Vote yes on Prop E for healthy trees, safe sidewalks

  • by Scott Wiener and Dan Flanagan
  • Wednesday November 2, 2016
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A few years ago, City Hall's budget cuts forced Public Works to make the wildly unpopular decision to transfer responsibility for street tree care and related sidewalk damage to whichever property owner lives closest to that tree. This misguided policy applies whether or not the owner planted the tree, wants the tree, knows how to care for the tree, or has the physical and financial ability to care for the tree. The result has been exactly what you would expect – dead trees with dangerous limbs, particularly on windy, rainy days, and high cost for our residents.

At the same time, more than 6,000 sidewalks in San Francisco are in need of repair because of damage caused by tree roots, and many property owners either don't realize the city also holds them responsible for those repairs, or they lack the resources or desire to make the repairs. They face sizable bills, and liability for trip-and-fall lawsuits. Seniors and people with disabilities face mobility hazards.

Our offices worked together over the past three years to create a solution to these problems. That solution is Proposition E on your November ballot.

Prop E fixes these tree and sidewalk maintenance problems permanently by shifting all tree care and related sidewalk repairs to the city, where it belongs. Transferring the responsibility back to the city will save our residents money and headaches, and make our sidewalks and public spaces safer.

Importantly, Prop E also sets aside appropriate funding – $19 million per year – for the purpose. The money would come from the city's general fund, and therefore will not raise taxes. Prop E also supports the care of trees in public schoolyards to create greener and safer play spaces for students.

The funding will also cover maintenance costs for 50,000 new trees the city aims to plant over the next 20 years to reverse the decline of our urban forest. Currently, our street tree population is actually shrinking as tree mortality now outpaces tree planting. Among the 20 most populous U.S. cities, San Francisco ranks only 17th in its tree canopy coverage.

By providing funds to care for our trees, Prop E will lay the groundwork for the future planting of new trees in all neighborhoods – increasing our city's green canopy, beautifying our streets, and improving our environment. Planting and maintaining street trees in San Francisco reduces pollution in our air and water, increases oxygen, and improves public health.

And passage of Prop E will ensure that street trees no longer place a disproportionate financial burden on San Franciscans in less affluent neighborhoods, which are far less leafy than our affluent neighborhoods. Prop E will make it possible for all San Franciscans to enjoy the benefits of a thriving urban forest, regardless of their ability to pay for the maintenance of trees and sidewalks.

Prop E is endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, SPUR, and organizations that represent seniors and people with disabilities. Please view the entire endorsement list at

As you consider the many measures on your ballot, remember that voting Yes on Prop E is easy!


Scott Wiener is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and represents District 8, which includes the Castro, Noe Valley, and Glen Park, and is a candidate for state Senate. Dan Flanagan is executive director of Friends of the Urban Forest and chair of the San Francisco Urban Forestry Council.