Just as quickly as the city posted notifications that a trio of ficus trees at the bus stop on Valencia near 25th Street were to come down, residents sprung up and rallied to save them. Dark forces must be at play.
The residents’ primary suspicion: The ficuses were being taken down to make way for the steady flow of tech buses that have come to symbolize change and inequity in San Francisco. If the trees are removed, they will not be replaced, because the stop is a “bus zone,” according to a city notice posted on one of the trees.
“Is it really about their structure?” asked Colleen Mauer, whose jewelry shop faces the trees and bus stop. “Or about [tech] buses?”
Although this will be resolved at a hearing at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, the city says the trees should be razed because they’re dangerous.
Rachel Gordon, San Francisco Public Works’ spokeswoman, said that a city tree inspector determined that the three trees in question “have very poor structure and are vulnerable to failure, putting people and property at risk.”
Ficus trees in San Francisco are, indeed, increasingly viewed as a hazard, said Dan Flanagan, executive director of Friends of the Urban Forest. He said that since the city assumed responsibility from homeowners to oversee all street trees last July — a jump from maintaining some 30,000 trees to 155,000 — it has been more cautious about which trees will be mended and which will be axed.
“They are hyper-aware of the danger,” he said.
Flanagan noted that a lot of the city’s ficuses — he estimated around 3,000 total — are not well-pruned, which can cause limbs to fall off the trees, potentially onto parked cars and people below. Additionally, he said, their roots can destroy pavement. “They really do a number on sidewalks,” he said.
The city and Friends of the Urban Forest stopped planting ficus trees many years ago, he said, due to their unsuitability as urban street trees. But, of course, he said, the city does not take tree removal lightly.
“For sure,” he said, “they’re going after ones that are most egregious.”
Yet for Mauer, who regularly watches a steady flow of tech shuttles (four to six per hour on most mornings) pass outside her window every morning, it’s not hard to put two and two together — especially as she has seen the towering, double-decker shuttles smash into one of the trees’ low-hanging limbs.
Bernardo Merino, who lives on Valencia Street near the ficuses, shares Mauer’s skepticism.
“My suspicion is they’re being taken down because shuttle bus companies complained that they were getting in the way,” he said.
Gordon, the Public Works spokeswoman, said that clearing the way for tech shuttles, or even the Muni bus that stops in front of the trees, was not part of the city’s push to remove these ficuses. “Absolutely not,” she wrote via email.
Both Mauer and Merino said they would also be sad to see the trees go because they’re beautiful, and they estimate the ficuses are some of the tallest and oldest trees on Valencia Street. “It’s one the reasons I wanted my space,” Mauer said.
Ekaterina Kuznetsova, who lives in an apartment above Mauer’s shop, taped an envelope to one of the trees to get more neighbors involved. She’s received around 10 notes, she said, many of them bemoaning the loss of yet another set of trees in San Francisco.
Kuznetsova largely agrees with her respondents. “We’re losing these very large trees that took a long time to grow,” she said, “and they’re not being replaced.”
At the same time, however, “we understand that they could fall and hurt someone,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
The hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall Room 416.