Neighbors along the 24th Street corridor in the Mission have been arguing against the city's Department of Public Works (DPW) for two years now over the fate of the lovely but sometimes precarious mature ficus trees that line the street. As of Wednesday night, 48 of the trees slated for removal have gotten a two-month stay of execution.
Also known as the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, the area along and around 24th Street between Valencia and Potrero is characterized by the pretty canopy formed by these ficus trees, which also dot other streets throughout the city and feature lush, rustling green foliage year-round. But in recent years, DPW has decided they're a nuisance once they reach a certain size, and they're especially prone to losing big branches, toppling over in high winds, and causing sidewalks to buckle over their roots.
Back in 2018, the department posted notices along 24th Street saying that 77 of the mature trees would be removed, causing an immediate uproar among merchants and residents who didn't want to see the character of the street destroyed and replaced with a bunch of a saplings of some other species. Anyone who's been in the Bay Area for a little while knows that any discussion of tree removal is fraught with controversy and inflamed passions — Berkeley still can't agree if their non-native eucalyptus groves are lovely assets or extremely dangerous fire hazards. And this fight over the 24th Street ficuses has been no exception.
As Curbed reported earlier this week, a coalition of neighbors has filed no fewer than three appeals in the last two years, and their last ditch efforts were culminating with a hearing on Wednesday. Over the course of the fight, the residents have gotten DPW to scale back their tree-removal plan from 77 trees to 48 trees, but they're still fighting for the remaining 48.
"When I say the city is going to cut down all the trees in my neighborhood, people say 'That can’t be right,'" said tree advocate Kindra Scharich at Wednesday's meeting, as Mission Local reports. Scharich also shared photos of some glaring sunlight that is now pouring into her apartment where a removed ficus used to provide a welcome filter.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen helped convene a breakout session for stakeholders and hearing attendees after the meeting was over, as Mission Local reports, and there appears to be a plan to prepare an environmental impact report on the tree removal. Attendees questioned why the trees couldn't be bolstered or trimmed, rather than removed. And they asked whether their removal would impact property values and disproportionately affect small Latino-owned businesses.
For now, the 48 trees slated for removal will stay for the next two months as the activists work to further their case with the Board of Appeals. But then, a decision will have to be made.