ficus removal
The tree removers were out on Wednesday. Photo by Julian Mark

The saws were buzzing and the branches were falling on 24th Street Wednesday — the final act in a years-long saga over the fate of dozens of ficus trees that line the popular Mission District corridor. 

Indeed, despite community pushback against the plan that began in earnest in spring, 2019, 33 ficus trees are being felled up and down the corridor over an unclear timeframe, according to a tree removal contractor on 24th Street who declined to give his name Wednesday afternoon. Sixty other trees will be pruned. 

The removed trees will be replaced by ginkgos and maples. A group of tree removers were pruning and removing trees on 24th Street between Bryant and York streets on Wednesday afternoon. 

In response to questions about the plan, San Francisco Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon pointed to a fact sheet sent to 24th Street residents that says four trees have been removed so far, and 10 trees have been pruned.

The work will take place Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. — though it’s unclear for how many weeks. Work was done Wednesday between York and Florida streets, and on Monday, work will begin between Florida and Harrison.

The four trees appear to have been removed on 24th Street between Hampshire and Potrero, which took place on Monday, said Teddy Osmundson, the owner of a BrewVino, a new restaurant that serves beer, wine, and pizza at 24th and Potrero streets. 

“It’s bittersweet,” Osmundson said. As a business owner, he looked forward to the extra sunshine and visibility. Yet, “as a human, it’s sad to see trees go.” 

As has been the case over the last several years, merchants remain divided over the ficus trees. On the one hand, longtime Mission District residents say that the trees, which were planted on 24th Street in the ‘80s, are part of their identity. Those residents are also resistant to killing living organisms that have provided them with shade and tranquility for decades. 

On the other, the cit,y as well as some merchants argue the trees are destructive. Their roots grow into the businesses’ foundations, raise the sidewalks outside, and sometimes branches fall onto parked cars. In early 2019, a San Francisco Public Works arborist identified 71 ficus trees that were especially compromised. 

But residents fought back and, after multiple hearings, that number was eventually whittled down. Last July, the San Francisco Board of Appeals made it final: 33 trees would get the axe. 

“That was upsetting,” said Louie Gutierrez, the owner of La Reyna Bakery at 24th and Folsom streets, a fervent opponent of the tree-felling plan. When he sees the trees, he said, he sees a “movie reel of my growing up in the Mission.” 

The trees are so important to him that he’s willing to overlook the ficus tree roots that have grown under his bakery’s floors, and the leaves that clog his plumbing. “This isn’t about the facts,” Gutierrez said. “This about the future of the street.” 

“We’ve grown up with these trees,” he added. “They are like prayer holders, and they take care of us.”

Louie Gutierrez of La Reyna bakery was a key figure in the resistance. In summer 2019, he and others tied ribbons around the trees to call attention to removal campaign. Photo by Julian Mark

Martha Ruiz de la Pena, who owns Five Markets, a small grocery store on 24th Street near York Street, watched as tree removers chopped branches off trees in front of her store. It appeared as though the tree in front of her store would be spared, but Ruiz de la Pena was nonetheless forlorn. 

“I hate it,” she said. “I feel really sad about it.” 

“I feel they should just prune them and fix the sidewalk,” she continued. “They don’t need to kill them.” 

Ruiz de la Pena has been in the neighborhood since the early ‘90s, and has always felt a connection to the trees. “We’re going to be losing the spirit of the trees,” she said. “It’s our life, it’s our spirit.” 

Others, meanwhile, were behind the ficus removal. “A lot of them have to go,” said Santos Chabal Lopez, the owner of L’s Caffe, on 24th Street between Florida and Bryant. “I like the idea, because I’ve seen a couple accidents.” 

He recently noticed a branch fall on top of a car, and another fall onto the building of a nearby restaurant. “It’s dangerous,” he said. “Imagine if it’s not a car, but a person.” 

Marta Sanchez, the owner of Casa Sanchez, the chip company, said she was happy with the outcome of 33 trees being removed. Her family owns several buildings on 24th Street, including a building that houses El Tomate, which was forced to pay $20,000 in repairs because ficus roots had grown to the back of the restaurant.

Ultimately, she said, “they should keep the ones that are safe, and tear down the ones that are dangerous. It’s that simple.”  

A pile of branches on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Julian Mark.

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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. Attention: The multitude of birds that nest in the 24th St trees are currently beginning to nest! This is not the humane time to be cutting done, or even pruning the trees. The hatchlings will die. Has the City properly consulted with ornithologists?

  2. Oh Sad/ Bad days for my dear 24th St … precious trees of over 50 years that Will NEVER be replaced by new young tender trees! Count all the empty, sad broken trees that they replanted year after year until they give up and fill in the square w/ concrete on blocks Capp to Guerrero! Over 25 trees never to be replanted again. Shame! Shame! Shame! But the real kicker will be when ALL those 50 year old roots start to rot!!! And the sidewalks collapse & the floors of all those stores start collapsing inside these businesses! Now that will be a truly costly repair! Ignorant solution to Nature’s bounty! A terrible loss for the neighborhood! Tree haters rot! And will reap the rot!! How foolish and short sighted.

