Louie Gutierrez and Sandra Sandoval tie a ribbon on a ficus in front of La Reyna Bakery. Photo by Julian Mark

This Carnaval weekend you may notice highlighter-yellow ribbons affixed to 24th Street’s ficus trees. Louie Gutierrez, the owner of La Reyna Bakery on 24th Street, wants you to know the ribbons are not for decoration.

“There are 52 trees proposed to be cut down,” Gutierrez said on Friday morning in front of his store, preparing to tie the ribbons to the trees. “It’s to bring awareness.”

Gutierrez and several other Mission natives mobilized Friday morning to tie the ribbons to every other tree along the corridor because they don’t want to the trees to go.

The city is, indeed, planning to axe 50-odd trees along the corridor by this summer.

San Francisco Public Works officials say their limbs are prone to falling and the trees’ roots have torn up the sidewalk, creating tripping hazards. The department plans to replace the trees with red maples and ginkgos.

But for Gutierrez and others, there’s more at stake.

“These trees watched me grow up,” said Sandra Sandoval, who said she was born and raised in the neighborhood. “My closest memories is of my grandmother holding my hand and walking me down 24th Street and I remember the trees. That’s what I remember the most.”

Gutierrez said he wants the trees to stay because they create shade, protect the corridor from the wind, mitigate pollution, and provide mental well-being in the urban landscape.

“They give so much to us,” he said. “How do we turn our backs on them when they need help?”

The 24th Street community is far from united on the ficus trees. Some businesses have complained that their roots are growing into their storefronts and tearing up their flooring. Others have noticed pedestrians tripping on the mangled sidewalk. And yet others, like Gutierrez, say the trees are part of their cultural identity.

The stance of Calle 24, a cultural organization that controls the Latino Cultural District along the corridor, is unclear. The organization’s representatives did not return our inquiries.

Erick Arguello, a founding member of the organization, told Mission Local in October that, “Those trees have been a love-hate relationship for a lot of different people over the years.”  

San Francisco Public Works will be holding a tree removal hearing on Wednesday, June 5, regarding the mass tree removal. Gutierrez said he won’t be able to make it because he has other tree-related matters: He’s going to Chalma, Mexico, to dance around a centuries-old sacred tree.

Nevertheless, he hopes people will turn out. The trees, he said, “can’t speak for themselves.” 

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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. Hi Patsy –
    Thanks for writing this article, and for sharing it here.
    For years I’ve been saying/writing to anyone who’ll listen that SF has declared a War on Ficus!

    SF DPW has been pruning Ficus incorrectly since… forever. Workers cut limbs off not at the point where the branch grows out of the trunk, but somewhere out along the limb.

    What this does is cause subsequent growth to be weak, friable. One of the results of weak limbs is that branches can fall.

    IMO there are an awful lot of folks who seem to be content to take standard glib explanations for cutting down Ficus when each tree should be considered separately on its own.

    Poor pruning: place the blame squarely on the DPW. Workers do not understand how to prune trees.

    For some reason, a practice called “lion-tailing” has become the SF pruning norm. This long-disused method leaves the limbs bare except for a tuft at the end, resembling a lion’s tail.

    Lion-tailing is really bad for the tree for several reasons:
    – It promotes weak branches.
    – It encourages disease.

    So in summary, my reason for posting all this is to call out SF DPW for actually causing the problems that it uses as excuses to chop down San Francisco’s street trees.

    Here are a few photos of what a properly-pruned Ficus can look like:

  2. Ficus Nitida are all over the city, and have been been for a very long time. They are wonderfully beautiful. Other neighborhoods don’t seem to be having trouble with these ‘dangerous killer trees’ that are threatening the very lives of the Calle24 people. Why is that? What the REAL reason they are chopping down such handsome trees – trees which have RECENTLY been pruned (by the city)? What special interest has turned against them? Something other than what we are being told is going on.

    1. Hayes Valley and the Fillmore have recently had problems with these trees falling. I had to step over a large limb just last night on Fillmore. Several trees and branches came down during The weekends of the Cherry Blossom Festival. Had the timing been different that could have been catastrophic to visitors and tax payers as well. Nostalgia is nice but biology is biology. These trees have outgrown their situation and pose threats. As mentioned above, it would be more wise to use your time and energy promoting for proper replacements and sidewalk repairs for future generations.

  3. It’s short term thinking to hold on to old, dying trees instead of working together to plan for a new cityscape that won’t be a hazard for the next generation. Where I work at Columbus and Green we’ve seen the total decimation of canopy as they have removed all the ficus trees for a block around. About 7 years ago we all got to work finding the entire street cut off due to a fallen branch, easily 15 yards around. 2 cars were total wrecks so the city started a plan, now complete to remove the trees. What used to be an inviting, shady promenade is just an ugly wall of empty storefronts. But each of those trees got replaced with a tree that will have a legacy. I may not get to enjoy it, but then I won’t have to worry about giant branches coming down on my children in 20 years.

  4. i always get the impression that there are crews of overpaid busybodies cruising around sticking their noses into other people’s neighborhoods, telling them what to do and condescendingly making decisions that will affect them. then if you try to get City Hall to respond to a legitimate concern nothing happens.

    1. Will you pay for the lawsuits when someone’s child is killed? Are you prepared to pony up when the bodega needs a new floor and foundation? It’s one city pal.

  5. I wish that they would take this as an opportunity to widen the sidewalks on 24th street as well, but realize that this is extremely unlikely to happen, as some folks in the neighborhood associate any improvement to the street-scape as gentrification. As it is, the tree basins take up a ridiculous amount of the sidewalks on 24th, impeding pedestrian flow- especially true in the winter when the basins are flooded and you can’t just step in them.

  6. It’s a dangerous tree and I’m sad to see it go too. Why do we care about public policy being affected by people’s nostalgia?

  7. mature ficus trees are really dangerous – just look at the situation in Hayes Valley

    and the explanations previously discussed in this space

    do the yellow ribbon folks really want a limb to fall on someone, or for someone to hurt themselves tripping over a notoriously pernicious ficus root that has exploded the sidewalk? Ficus trees are known for these issues – Public Works has a website specific to these trees:

    Focus your efforts on ensuring that DPW replaces all the trees it has to remove. everyone wants a green, healthy corridor that’s safe for all.

    1. A neighborhood of terrified tree – haters, Lord what’s this world coming to?
      BTW, where are the birdies going to go?