

      Just make sure you never walk near or under any tree on any sidewalk, in that case. We’ll fine you if we ever catch you benefiting from the shade a tree provides or even so much as looking up at one.

      • Posted by 94116

        LOL… I live in the Sunset where the sun shines two weeks of the year and the temp stayed in the sixties. I certainly will not get heat stroke looking for a tree to shade under. Really!

    • Posted by Stop Driving

      Welcome to society. I don’t have kids in school, so should I get a tax exemption? I don’t start wars, so how about another exemption? Wow, we’ve already eliminated a huge portion of my tax burden. Again, Somalia is a perfect place for people who want anarchy/libertarianism. San Francisco? Notsomuch.

      • Posted by Brian M

        I hate this meme. Somalia is in no way an example of “libertarianism” or “anarchy”. It is a clashing constellation of mini-states, clan chiefdoms, war zones…all underpinned by hard core “traditional” Islamic values that would mean many of the commenters here would be buried up to our necks and stoned.

        • Posted by Stop Driving

          Find me a good example of a Libertarian nation and I’ll show you a failed state. You are living in a fantasy land. Somalia has no central government, which is exactly what lead to the prevalence of war lords and so called mini-states. BTW, if ‘move to Somalia’ is now a meme, I started it years ago. (pats self on back)

          • Posted by anon2

            They say the difference between Somalia and Kansas is federal farm subsidies.

    • Posted by Billy

      Sounds like you live in an ugly part of town and need some trees.

    • Posted by BTinSF

      With an ordinance like this, they may plant one in front of your house. You don’t have a tree now because the city has no money for tree planting.

      • Posted by DrPants

        Trees have always been ‘free’ and planted by friends of the urban forest. Many protest this because said owner would subsequently need to assume all liability from it. Glad the city are taking these things back.

    • Posted by Ben

      Thank heavens for all of us that many property owners DO have street trees adjacent to their properties, because we all enjoy the benefits, and I’m not just talking about aesthetic benefits.

      Regardless of whether or not we personally like trees, they provide terrific infrastructural, environmental, health, and psycho-social benefits. But when they’re neglected (as is currently the case) they endanger all of us.

      Luckily for you, even if you have street trees NEAR your house, your house has a higher resale value. Please re-think your position on whether this measure would be good for your city and good for you personally….

  4. Posted by San Francisco

    I am all for this. I have dumped 15K into sidewalks in the last 10 years and they are already thrashed again by roots from a tree in front of my neighbors. This can’t happen soon enough.

  5. Posted by old san franciscan

    It is more efficient for the city to do this. Trees benefit everyone. I wish Friends of the Urban Forest could figure out what street trees won’t crack sidewalks. We have to re-do half of our squares every 10 years. Never mind the concrete work, the city permit fees are expensive.

    • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

      Yes, the infrequently used tools for maintaining trees are big and bulky. Even outsourcing to a professional arborist is a little silly for only the standard 25′ frontage containing maybe one tree.

      This is a case where economies of scale matter. The city can send a crew one once every three years to clean up an entire block much cheaper than 30 homeowners can do so ad-hoc.

    • Posted by roberto

      The FUF have figured out what trees won’t harm sidewalks. I planted a FUF tree about 10 years ago and there has been no sidewalk damage at all. In fact, none of the trees planted on my block have damaged the sidewalk.

      The pre-planting informational session, held at FUF, were very clear on the not only tree selection, but also future sidewalk damage potentials.

      Sidewalk problems, for the majority, are the result of older trees planted prior to FUF involvement and/or poor watering methods by tree owners.

      I would suspect that any new trees would not result in sidewalk damage if properly managed.

      • Posted by old san franciscan

        I planted the smallest tree that FUF recommended (flowering cherry). It is a sidewalk buster. It has a huge diameter trunk, out of proportion to its top branches. Maybe the nursery shipped them a bad batch?

        • Posted by alberto rossi

          Not a bad batch. Why this species is still on FUF’s recommended list is a mystery.

          • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

            I noticed that the FUF list is no longer “recommended” but rather a list of trees you might spot in the city. It includes Liquidambar (http://www.fuf.net/tree/american-sweet-gum/) which is a known sidewalk shredder.

          • Posted by alberto rossi

            I thought Julia Roberts was America’s Sweet Gum.

