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SF homeowners may have to pay for fallen trees

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Homeowners could pay up to $1,500 to remove one of the city’s 300 fallen trees

Photo by San Francisco Fire Department/@sffdpio

Last weekend’s storm toppled an estimated 300 to 350 trees in San Francisco, sometimes sundering large branches and sometimes sending the trunks themselves crashing down.

Naturally, the Department of Public Works will remove any obstructions from streets and sidewalks, and if a tree is damaged but still standing it may have to be removed as well.

However, as CBS SF points out, the homeowners could end up having to pay the bill for tree removal. Because for years now in San Francisco, trees on public sidewalks have been the wards of nearby private homeowners.

Those who voted in last November’s election may be scratching their heads, because the electorate decided that the city should go back to maintaining its own trees.

While Prop E, which set aside $19 million for tree care so that City Hall can stop foisting foliage onto homeowners, passed by an overwhelming 78 percent landslide, it’s too early to make a difference. Prop E doesn’t kick in until July. Any trees that fall in the meantime remain the problem of whomever lives nearby. Alas, seems storm season has no patience for the city’s political calendar.

DPW spokesperson Rachel Gordon told Curbed SF that, contrary to some previous reports, the city doesn’t bill to homeowners for tree hauling. “We are not sending bills to anybody,” Gordon says, promising that felled trees will be hauled away on the city’s dime.

Where homeowners have problems is if a tree is damaged but still standing. They may then be obligated to have an arborist diagnose the tree (“If it’s a private tree,” Gordon adds) and pay a private company to bring it down if it needs to be removed.

TreeRemoval.com, a site that exists entirely to compare the costs of removing trees and stumps in cities across America, calculates an average $992 bill locally, with prices sometimes climbing as high as $1,500, based on quotes from local tree haulers.

Strange as it sounds, a San Franciscan may be much luckier to have a tree entirely knocked over in a storm and then conveniently hauled away by Public Works than to be left with a standing tree that may cost more later.

It’s a little unfair, but the city can hardly not remove huge obstructions on byways, and the juncture of changing laws has put some unlucky neighbors in something of a logjam.