Photo by Ricky Rodas

It was a packed house at City Hall on Wednesday as Mission residents advocated overwhelmingly for the ficus trees along the 24th Street corridor and other parts of the neighborhood to not be removed.

“We have 100 waiting!” A disgruntled attendee exclaimed when the audience was told the hearing officer would be arriving at 6 p.m. and not the established time of 5:30.

The city has outlined a plan to prune some trees and remove others that are considered overgrown and safety hazards.

The meeting kicked off with a presentation by Chris Buck, an arborist from the Bureau of Urban Forestry. Buck cited Proposition E, known as Street Tree SF, the citywide street tree maintenance program managed by San Francisco Public Works.

Since the proposition was passed in 2016, Buck said the city has addressed 26 percent of its tree needs.

He presented the data the Bureau of Urban Forestry has compiled of each individual tree potentially facing the axe. The green giants located on 2700 24th Street are among several considered for removal. According to Public Works, there are currently 133 trees in the corridor and 51 are slated removal. 81 will remain, with every removed tree to be replaced with a less problematic species.

Pending approval, Buck told attendees that the city is committed to a three-month turnaround for removal and replacement. Maple and Gingko Trees were chosen to be suitable replacement trees. Residents scoffed, insisting that the Mission would now resemble affluent cities like Walnut Creek and Palo Alto.

The major issue stems from co-dominant stems that cause the ficus branches to grow on top of each other. Buck said they eventually split apart and can fall onto the streets below. Business owners who operate near the trees say their roots have crept into their shops; passersby have tripped over roots that have cracked the concrete.

Residents, both old and new, say the trees are a part of the cultural fabric of the Mission and should be maintained, not discarded for safer urban foliage. The ficus protectors also cited the important shade and clean air these canopy trees provide. With the trees gone, many are worried about the immense heat that businesses, residents and the homeless will have to contend with.

Public Works hearing officer David Steinberg listened intently to a flood of commenters take to the stand to share their frustrations. A few also outlined alternative solutions such as inputting permeable paving that would minimize sidewalk damage; an engineer and energy specialist even offered to draw up plans for a support system that would keep the trees from falling — free of charge.

Commenters also expressed their disdain regarding the Public Works’ neglect of the trees. Many said they never saw the trees watered and that pruning has occurred sporadically over the years.

“Are you taking notes? I think it’s important that the hearing officer take notes because you’re going to be making those decisions,” John Elsey, co-chair of San Francisco Tree Campaign, remarked.

Longtime Mission resident Linda Lagunas thinks that “our community has been under siege,” and, regarding the removal of these trees, that “it feels like a violation of our community.”

Many feel these ficus trees are not only important for maintaining the city’s cultural identity, but crucial for the mental wellbeing of their kids. Attendees in their early 20s shared stories about growing up around the trees and taking the longer route back home just to walk down 24th and look up at the vast, leafy green canopy. A young girl cried as she talked about the beloved ficus trees.

Hearing officer Steinberg communicated that he would record the public’s concerns and take his findings to Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru who will make the final decision about the tree removal process. The decision can be protested to the Board of Appeals. Public Works said there is no firm timeline for when the decision will be made.

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  1. I want to express my gratitude to this writer who writes very well and covers all the information on the topic. I have never read this information before. This is really an amazing topic which means a lot.

  2. As an attendee of this hearing, these statements are largely misrepresentative of those that were made. Most of the concerns were around climate change and the fact that losing significant shade trees would magnify the increasing number of extreme heat days we’re experiencing. Also, not ALL trees will be replaced. Only some. And they will be replaced with much smaller species that will take decades to mature. That combined with a high failure rate for newly planted trees (due to lack of watering and neglect) will most certainly mean far less shade from heat and less carbon sink for the pollution. While emotions are valid when it comes to nature, these are clearly facts that we are all facing.

  3. It’s time to separate Urban Forestry out of DPW, which is a jurassic bastion of incompetence. The trees that need to be cut down were neglected; plain and simple.

    It’s pretty obvious that someone gets paid whenever they cut a tree down, but not when one gets planted. Hence the stinking urgency to bring in the politically-connected tree services to clear-cut the sidewalks.

    Note also that London Breed is working to cut several million from the paltry tree-planting budget, at a time when the city is spending $12 billion per year.

  4. I’m a 30 year mission resident and while i too bemoan the influx of sad sack bro’s and cookie cutter faux hipness into the Mission, linking these beastly trees to that is disingenuous. They need to go. That said the city has not properly maintained the ficus trees the city itself planted. Ficus properly maintained are a lollipop top and kept short and squat. The city did not do that so now they are leggy and dangerous.

  5. Always nice to get an update on “How DARE the Mission change in any discernible way since 1982” crowd.
    Bus lanes – VIOLATION
    Tree maintenance – VIOLATION

    Can’t wait to see what seemingly benign tiny steps towards progress the “1982 crowd” takes aim at next.
    I’m in favor of all people having hobbies, though the “my neighborhood must never change” activists seem exceedingly sad to me.

  6. Another thing to mention is that there were so many people there that ~25 people had to sit on the floor of the hearing room or lean against the walls. Before the hearing, police arrived and moved these people to another room where they could watch a livestream of the hearing.

    Happy to see y’all presenting a bit more of the arguments for the preservation of our trees though. Past Mission Local coverage has really made it feel like Mission Local wants the trees gone. It is definitely a hard thing, these trees, but I hope our community can be involved with decision-making and come up with ways to please both sides while keeping the beautiful ficuses.

  7. the opposition to this plan seems to intentionally ignore public safety. every month it seems we hear of another tree branch, often a ficus tree, falling down. recently a whole tree went down in Duboce Park, a couple weeks before that a huge limb fell on Guerrero St, before that a ficus branch totaled a car in Hayes Valley, and its happened in Mclaren park and GGP as well. Tree limb failure is real! If residents get their way and keep these ficus, and a limb falls down and crushes someone, will the residents turn around and blame the city or will they be accountable for their short-sighted decisions?

  8. God forbid the City replace these dear ficus trees with those elitist Maple and Gingko trees!! Wouldn’t want 24th St. to resemble elitist enclaves like Palo Alto, Kyoto or Burlington, Vermont! Ficus trees are synonymous with LatinX culture. Let’s propose a deal: the trees stay, and in return, should any of those branches come crashing down on a parked car or mother with her stroller, the City won’t hear a peep from anyone in the Calle 24 crew and the rest of the community.