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Large-scale tree removals for Laurel Heights development site spark neighborhood concerns

Two Monterey Cypress trees tagged for removal. | Photo: Roz A./Hoodline Tipline
By Teresa Hammerl - Published on November 11, 2019.

Hoodline tipster Roz A., who is a promoter of the initiative "Save the trees of 3333 California St.", tells us that a 10.25-acre project at the UCSF Laurel Heights campus plans to remove about 200 mature trees.

"A lot of people are not informed about it," Roz tells us. "The tree removal is tied in that massive development project,"

The project site. | IMAGE: Google Maps

The project is facing a major milestone tomorrow afternoon. While the development got a first green light from the Supervisors last month, three appeals are still pending, and will be voted on during a hearing tomorrow (2 p.m., Room 250, City Hall), according to the Board of Supervisors full board meeting agenda.

That agenda includes a vote on a major encroachment permit, which is needed for the tree removal when a "surface or subsurface encroachment in the sidewalk or street area of any public right-of-way [is] not otherwise permitted".

"This will be the last hearing on this matter," Roz writes on her website.

The Prado Group is set to construct thirteen new buildings, while an existing building would be partially demolished. The development will create a mix of residential units, with 744 units of affordable and market-rate housing, including 186 units designated as affordable senior housing, as well as office, retail, and childcare use after a construction period that could take up to 15 years.

Street trees tagged for removal. | Photo: Roz A./Hoodline Tipline

According to a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), there are 210 trees on and adjacent to the project site including 15 existing street trees along California Street.

Up to ten mature trees on the site could be retained, the same report states, while the removal of 185 onsite trees and the 15 street trees would make room for demolition, excavation, and site preparation. That includes 19 onsite "significant trees", defined as trees within ten feet of the public right-of-way meeting specific height, trunk diameter, and canopy width requirements.

A full arborist report can be viewed online, which states that the New Zealand Christmas Tree, Purple Leaf Plum, Olive and Monterey Cypress are the species most represented on the campus.

We reached out to Prado Group representatives for additional comment about the tree removals but did not hear back at press time.

A look on the proposed Walnut walk. | Image: SF Planning Department

The project proposal suggests planting approximately 270 new trees within the project site along the extension of Walnut Street and the proposed Mayfair and Walnut walks, as well as within other open areas.

According to the EIR, a number of mature Monterey Cypress trees on the north portion of the site and at the perimeter of the northwestern surface parking lot are part of the city's history, as they are most likely remnant trees from the Laurel Hill Cemetery (formerly Lone Mountain Cemetery) landscape, which is listed in the California Register of Historical Resources.

Laurel Hill Cemetery. | Photo: San Francisco Public Library

"Only a fifth of their lifespan has been used," said John Nulty, who has also created an online petition against the removal of the trees that so far collected 291 signatures, at a Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing last month.

Another commenter at last month's hearing said the project "forever changes the natural beauty of Laurel Hill".

"We simply cannot afford to lose it an era of climate change," the commenter said.

Some commenters also suggested considering an alternative community plan, developed by residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, which would preserve the existing green spaces, according to the community plan's website.

"The removal of the trees would be a huge loss to the urban canopy," Roz said.


Thanks to tipster Roz A.! See something interesting while you’re out and about? Text Hoodline and we’ll try to find out what's going on: (415) 200-3233.

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