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Voters to decide if city should take care of its own trees

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Nobody likes a deciduous deadbeat

Is that or is that not your tree out on the sidewalk?

For a number of years now, that’s been a bone (or perhaps a splinter) of contention for many property owners in San Francisco. Now, we’ll get to vote on it, as a measure to end the city’s abhorred arboreal policy of transferring tree ownership into private hands just barely qualified for the November ballot today.

(This was the final day to add new business to the vote, although a grace period for lawmakers stretches until Monday.)

Live trees are one of the most basic elements of city beautification. They’re also a potential pain. Although we look at our leafy neighbors are mostly street dressing, they’re living creatures, and not very self-sufficient in an urban environment during a drought.

The city started fobbing tens of thousands of trees off on nearby property owners to save money a few years ago. It was a bit of a white elephant gift. Or maybe in this case a white birch.

Despite how predictably unpopular the maneuver was, there were some potentially compelling arguments behind it. Public Works says that with its budget stretched thin the trees were paying the price in lapsed upkeep.

Of course, many private owners weren't really up to keeping trees, either. Local environmentalists fretted that the city’s forest stock was looking even worse off than in previous years of neglect.

To some this may sound like silly small-town politics, but it’s no joke if you find yourself with a new, 20-foot tall tenant against your will. City supervisors today approved the ballot measure to gather up the scattered tree leases again and pay for their management out of the general fund.

The trees themselves have kept their silence on the issue, since, as the Lorax reminded us, the trees have no tongues. So voters will have to speak for them, one way or the other.