Tech shuttle stops in front of the three ficus trees. Photo by Bernardo Merino

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. 

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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. Can’t they just be trimmed back a lot and then regrow? I’ve seen trees trimmed like that and they regrow safer and smaller. It seems overkill and harsh to chop them down

    1. Sam, you are 100% correct. Ficus trees and cockroaches will survive a nuclear war. I’ve been dealing with one for forty years. You could cut those ficus back to a six foot height and in a couple years they’ll look brand new. The more you cut, the thicker thay get. Unfortunately, the City will probably have you in a cell with the BART slasher or have fined and threatened you into submission. Assuming of course you can also withstand the semi non-violent tree-hugger protest that will most certainly be held on your doorstep. Personally, I hope the trees WERE cut back for the tech buses. Then again, it could be a Russian plot to divide us. I know of a few good dentists whose specialty is restoring teeth worn down from teeth-knashing. That said, the ficus are a huge danger.

      1. Almost forgot: for you newbies, the latin name for ficus is “revenge of Diann Feinstein,” as she initiated the big ficus planting effort during her administration. True story.

  2. One headline you’ll never see here: “Was it gang violence or wasn’t it?” When it comes to tech and real estate we’re treated to an endless stream of innuendo and unsubstantiated rumors however on the topic of gang warfare suddenly your coverage becomes cautious and clinical. I wish we had real news in the Mission and not just this MEDA-funded clickbait. Of course you will censor this comment as it strikes too close to home.

    1. Hi Shaun —

      Thanks for reading. I’m impressed you managed to connect an article about trees — trees — to the apocryphal gang war ravaging the Mission. While we’re at it, we are not funded by MEDA. In fact, we pay rent to them. So, I’d consult a dictionary vis-a-vis the word “funded.” While you’re doing that, you should also look up the term “censor.” We are, again, a private business and are under no obligation to publish your comments.



      1. Shaun’s comment is pretty ridiculous, but at the same time, it also seems like quite a stretch to be connecting an article about trees to tech buses. Just because a few neighbors have theories? What else of substance is there behind this idea?

        I enjoy reading Mission Local, but this headline feels like clickbait.

        1. Justin —

          Thanks for the fine words. I see where you’re going, but I don’t register the words “clickbait” and “trees” in the same sentence. Being as you can actually see the scars from where a tech bus rammed into a tree — the shuttles are taller than Muni buses — I don’t think the neighbors’ contention is wholly imaginary. That said, as reported in the article, ficus trees have issues of their own.



          1. I do, however register the words ‘tech’ and ‘clickbait’ in the same sentence.

    2. Shaun —

      Your insistence on speculatively attaching the terms “gang-related” to every shooting in the Mission is something, but it’s not journalism. It’s also not very smart: “Gang Wars” involve gang members targeting one another, not randomly killing people.

      Please present me an example of “innuendo” or “unsubstantiated rumors” you’ve found on this site regarding any subject. We’ll wait. Finally, I’ve told you before, but you don’t seem to be able to register that we pay MEDA rent to occupy a room in its building — meaning, if anything, MEDA is Mission Local-funded.

      You have used the term “of course you will censor this comment because it strikes too close to home” several times now. Despite the fact that you clearly have no idea what the term “censorship” means — we are, again, under no obligation to print your comments — this is a bit bizarre and annoying. Russian bots are many things, but I wouldn’t say they should be aspirational in terms of writing style. We have also noticed that you have left comments on this platform — which, perhaps foolishly, we chose to print — under multiple names.

      Rather than doing this, you should perhaps take up my colleague’s offer to meet in person to offer your input.



  3. They could fall over in an earthquake, hit the 12 or so power lines and cause that entire block to burn down. Buses have nothing to do with it. Cut the trees down.

    1. Really? The city now spends 350 million dollars a year on vagrants. Thats a lot of “ignoring”….. Oh and by the way, the more the city spends the worse the vagrants get? Funny. But it’s been estimated that 50% of the vagrant population begging and drugging on the streets are already HOUSED by the city ! These people are forever so dysfunctional, it’s all they will ever do .

    2. Those humans are shitting on the streets in addition to sleeping, and leaving their used needles laying around. And increasingly randomly attacking innocent passers by.