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San Francisco Residents Try To Avoid Tree Maintenance Responsibilities

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- In San Francisco, there's a growing dispute over tree maintenance.

If a tree falls in San Francisco, who's responsible? Not the city.

For years, the city's been shifting the responsibility of caring for trees onto homeowners. But some residents are now trying to shift it back.

San Francisco resident B.W. Lee was outraged to see signs on trees outside her home stating that she would be responsible for the tree adjacent to her home.

"Basically, its a transfer of money from the city's responsibility to the people," Lee said.

A tree outside her house is among the latest batch of trees officially being handed over to residents through San Francisco's tree transfer program.

"Let's not do something so basic as not take care of the plant life in this city,"Lee said.

Under the program, if a tree falls in the city the people living next to it are responsible. They're also on the hook for watering, raking, and pruning. Functions that used to be done by city workers.

Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for the city's Public Works Department said, "It really is less than ideal, but we knew we did not have the funds necessary to take care of the tress and we thought this would give the trees a fighting chance."

The city couldn't afford to maintain its trees and the trees are supposed to be pruned every three to five years, but due to funding, most are on a 10 to 12-year cycle.

So in 2011, the city began transferring ownership to homeowners on adjacent properties.

So far, 8,000 trees have been handed over, with 24,000 left to go.

"This has been a very slow process, we don't want to turn over a tree that's unhealthy so that takes time to fix those things," Gordon said.

But several proposals are now aiming to put the trees, and their upkeep, back in the hands of the city.

Supervisor Scott Wiener has proposed legislation that would create an $18 million tree maintenance budget and property owners would pay a small parcel tax of around $30 to $40.

Much cheaper, he points out, than bringing in an arborist or paying the insurance deductible damage from a downed tree.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is set to consider the measure on Tuesday. If passed, it will be on the November ballot.

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