Dozens of San Francisco residents who live along Van Ness Avenue packed a City Hall hearing room Monday evening with one unified purpose — to speak for the trees.
Almost 200 trees along the major thoroughfare are designated for removal as the city upgrades the public transit system, the sewers, the lighting and the landscaping, a move that involves planting more than 400 new trees.
But the neighbors living along the stretch don’t want new trees. They want to keep the old ones and are angry that seemingly no one had told them the black bark acacias, cork oaks and ornamental cherry trees in front of their homes are getting the ax.
“I do feel the notification of this project was horrible,” Karen Burns, president of the Marina Chateau Condominium Association, said as she submitted a petition signed by residents of the 64-unit building opposing the removal of the trees. “There was such a lack of understanding of what’s going on.”
San Francisco Public Works officials held the public hearing on the tree removal required to build the city’s first bus rapid transit system between Lombard and Mission streets along Van Ness Avenue, a $158.8 million project.
Residents said they were unaware of the major overhaul scheduled to start next spring, despite the city’s insistence that dozens of public meetings and notices were given about the construction and the trees. It wasn’t until paper notices were attached to the condemned trees that locals realized what was happening.
“Trees! Trees are the lungs of the Earth,” neighbor Jane Edwards said. “Please do not remove them.”
City officials, however, presented an hour-long explanation of the process and reasoning behind the designated bus lanes, which would travel down the median rather than the right-hand lane as they do now, and the need to remove trees.
The improvements are expected to improve travel times for buses and cars by 32 percent and increase pedestrian safety, said officials from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency . They said the project was publicly vetted over years and significant thought was given to the landscaping.
“We heard loud and clear trees are an important part of this corridor,” said Roberty Masys, senior engineer at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
The head of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, was expected to issue a final decision on the project and the trees’ fate in about 10 days, followed by a 15-day appeal period. The project depends on the removal of many of the trees now lining the median of Van Ness Avenue. The trees, however, are more of a safety concern, with unstable roots and limbs at even greater risk during the kind of construction planned, city officials said.
Those adult explanations didn’t matter to 8-year-old Valentina Eibl, who showed up on a school night to fight for her street tree, which is on the city’s chopping block.
“I have a beautiful old tree outside my bedroom window,” she said, holding up a colorful drawing she made of her tree, with a bird’s nest and flowers at the base, noting that a newly planted tree wouldn’t be as big until after she left for college. “I have a great imagination with it. It just breaks my heart to see these trees getting cut down.”
Author: Jill Tucker