Tall trees are rare in big cities like San Francisco. Three such tall trees, native species Monterey Cypresses, have stood on USF property by the corner of Golden Gate and Masonic for over 70 years, and have grown to be 80-90 feet tall. Now, USF is fighting to remove these trees. However, one concerned neighbor is organizing against this process. He believes that these trees’ lives can be saved, and is protesting at an upcoming city hearing.
Glenn Loomis, director of community relations and chair of the USF Green Team, says the trees are getting taller, are top-heavy, and are possibly diseased. These conditions increase their risk for falling over in heavy winds, which would make them a potential danger to any people or property in their path.
Loomis is pushing for the trees’ removal because he is afraid of the danger that would come from them falling. Because the trees are positioned on a slope and the winds blow in from the Pacific Ocean to the west, it is likely that trees would fall right into Masonic Avenue. Loomis said, “That’s four to five lanes of traffic depending on the time of day. It’s very heavily traveled. We’re concerned that someone will be injured, or worse.”
Normally, Loomis said, USF does not ask permission from the city when trees on university property are removed. However, when trees lie within 10 feet of city property, they must seek city approval and notify neighbors. One such neighbor took issue with these trees being removed, in his opinion without reasonable cause.
Curtis Speck, the concerned neighbor, is not just an impartial passerby. Speck has been invested in USF’s foliage for over ten years. He began a garden on a plot of USF’s land, located behind the ROTC building, in 1995. Speck has a spiritual reverence for nature and plants, and gardens at USF about four mornings a week. Speck said when he heard USF planned to remove the trees, he wanted to make sure it was really necessary.
Speck said, “If we can save these trees for just a few more years, it will be worth it.”
After investigating the trees, Speck did not believe the trees needed to be removed yet. Though he is not formally educated in arboriculture, he theorizes a series of cables to hold the trees up could prevent them from falling in heavy winds. Furthermore, he believes the majority of wind is blocked by the Hayes Healy residence hall up the hill. He said, “My thinking is, are there alternatives? Are there other possibilities that we can at least consider?”
But USF has employed a professional arborist to consult on these trees, and his diagnosis is that the trees are no longer stable. Loomis said, “These are folks who are in the business not of cutting down tress, but of saving trees.” A city arborist confirmed the findings of the USF-hired arborist.
According to Loomis, the trees have consistently been maintained throughout the years, and believes their lives have already been prolonged due to proper care. However, it is simply too risky to keep them. “It’s not a matter of if the trees fall down. It’s a matter of when. And when they do, there is no question of where they will fall.”
When USF proposed the trees’ removal, the Department of Urban Forestry approved USF’s decision. Speck appealed that decision to an administrative hearing officer, but the city stood by their original decision. Then Speck took his appeal to the Board of Appeals, a higher level appeal process. This appeal gave Speck one last chance to fight for the trees he wishes to save.
Speck will argue against Loomis and other USF representatives at an upcoming hearing. The hearing will be held Feb. 3 at City Hall. If Speck hopes to see the trees stay put, he will need the votes of four out of five council members.
Loomis said, “Our position is that we want to save these trees as well, but we also want to have a neighborhood that’s safe for the students and also for the public.”