Singers at Fiesta de las Americas in front of a York Street mural that was being blocked by trees. Photo by George Lipp

The owner of a house on York and 25th streets where trees were removed in the days leading up to Sunday’s Fiesta De Las Américas block party will be fined nearly $6,000 for taking the trees down.

Rachel Gordon, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Public Works, confirmed that three trees — two in healthy condition and one that was dying — were removed without permits.

As a result, the owner of the property, musician Richard Segovia, will be fined a total of $5,919, or  $1,973 per tree, she said. 

Gordon said he has a right to appeal the fines.

The house, where Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center recently painted mural honoring Latin Rock, was the backdrop for the stage on Sunday, where more than 100 musicians played. Many of their younger selves appear in the mural.

Segovia said he and some friends removed the trees, but only because officials, who he thought were on their way, failed to arrive.

The musician said he contacted District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office earlier this summer about the tree removal, and in May he met with one of Ronen’s aides, Carolina Morales.

Last Monday, less than a week before the festival, he received a call from Morales asking for his address, so that someone could remove the trees. No one showed up, Segovia said, so he and some friends took the trees down. And, yes, they obstructed the view of the mural.

“I would have never removed the trees if I wouldn’t have got this mural on my home,” Segovia said.

Morales confirmed that she had been in contact with Segovia about the trees, and that she contacted the Public Works about the procedure for getting trees removed before the block party, but received no exact response.

She said she called Segovia that Monday for his address to give to Public Works, but did not give him permission to remove the trees.

“I never gave permission,” Morales said. “I said I would get Public Works to get there. That’s the most I could ever do.”

On Friday, residents of York Street reached out to Mission Local, pointing out the removed trees.

One of the residents, Ben Glenn, that said that neighbors on York Street were “heartbroken” that trees had been illegally removed from the street.

Street view from Google when there were trees and no mural.
Detritus of trees. Photo by Ben Glenn.
The new mural. Photo by Ben Glenn.
Photo by Ben Glenn.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. In the end, did Segovia appeal the fine?
    Did he win or lose the appeal?
    If he lost the appeal, did he pay the fine or simply ignore it?
    Or did Calle 24 pay his fine for him?

  2. Perhaps Mr. Segovia assumed that if he had a mural painted on his house, the city would permit him to remove the adjacent street trees to give the public a better view of the mural. That was a risky assumption! Because trees provide vital benefits, and because San Francisco’s tree canopy lags behind those of other major U.S. cities, Public Works does not often issue permits for the removal of healthy trees. A photo accompanying this article (“Street view from Google when there were trees and no mural”) shows that the trees did not entirely obscure the visibility of the house; trees and murals can and should co-exist and could have co-existed in this instance. This may be an expensive lesson for Mr. Segovia, but one of the reasons the city issues such fines — and one of the reasons articles like this one serve the public interest — is that the rest of us are reminded that we may not make independent decisions to remove or destroy street trees (or any other public property) without consequences.

  3. This is deplorable and he should be jailed but I wish that mission local would dedicate just a tenth of this word count to the thousands of appalling violent crimes and their unfortunate victims that they’ve reported on. You followed up on this tragic tree vandalism ML but what about all of the poor folks who were mugged, beaten, stabbed within just a few blocks of here? Surely one of them could have been a personal interest story. Surely one of them could have been followed up on. Surely one of them had more of a story to tell about their life being upended by violence and hatred.

  4. Tension are getting too high. Which isn’t a good thing for the city.

    Personally I like both trees and murals.

    I hope the compromise is, if the trees are replanted, the fine is waived in this case.

  5. rules and laws have consequences. the owner’s fine seems fare. hope he learns and the example is set…..but not if calle 24 steps in to cover the fine….which seems likely.

  6. The trees were planted at the request, knowledge and permission of the property owner (Segovia) or a previous property owner and they should be replanted at his expense. If they are not replaced at the same site and at his cost, DPW sets a precedent.

  7. The point is that the trees belong to the city there is a process required before removing them, which was completely ignored. If you destroyed any other city property, you would be fined. Failure on the city’s part to respond is not a free pass to do as you please.

  8. So the city gains a windfall profit of over six thousand dollars because a resident cut down trees planted for free by friends of the urban forest? Sounds like b.s., especially considering the money the city saved by not having to pay for their planned removal…they should reimburse the resident for saving them money.

    1. The point for the city is always to charge residents for anything and everything. Meanwhile the owner of the property where the trees are located will be liable for anything related to the trees while those who are heartbroken over the loss of the trees don’t have a clue what it means to be responsible for them. Let the heartbroken residents have their bank accounts debited for the future upkeep/tree maintenance and they will be heartbroken for that instead. Then the city can whine some more about how low income and middle income people can’t afford to live in SF, while fining people $6,000 for things like this.

      1. Prior to the passage of Proposition E last year, the upkeep of the trees would indeed have been the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. That was a terrible policy, which is why San Francisco voters passed Prop E, which made street tree maintenance the responsibility of the city, and which set aside money to pay for that maintenance.

  9. The mural is great; perfect for the neighborhood, and worth far more to the ambience than two trees. He should not be fined. He should pay for new trees to be placed somewhere not blocking the mural, and do some time planting trees with Friends of the Urban Forest. I paid $50 to Friends of the Urban forest for a beautiful tree in front of my home. The city dragged it’s feet. I hope they’ve learned a lesson.

  10. The mural is ugly and he should be fined way more than $6K, as a deterrent to this kind of behavior in future. It’s totally unacceptable that someone thinks they can destroy city property just because it’s inconvenient to their party.