    • Posted by moto mayhem

      nothing is more efficient that the city of San Francisco does vs. private owners who care about their prroperties. the City Gov is the definition of inefficiency

  6. Posted by Philip

    Trees crack the sidewalks because they are not being watered deeply enough.

    The City can’t take care of our parks, why does anybody think they will take care of our trees?

    • Posted by soccermom

      Because the city takes better care of the parks than if the parks maintenance were left to your neighbors and property owners, which is how tree maintenance currently works…

    • Posted by old san franciscan

      FUF used to provide a cardboard tube that you could bury for deep watering. Of course it disintegrates. Maybe they supply plastic tubes now?

  7. Posted by beachplease

    San Francisco is so far behind other cities in having a healthy urban forest it’s sad. Look at the beautiful streets in Seattle or Portland, or hell, even Sacramento. Then look at the bleak concrete wastelands we call streets in parts of SF. Some parts get it right (Duboce Triangle for example). We need more trees, and the City needs to take responsibility for them.

  8. Posted by Greg

    Does Frontage mean any part of my lot that fronts a street? So owners of corner lots pay a lot more? Ugh.

    • Posted by MDG399

      No – frontage refers to your addressable property line – as in – how long is the property line on the street where the parcel has its address….

    • Posted by Futurist

      Yes, and stop complaining. I own a house on a great corner in NV. And yes, I have planted and maintained 6 trees on 2 sides of my house for many years. I like doing that. It also has enhanced my property immeasurably. Don’t forget: corner properties typically have a lot more windows in the house and the rear yard gets a lot more light. It’s all good.

  9. Posted by cleverpunhere

    Why on earth should we exempt those 65+ from this? Do they not like trees? As a rule, can they not afford $30/year? Madness.

    • Posted by anon2

      I presume for the same reason we exempt them from paying for the schools: because they’re old, bitter, and vote.

      • Posted by Rillion

        Yep, it is always much easier to pass something if other people have to pay for it.

  10. Posted by keenplanner

    This is great! The City or FUF could do a better and more consistent job of planting appropriate trees and maintaining the ones we have. It’s difficult for some homeowners to come up with the money to both trim a tree correctly, and replace the sidewalk. This can run into the four figures, a hardship for many, so some homeowners take it upon themselves to trim trees, severely damaging them in the process. I’m all for it.

    • Posted by Willow

      The FUF have no idea what they are doing. Look at the pathetic trees they have recommended to be planted across the city.

      More taxes with no measurable benefit. The city government is a behemoth that wastes money. I’ll be voting no.

  11. Posted by AnonAnon

    I’m going to vote for it because it would takes decades for the cost of this tax to equal one round of sidewalk repair. It could also potentially shield you from liability from someone who sues you when they trip over a raised sidewalk in front of your house.

    But I hate this slippery slope of taxing for every little service that should already be included in the budget from what I pay in property taxes. There is plenty of room in City’s budget to maintain street trees and cracked sidewalks without nickel and diming us and these kinds of taxes set a terrible precedent.

  12. Posted by Mick

    leave the trees alone coward, pigs…

  13. Posted by Government Shrinkage

    Can we pass on the cost to our renters?

    • Posted by Kuzdu

      If you can’t afford this with the current rate of rents in the city, you got bigger problems.

  14. Posted by alberto rossi

    Left out of the article is that the plan is to increase the number of trees by 50%. So if you don’t have a tree now, you may be getting one.

    [Editor’s Note: The plan to increase San Francisco’s Urban Forest isn’t related to this measure. But as we reported two years ago: The Plan To Make San Francisco More Green.]

  15. Posted by [Mick]

    Si cualquier estos dañan árboles voy asesinar

  16. Posted by redseca2

    I believe that turning over responsibility to the property owner only happened recently, or at least recently in the context of someone who moved to SF in 1979 and it happened when I was here. Previously the City was responsible. I assume the new wrinkle is the parcel tax.

  17. Posted by tsf

    I’m a tax-paying property owner in San Francisco and have no “street trees” in front of my house so why on earth should I pay for other property owners’ tree maintenance? Just. Stop.

    • Posted by Ray

      Because you will get some thereby improving 1) the value of your property and 2) the quality of life of every person in the city.

