05.22 Approved Minutes

City and County of San Francisco

DEpartment of the ENvironment




Friday, May 22, 2009, 8:30 a.m.

City Hall, Room 400  

One Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place

San Francisco, CA 94102


Order of Business


1.      Call to Order and Roll Call.  The Urban Forestry Council meeting convened at 8:32 a.m.  Voting Members Present: Chair Milne, Vice-Chair D’Agostino, Members Boss, Hillan, LeBeau, Rodgers, Sherk (9:00), Short (8:39), and Vargas; Voting Members Excused:  Members Blair and Cohen; Advisory Members Present: Members Nervo and Sustarich.


2.      Adoption of Minutes of the April 24, 2009 Urban Forestry Council Regular Meeting. (Discussion and Action) Upon Motion by Council Member Rodgers and second by Council Member Hillan, the April 24, 2009 Meeting Minutes were approved without objection (Ayes:  Council Chair Milne, Vice-Chair D’Agostino, Members Boss, Hillan, LeBeau, Rodgers, and Vargas; Noes: None; Absent:  Members Blair, Cohen, Sherk and Short) (Explanatory Document: April 24, 2009 Approved Minutes) .


3.      Review of the Annual Urban Forest Report Survey. The Council will review and make recommendations to improve the survey and accompanying cover letter which is used to gather data for the annual Urban Forest Report.  (Explanatory Documents: Questionnaire Cover Letter and Questionnaire Template) (Discussion and Possible Action)


Council Coordinator Hui reported that the Planning and Funding Committee at their May 21 meeting recommended that the cover letter contain stronger language on the requirement to submit a response to the survey and had recommended formatting changes.  Council Chair Milne reported that it is an ordinance requirement to prepare an Annual Report to the Board of Supervisors and Mayor. Member D’Agostino reported that San Francisco was just established as a “Tree City” and recommended that the cover letter include a sentence that states that receiving survey information is important in retaining its future status.  Council members and the Council Coordinator discussed the need to review the contact list at the next Planning and Funding Committee meeting in order to identify the appropriate person to receive the survey.  Member D’Agostino recommended adding PG&E and San Francisco State University to the list of agencies.  Member Vargas recommended that the first sentence in the cover letter explain how this process could benefit these agencies and the urban forest.


Coordinator Hui reported that the Planning and Funding Committee also recommended revising the survey by (1) adding a first question asking what if any significant changes have taken place within the agency or organization’s urban forest program; (2) formatting for ease of input; and (3) requesting a specific or approximated number of trees the agency is responsible for instead of checkboxes with a range.  Council Members provided additional recommendations for revision of the survey which included: (1) Coordinator Hui reported that Member Cohen requested adding choices as to what the Urban Forestry Council can do for you and adding a list of possibilities with a ranking system of importance; (2) Member Hillan requested a review on the relevance of the questions and provided recommendations on formatting, organization, sentence and word structure, capitalization, and modifications to content; (3) Vice-Chair D’Agostino recommended reorganizing or rephrasing the questions so that answers that are sought after are more readily provided. Member Boss inquired whether on the question of what the Council can do for you—whether the Council is prepared to respond to those requests with limited staff, time, and budget considerations. Coordinator Hui reported that most of the requests submitted from previous reports were requests for educational opportunities.  Member Short recommended that this question be retained in order to provide information to the Council on how they can be more relevant, but suggested that it could be rephrased.


Council Coordinator Hui reported that all information that agencies provided had been included in the previous Annual Report.  Member D’Agostino suggested that a PhD. student from Cal who prepared a survey on urban forestry practices in 50 bay area cities be consulted as he had received a high response rate.  Member Rodgers recommended sending the survey to the director of each department and to copy the person who represents the Council to confirm that it has been filled out. Member Sustarich recommended sending the survey to all three PUC enterprises instead of just one.


Council Coordinator Hui reported that she would present a revised cover letter and survey at the June 23 Council meeting for review before it is sent to agencies.     


4.      Urban Forestry Council Budget. The Committee will discuss the state of the Urban Forestry Council Budget for Fiscal Year 2009-2010. (Discussion) 


Council Coordinator Hui reported that the Planning and Funding Committee at their May 21 meeting held a discussion on identifying ways to ensure that the Council is funded.  It was explained that at this time, budget hearings are ongoing and commitment for funding from all of the funding agencies have not yet been made.  A response has been received from two agencies, Recreation and Park Department ($5000) and the Airport ($1000) of the six that were approached for funding (Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Planning, Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Redevelopment Agency).  The Department always requests $25,000 from each agency with the exception of the Airport, which only $1000 is requested.  It is expected that the Council would receive $25,000 from the PUC, $2000 from Planning, and $22,356 from DPW, which is roughly half of what the Council needs for staffing. Thirty-eight percent of the Coordinator’s time would be allocated to a different program, and the rest would be allocated to the Council. It is a possibility that there would be less or no funding for the Council Secretary’s time in the next fiscal year.