  3. The city should create a fund that is specifically catered to business that need money to pay for the damages created by trees. I see a lot of different funds being created right now for specific causes right now and I think that’s great. This would just be another one. It should be part of the annual budget. Money business know will be there for them when needed and we don’t have to kill any trees.

  4. Decades of city mismanagement and inappropriate “lion’s tail” pruning have rendered these trees a public hazard. They need to go and will be planted with new trees that both help the environment while not posing the same risks. Looking forward to a sunny walk down beautiful 24th Street with new young trees growing towards the sky. And to address some of the false claims, the city IS cutting down these same trees in other neighborhoods. Stop the delusions that the Mission is being targeted.

    Mauricio understands the situation

  5. I guess the headline would be more boring as “Neighborhood and city compromise on tree replacement, some residents sad to see dangerous trees go, but excitement about new replacements to be planted.”

  6. We bemoan the loss of the rain forest in the Amazon, and we hasten to cut down trees in our own city. We need the trees to return the excess of carbon in the atmosphere into the soil to improve our environment. Think about the things that we do which promote environmental distress. Think of the future. We need more trees, not fewer.

  7. Reality check everyone! 1.Trees are good if not great! 2.Trees left unchecked, unpruned as these have been, (all over the city really), can be unhealthy, destructive, and dangerous. The latter is unacceptable especially if human life is at risk. 3.The proof is visible by the common person or professional, and to say it’s ‘merchants b.s. is both being in denial and not being a responsible citizens, just look around at all the destruction and unsafe side walks.
    The bottom line, trees need management! I live on Shotwell Street between 21st. and 22nd streets. Take a look at the trees there, some are out of control and some have been pruned from day one. Each tree has been managed or not by the property owners. Take a walk, when they bloom, and tell me which ones look unruly and diseased and which ones look healthy, keep in mind they are all the same age, this site will astound you! Trees are like children needing guidance, stakes to let them grow strait. Water and nourishment to grow and sometimes science to fend off disease.
    Without these basics they become rogue and in danger of becoming a nuisance rather than an addition to society.
    Bottom line, some of these tress have crossed over due to public neglect and now must be exorcised for the good of all. This isn’t personal, it’s logic and science working together to avoid any castastrophic incidents and to possibly save the rest.
    So everyone, put on your big person pants on and move on knowing new healthy tress will take their place, and hopefully we will do better in avoiding this situation in the future by taking care off them from day one!

  8. The trees have outgrown their space. The concrete is right up to the edge of the trunks. Unless the concrete is removed (and the resulting ADA and pedestrian nightmares that would come with that) the trees would be rood girdled and fail causing damage and possible injuries. The invasive roots alone should call for their removal.
    The Ginkgo trees have their own set of problems. They will eventually have broad spreads and will have to be pruned away from the buildings, although beautiful, the leaves in the winter clog drains and are slippery unless removed immediately (won’t happen) and although what are thought to be male trees are usually planted–watch out!, many eventually turn out to be female years down the road. The fruit stinks and is messy.
    IF there is enough sun there I would plant Lagerstroemia.

    1. I fell at 2880 24th st. and wasn’t able to walk for a month in January, and am still in therapy . Unfortunately the sidewalk is now very dangerous. The elderly and those with certain disabilities or in wheelchairs must fear parts of the sidewalks.

  9. Sooo. Basically/obviously, merchants complain about cost of maintenance around trees that surely they weren’t made to be aware of upon purchase, no one can find a simpler alternative to just killing the damn trees, and to swing the remaining populous towards this justification, they repackage and sell the argument that these trees produce risk of hazard or harm (“what if one of those {items someone has to pay for} were people{that this person could likely give 0 effs about}??” *barf*) Also, way to stack the article to read as though the most/only logical argument lies with chopping them down (the only argument for keeping the trees, surely, is not what some would call a spiritual contribution/connection..). But hey, I guess at least when there’s less comfortable shade there will be fewer homeless people to harang these city-forward merchants, right? *doublebarf..*

  10. they wouldn’t dare to cut down ficus trees in pac height, prez heights, etc., and there are plenty around there. in comparison though they are/were maintained.
    the replacement trees are really lame. first of all both ginkgo and maple are deciduous trees, in the winter months you look at a barren, naked tree. also, ginkgo grows really slow to substantial size. have fun waiting to experience an actual grown tree….
    SF, the city that really, really dislikes trees unless they are confined in GG park.

  11. The city doesn’t care about these beautiful trees. Home to birds. Providers of shade. It’s CHEAP to just chop them down. Maintenance cost $ . We’ll have none of that here in San Francisco .

  12. The old Boys and Girls Club at 1950 Page took it upon themselves to cut down 4 beautiful ficus in front of the building illegally. Traffic got louder and the lovely birdsong serenade disappeared, never to return.

    It’s merchants’ b.s. about the destructive nature of the ficus to the point where they must be killed. There are hundreds if not thousands of these beautiful temperature-reducing, smog-clearing, noise-dampening canopies in S.F. They gonna cut them all down?

    1. Is that old Chaos on Page Street website still up? How’s the traffic at the new school.