      • Posted by tsf

        I whole-heartedy agree with 1) and 2). I will not, however, “get some” due to the limited frontage and the configuration of my property’s entryways.

    • Posted by Fishchum

      I don’t have any children – why should I pay taxes for schools? I don’t use Muni – why should I pay taxes for that?

      Seriously, are you listening to yourself?

      • Posted by tsf

        From my understanding (and please correct me if I’m wrong) street trees were traditionally the responsibility of the City (with no corresponding parcel tax for property owners) prior to the Tree Maintenance Transfer Plan which proposed transferring maintenance responsibility for approximately 24,000 trees to fronting property owners over a seven year period. Now the City is proposing nixing the TMTP and resuming maintenance responsibilities for said trees, but now with an additional parcel tax for all property owners.

        To clarify my previous comment, as much as I *do* like trees, I don’t feel imposing an additional tax burden on all property owners is acceptable. And, since I have no street trees, I prefer TMTP to the new proposed ordinance. I feel this is an example of the city attempting to “nickel-and-dime” property owners.

        FYI I’m happy to continue subsidizing public education (although I have no children to educate) and public transportation (which I do not use on a regular basis).

        • Posted by Fishchum

          Great, you’re off the hook – on one condition: We’ll fix you with an electric collar that will give you a shock every time you pass under a sidewalk tree that you feel $30 is too much to pay for.

  18. Posted by unlivable city

    I think every candidate for office in San Francisco should be required to publish, as part of their filings, a copy of the city budget – itemized – and wth their comments as to each line item as to its validity. Maybe that way we would have a $10 Billion dollar budget that would actually happen to pay for something other than salaries and pensions.

    • Posted by Dave

      The budget is ridiculous for a city this size. It would be one thing if the money resulted in adequate transportation, street maintenance and on and on. I sure don’t see that.

      I wll vote no as I don’t trust the City PTB from turning this into a slush fund.

      I bicycle around Lake Merced often and the maintenance there is generally a joke. There are a few dedicated workers but as many do nada. Just jaw it up with walkers and complain about their City job. Debris often falls into the road along the lake an it can take days for maintenance to remove it.

      It’ll be for more salaries, pensions and slush. An excuse to hire more City workers.

  19. Posted by anon2

    I think this is great. This city definitely needs more trees, and needs to keep and maintain the ones it has. Anything to help encourage more tree planting, and discourage tree removal is fantastic. I’m happy to pay some $25 – $50 a year on my taxes for this sort of thing.

    I am a little curious though, who’s going to go out to each of a hundred thousand some buildings and measure “the number of linear feet the parcel is adjacent or tangent to a public right-of-way”? Maybe they already have that sort of information on file?

    • Posted by alberto rossi

      The city has exquisitely detailed data on every parcel and building.

      • Posted by anon2

        I know that, and I wasn’t expecting someone to literally travel around the city with a clipboard and a tape measure.

        I’m just wondering if “the number of linear feet the parcel is adjacent or tangent to a public right-of-way” is already a metric they have in their database. If not, then somebody will still need to go and check it for each parcel. Not a small job.

        • Posted by alberto rossi

          or they can just press the magic “calculate the frontage” button after they’ve loaded the exquisite data into the GIS software

          • Posted by phil

            The planing department already has this date! Hooray!

  20. Posted by BTinSF

    Question: I’m “over 65”. How does one ensure one gets these exemptions?

    • Posted by old san franciscan

      I am over 65, and I don’t mind paying for this. For the exemption from one smallish school related parcel tax, there is a form to fill out every year. You must prove you are still over 65. To renew you dog’s license, you must prove your dog is still spayed/neutered to get the discount.

    • Posted by soccermom

      I think you have to file an old person affidavit with the assessor. Not kidding.

  21. Posted by nopa-sf

    Just like school bonds. Why do only property owners pay for them? Tenants don’t have kids?

    • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

      Landlords pass their costs through to tenants, including property taxes.

      • Posted by Renee Lu

        LOL…How much the rent can be increase under rent control? How much can owner pass the costs (school tax, tree & sidewalk maintaining, & more) to tenants?

        • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

          Good point. I had forgotten about RC. The fair thing to do would be to allow a one-time additional rent increase equal to the increase in property taxes. For this and any additional service paid via a property tax increment.