Council Chair Milne inquired whether it was a requirement that the six funding departments actually provide funding. It was explained that the Supervisors cut a percentage of agency contributions in the previous fiscal year because of the budget shortfall.  Chair Milne recommended that the Council lobby the Supervisors to encourage departments to provide funding and also explore other means of funding such as grants or outside intervention. It was explained that previous efforts were not successful because grantees are more interested in funding forestry programs, not administration of programs.  Member Sherk suggested reviewing the opportunity to request funding from other departments and asking whether it is legal to receive donations from individuals.  Member D’Agostino recommended researching grant opportunities for education and outreach that administrative fees could be built into. 


Deputy City Attorney Cabrera advised that requests for funding can be expanded to other departments, but believes that unless they are somehow affected by the Council, they may or may not contribute, and it would be discretionary, not binding.  It was explained that the Urban Forestry Council ordinance indicates that if money is available to funding agencies, they can support the Council, but it is not mandatory that they do so.  Donations may be accepted but may have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors depending on a threshold amount, which she believes to be $10,000. 


Council Coordinator Hui recommended that Council members attend budget hearings of funding agencies to encourage funding to continue. Chair Milne requested a schedule of meetings that Coordinator Hui agreed to provide.  Member Short recommended that the Council direct the Chair to write a letter to members of the Board, Mayor, and agency heads emphasizing the importance of funding this advisory body.  Member Sherk recommended that Council members create a list of reasons why the Council is valuable and should be funded.  Member Vargas recommended explaining how the Council is relevant to the funding agency and how the funding would be used.  Coordinator Hui explained that the Department issues budget justification letters every quarter and meetings are held every Tuesday to discuss funding and Council comments. Council Chair Milne reported that he would create a letter as requested.


Items 5 and 6 were heard together.


5.      Establishing a Citywide Program for Identifying Companies that do Citywide Pruning and Maintenance on Street Trees. (Continued  Discussion from the April 28, 2009 Meeting) Speakers:  Council Chair Milne and Deputy City Attorney Alicia Cabrera


Council Chair Milne discussed the Council’s discussion on the possibility of creating a voluntary list of approved contractors who agree to uphold established standards for tree care.  Deputy City Attorney Cabrera reported that any type of program would essentially require a permitting process and any contractor removed from the list would be allowed to appeal before the Board of Permit Appeals if the permit were to be rescinded for improper compliance.  It was explained that approved contractors could be required to abide by the pruning standards that have been adopted by the City, and there would be clear guidelines as to what that would entail.  However, that would require a department to oversee and implement the program.  Another option that would be more feasible from a legal standpoint would be to require that only certified arborists work on City trees. It was indicated that this possibility may not be something that the Council would like to do as there are tree people that are not arborists that do a great job and there are certified arborists that still top trees.  Council Chair Milne explained that there would have to be an administrative system in place in order to maintain a compliance list, which would mean funding for administration.  Member LeBeau inquired if the compliant list can be published.  Deputy City Attorney Cabrera explained that there could be a list of contractors whose permits have been revoked. 


Deputy City Attorney Cabrera reported that an ordinance would have to be in place that would require that only people that meet established criteria and hold a permit can work on City trees. In addition, there would have to be stiff fines/penalties that would have to be established by ordinance.  Vice-Chair D’Agostino reported that many cities in the area have a work-verified list which is not a permitting system, but is a published list of people who voluntarily agree to meet certain requirements, so there is no permit to give, take away, or a possibility of appeals.  Deputy City Attorney Cabrera reported that this option was discussed, but it was decided that there is a risk of litigation not in establishing a list, but from people who are taken off the list.  When you take someone off without established rules or regulation, it could be seen as arbitrary and capricious and can be seen as interfering with their livelihood. There may also be a tort that would allow them to sue the City for interfering with their economic perspective advantage. 


Vice-Chair D’Agostino recommended that the Western Chapter, which has a reporting system in place, be the body that would be doing the removals instead of the City.  Deputy City Attorney Cabrera reported that she would investigate this possibility, but believes that regardless of who pulls the name off the list, unless it is a body that oversees the field in general, it would be hard to argue that the City itself was not acquiescent to that particular action, and the City would be doing that action itself.  Member Short explained that if the Western Chapter were involved, it would have to be related to certified arborists and then there would be concern for limiting who could work on trees.  Member Short reported that San Francisco’s standards are similar to ISA standards, but not quite as strong.  It was suggested that a voluntary list could require certification and ISA could be the enforcement agency, but there could be some reference that someone from that list does not have to be used, which would allow for others to do the work.  Deputy City Attorney Cabrera stated that she could not identify a compliance procedure established by ISA but would review whether one was available.  It was explained that this process would be endorsing all the certified arborists that want to be on this list and all the people that don’t meet that requirement or who do a good job on City trees would not be included.  Member Sustarich reported that many City workers are not certified arborists and many approved vendors that do tree work for the City are not certified arborists. If this process were to be mandated, it would limit tree work in the City, which is already a problem. 


