The corner of Steiner and Waller streets may soon look very different, with the seven ficus trees circling the northwest side of the block—where Bean There used to stand—slated for removal at the landlord's request. Signs were posted on the trees a week ago, and since then, we've received several reader tips about the issue.
"They are very alive, and booming with healthy leaves, no cracks on the sidewalk from roots. So why are mature, healthy trees slated for death?" wrote tipster Jan Burke.
Landlord Danny Scher didn't respond to a request for comment, but we reached out to SF Public Works for more information on the trees' removal, and were told that in this case it is "primarily due to poor structure, and significant sidewalk damage."
"We want nothing more than to see our urban forests grow and thrive," wrote SF Public Works director Mohammed Nuru told us via email. "Any removal of a street tree merits serious and thoughtful consideration. I issued this order out of abundance of caution because at the end of the day, protecting public safety is paramount."
But that assessment may be up for debate. When we took a look at the trees, we didn't notice any damage to the sidewalk caused by their roots, and other neighbors have said the same.
"I know these trees have been well cared for and they are NOT digging up the sidewalks," neighborhood resident Susan Porter Beckstead told us. "The area around the base has been cut out to stop this. They could be trimmed, but even that was done recently."
Ficus trees have been targeted for removal over the past several years, due to their poor resistance to storms and likelihood of toppling over in high winds. Numerous ficus trees have been removed from Lombard and Hayes streets and Columbus Avenue in recent years, after Public Works received requests from property owners and neighbors.
A 2014 press release from Public Works explains that ficus trees that are over 50 feet tall, with branches that interfere with power lines and trunks that are codominant (split in two) are more likely to be cut down than their smaller counterparts. "With these new guidelines in place, granting of the permit [to remove a tree] is not guaranteed, but approval is more likely," Public Works states.
The trees at Steiner and Waller are definitely codominant, but they're not approaching the 50-foot mark—the block's zoning only allows for buildings up to 40 feet tall, and the tallest of the ficuses just grazes the top of the corner building. We also didn't see any branches disturbing power lines.
Image: Google Maps
The aforementioned guidelines apply to all ficus trees in San Francisco, whether privately or publicly owned. Trees that are privately owned, such as the ones on Steiner and Waller, require the owner to pay the city a $339 fee for removal.
If removed, the city will require all the trees to be replaced except for one, which is blocking a stop sign. In his application to the city, landlord Scher said he'd work with Friends of the Urban Forest to replant the trees with more appropriate species.
A date for the trees' removal has yet to be set. In light of protests from neighbors, there will most likely be a public hearing, potentially taking place on April 25th. We'll keep you posted.