After Board of Appeals Decision, Irving Street To Get Mix of Palms and Canopy Trees

After Board of Appeals Decision, Irving Street To Get Mix of Palms and Canopy TreesIrving Street will soon receive 68 trees. (Photo: Google Maps) 
Fiona Lee
Published on April 25, 2016

Last Wednesday, the Board of Appeals reached a decision on the tree makeup for the forthcoming Irving Streetscape Project, an issue that has divided merchants against neighbors in the corridor.

The finalized proposal, put forward by Mike Rieger of SF Public Works, would see 48 windmill palms and 20 tristania trees installed along Irving Street between 19th and 27th Avenues. The Board voted unanimously, 5-0, for the plan. 

The decision was a compromise between Irving Street merchants, who wanted windmill palms, and the Mid-Sunset neighborhood association, who wanted canopy trees. Small-leaf tristanias will mostly be planted mid-block, to provide a mix of trees along the corridor.

The crux of the debate was between aesthetic and maintenance concerns. After a year of initial city maintenance, merchants will be tasked with the maintenance of the trees, and wanted trees that would not block store signs. But area residents, led by area couple Leyla Alieva and Shane Hill, favored a mix of leafier canopy trees, such as the small-leaf tristania.

Voting on the issue reflected a clear split between the two community groups. According to SFPW, there were 212 total votes on the trees, with 90 votes alone at an April 6th community meeting.

In total, 52 percent of locals voted for the tristania, and 36 percent for the windmill palms. But amongst the merchants, 76 percent voted for the windmill palms, while only 17 percent voted for the tristania.

The small-leaf tristania (left) and the windmill palm. (Photo: Friends of the Urban Forest)

In their statement, Alieva and Hill argued for the Board to uphold the community's vote and plant accordingly, with 15 palm trees and 54 tristanias. “The voters were led to believe that the vote would determine what trees to be planted ... this cannot be called a fair compromise in our opinion.”

The city disagreed. “We do not consider this a numbers game,” said Board of Appeals vice president Frank Fung in his decision. “If it was, we would have accepted the Department’s previous vote tallies, which overwhelmingly supported the [windmill] palms. What we tried to do was engender further discussion, and a larger sampling. I think we accomplished that ... I’m prepared to support the Department’s recommendation.”

Merchants were relieved by the decision. “It’s done and finalized,“ said Bill Barnickel, the president of the Outer Sunset Merchants Association. He said the process had taken four and a half years and 11 meetings.

While the windmill palms won support from a significant majority of merchants, some favored the tristania. “I didn’t make it to the hearing, but I still feel that the palm trees will be out of place on Irving Street," said Joe Dellert of Artisans of San Francisco. He compared them to the freshly installed palms on Cesar Chavez, which he believes "just look tired and out of proportion to the piece of dirt they are planted in.”

For Alieva and Hill, the decision is bittersweet. “The plan that was proposed by Public Works was more in line with what the merchants wanted,” Alieva told Hoodline.

Hill was more optimistic. “We won the appeal, which is a positive thing ... Looking forward, there are a lot of issues in this neighborhood that need to be addressed, and we showed that this community is engaged and would turn out.”

We'll keep you posted on when the trees will start to be installed on Irving.