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.”