Vice-Chair D’Agostino stated that providing a list does not mean that it is an endorsement, it is a list of people who have volunteered to comply. Deputy City Attorney Cabrera indicated that an ordinance can be written that would allow for exceptions; however, the risk for litigation is only when you start taking people off the list. If ISA were to be the agency that would be doing the removals from the list, the City would have to say that only certified arborists could work on trees, and the Council is not going in that direction.  Deputy City Attorney Cabrera indicated that she does not see the difference between a voluntary list and endorsement.


Council Chair Milne stated that there would have to be funding available for administration of this process to review the list, take phone calls for damage, put people back on the list, prepare for hearings at the Board of Appeals, etc.  Member Hillan stated that if there was one business that was reported, but another was not, there could be potential for a lawsuit.  Member Rodgers explained that there would be cost for initial set up of the system; however there could be full cost recovery for processing the permits once the system has been established.  Chair Milne suggested exploring more efficient enforcement of DPW’s system that is in place now.  It was explained that at this time, a lot of the blame falls on the property owner who did not do anything wrong, so that is why this process is being explored.  More efficient enforcement of the existing regulations could help with some of these tree maintenance issues which may require setting up a new administration or establishing a new ordinance.


6.      Illegal Topping of Trees and Billboard Visibility. (Continued  Discussion from the April 28, 2009 Meeting) Sponsor:  Member Short; Speakers: Council Member Short, Council Chair Milne and Deputy City Attorney Alicia Cabrera (Discussion)


Council Chair Milne reported on a meeting attended with Member Short and Coordinator Hui with City Attorneys a week ago to explore potential ways to address this problem. Deputy City Attorney Cabrera stated that the Council could start a letter writing campaign to the billboard owners and sponsors to bring to their attention that trees were topped and show pictures, without actually issuing an accusation. This option would bring awareness to what is happening. The problems that could arise from a legal standpoint, is that someone may be accused without any evidence to substantiate the claim.  Council members could go to each individual site where trees were topped and request the name of the owner of that particular billboard so that a letter could be issued. It was explained that the Planning Department would have this information available.


7.      Staff Report.  Staff will provide updates on Urban Forestry Council administrative and programmatic operations relating to research, planning, funding, outreach, and other related activities. (Informational Report and Discussion) (Explanatory Document: Staff Report). 


Coordinator Hui presented a staff report on (1) the monthly meeting with the Mayor’s Office that was previously cancelled and would be scheduled for May 26; (2) website updates that were made to include the most current landmark tree evaluation forms; (3) landmark tree tour date discussions; (4) distribution of the landmark tree certificate awaiting final approval from Chair and then would be sent to everybody that has a landmark tree; (6) withdrawal of nomination for the Moreton Bay fig tree by owner; (7) annual pruning workshop scheduled for June 12; (8) collaboration with the Public Library on urban forestry projects; (9) Annual Urban Forest Report surveys to be sent out on July 30 after review by the Council; (10) San Francisco Foundation grant award of $15,000 for the SF Gleaning Project; and work with the Department’s Climate Action Coordinator to explore other funding options. Additional information can be accessed in the Staff Report.


8.      Committee Reports: (Informational Reports and Discussion)

Planning & Funding Committee, Chair, Carla Short

The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 18, 2009, 4:15 p.m. at City Hall, Room 421.

Landmark Tree Committee, Chair, Mike Boss—Meetings are held as needed.

 Planning and Funding Committee Chair Short reported that the Planning and Funding Committee discussed the possibility of establishing a citywide tree pruning maintenance list, the Annual Report Survey, and Council budget at their May 21 meeting.  One suggestion that was made was to put together a book of bad pruning examples of before and after pictures to enlighten the Board of Supervisors and Mayor’s Office for why this issue needs to be tackled.  Chair Milne volunteered to work on this project with Member Short. Another suggestion that was made was for the Council to employ interns to identify important trees, take before pictures, and work on other important projects.


Landmark Tree Committee Chair Boss reported that the Committee has not met in months because of a lack of landmark tree nominations.  It was explained that the nomination for the Moreton Bay Fig tree was withdrawn because of opposition from neighbors.


9.      Chair’s Announcements: Terry Milne, Chair, Urban Forestry Council (Information and Discussion) 


No announcements were made at this time.


10.  New Business/Future Agenda Items. (Information and Discussion).  Council Coordinator Hui reported that potential funding opportunities for the landmark tree marker project had been researched, and the opinion is that there are no grants that can be applied for that would fund this project.


11.  Public Comment:  Members of the public may address the Council on matters that are within the Council’s jurisdiction and are not on today’s agenda.  There was no public comment at this time.


12.  Adjournment.  The Urban Forestry Council meeting adjourned at 10:05 a.m.


Explanatory documents are available to the public at the Department of the Environment, 11 Grove Street, San Francisco, California between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., by clicking on the attachments with each agenda or meeting minutes, or upon request to the Council Secretary at the address listed below, telephone number 415-355-3709, or via e-mail at [email protected].


Urban Forestry Council

San Francisco Department of the Environment

City and County of San Francisco

11 Grove Street, San Francisco, CA 94102


Respectfully submitted by,

Monica Fish, Council Secretary

*Approved: June 23, 2009 

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