          • Posted by phil

            Pretty sure that new taxes related to property (parcel taxes) can be written off in taxes as a business expense when they can not be “passed through” to renters.

  22. Posted by Sir Digby

    Lol! Love it. I’m voting for this. The strawberry tree is a good one that generally won’t bust up the sidewalk. I’ve never lived anywhere where the property owner is forced to pay for sidewalk maintenance, glad that SF is getting it together, altho the extra charge is uncalled for.

  23. Posted by JR "Bob" Dobbs

    I’m torn. It makes obvious sense to me to have the city maintain the trees as a single source rather than 300,000 individual homeowners lining up tree maintenance. But 65+ year-olds should not get a free pass.

    I understand the realpolitik logic – old people tend to vote, and they tend to vote against anything that they have to pay for in any way. So this exemption will get the older voters to vote Yes knowing that they get something for free while everyone else pays for them. That is a terrible policy (note that I will benefit from this policy for far more years than not).

    Undecided, but this may swing me against this initiative.

    • Posted by Amewsed

      I am getting a fake ID to state that I am twenty years older than I actually am so I can take advantage of the senior exemptions and other senior discounts. Middle class and middle age are not places where I want to be.

      • Posted by soccermom

        We assume a certain amount of honesty in people generally, in our social organization. If a few people cheat, life will go on. If you’re down the road, try to get some undeserved disability income or slip and fall in a supermarket.

        I expect you are being facetious anyway, but really we don’t even ask for people to show ID when they vote. Opportunities for dishonesty abound.

        • Posted by Amewsed

          It proves my point of policymakers carving out exceptions to the rule. If you are going to make everyone pay for street trees maintenance including those without trees, then don’t carve out seniors because you think that will help a measure pass. Otherwise, if I want some really bad piece of legislation to pass, I could also give out free marijuana to large groups of voters make sure it passes.

          I have no problems with paying my fair share of taxes and I do. But I do not want to pay into a system where funds are routinely mismanaged and policies are unfairly skewed. My bigger worry isn’t this tree tax, it is the big unfunded pension obligations of the state and local government.

    • Posted by cleverpunhere

      I agree. Exempting 65+ is terrible policy. I already pay 15x the property tax as my older neighbors (due to prop 13). I sorta think the boomers have taken enough and could pitch in $30 here and there.

      • Posted by Sir Digby

        Well said.

        • Posted by phil

          I tend to agree, but there are many seniors who live in what are now very expensive houses who also live on a fixed income and are actually “cash poor.” This may not be the majority, but they are out there… just sayin’

  24. Posted by Philip

    I hope there would be some way to keep the City clowns away from one’s trees. I have a lovely tree that I pay a professional arborist to manage, and I don’t want anybody else messing with it.

    • Posted by Hugh

      I think that’s a rare case. Most property owners do a terrible job, and would rather see trees die than have to maintain them.

      My own building owner recently had to repair the sidewalk from root damage. Solution: chop off and remove all visible roots. Next rainstorm, of course, a four-story tree falls, smashes cars, blocks Pine St., and Public Works has to pay to clean it up anyway. It’s very lucky no one was killed.

      • Posted by phil

        I heard that Public Works will allow citizens who want to prune thier own trees do to so, granted they hire a professional arborist. It will save them money, so why not?

  25. Posted by Sal Zigtal

    No senior citizen discounts (namelink), BTW, I’m 62+.

  26. Posted by BobN

    How about a compromise? If you’re over 65 and want to tell people to stay out of your tree, you have to pay the tax.

  27. Posted by condoshopper

    what about owners of condos?

    • Posted by SocketSite

      See point #1 in the fee table we outlined above.

  28. Posted by Pablito

    San Francisco definitely needs more street trees and the tax is a reasonable amount. But I expect the Supervisors will give their cronies the tree contracts and steal the money…

  29. Posted by AnonAnon

    Apparently this ballot measure has been replaced by a different compromise measure where maintenance of the street trees will be taken back by the city – including cracked sidewalk repair and liability issues related to cracked sidewalks, but will not be paid for out of a parcel tax. According to Supervisor Wiener, who spoke at out neighborhood meeting, the maintenance will be funded out of the general fund but will be a dedicated budget so the city can’t just abandon the maintenance again. If I understood it correctly they are also proposing a luxury transfer tax on sale of properties over $5 million to help the fund.

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