Urban Forest Fund, with dedicated long-term funding through some combination of parcel tax and budget baseline, will be conditioned on city taking back responsibility for deteriorated street trees and provide permanent funding for both street trees and park trees
San Francisco - Today, Supervisor Scott Wiener requested that the City Attorney begin preparing a ballot measure - for either 2015 or 2016 - to provide an overdue, long-term, sustainable funding solution for San Francisco's under-funded, neglected, and deteriorating urban forest. The ballot measure will create a dedicated Urban Forest Fund to ensure proper and consistent maintenance, as well as expansion, of our street trees and park trees.
San Francisco has one of the smallest tree canopies of any major American city and has a long history of failing to maintain its trees. San Francisco has 105,000 street trees and 140,000 park trees. For decades, the city has pursued the short-sighted policy of cutting street tree maintenance budgets and then forcing property owners to care for trees - and be liable for them - even if they didn't plant the trees, don't want the trees, and don't have the ability to care for them. Moreover, Rec & Park's forestry budget has decreased considerably, and the department currently has enough staffing to perform routine maintenance on each tree once every 75-100 years.
As a result of these policy decisions - failing to fund adequate tree maintenance and forcing homeowners to care for trees - our urban forest is shrinking (4% of trees die each year), and many trees are not properly maintained and thus unhealthy. Last week, on a single day, 4 trees collapsed, including one that injured a construction worker and another that landed by a playground.
"A healthy and expansive urban forest is key to our environment, our quality of life, and our city's beauty," said Supervisor Wiener. "Yet, City Hall has acted as if trees don't really matter. The city budget has neglected trees for more than 30 years, and the city has adopted the unfair and counter-productive policy of dumping tree maintenance responsibility on homeowners. Trees don't compete well in the annual budget process, and it's time to create a lockbox dedicated funding stream to take care of our trees, to increase the number of trees, and to do it in a responsible and sustainable way."
Supervisor Wiener, working in partnership with Friends of the Urban Forest, will convene a working group to formulate the exact contours of the Urban Forest Fund. Community stakeholders, business groups, labor, city departments, and forestry experts will be invited to participate. The Fund is likely to include a parcel tax dedicated to tree maintenance and a baseline in the city budget. The Fund's existence will be conditioned on the city assuming full maintenance responsibility and legal liability for street trees as well as sidewalk damage caused by the trees.
"The City must make a commitment to protect the health and lasting vibrancy of our urban forest," said Dan Flanagan, Executive Director of Friends of the Urban Forest. "We look forward to working with Supervisor Wiener on crafting a permanent solution to what has been a patchwork approach to caring for our trees."
The San Francisco Planning Department recently commissioned a report by AECOM to assess the cost of maintaining our street trees and also increasing the number of street trees over time by 50%. The report concluded that it will cost in the range of $20-30 million a year for the city to assume responsibility for street trees, to expand the number of trees by 50%, and to retain responsibility for the increased number of trees. That cost to taxpayers can be reduced by up to 50% if the cost of planting and establishing new trees is paid through private funds. Raising private funds for planting trees is quite feasible, whereas raising private funds for maintaining trees is far less feasible. The report is available upon request.