Staff Analysis and Comments: Ms. Mei Ling Hui, Urban Forestry Council Coordinator provided (1) a description of the landmark tree nomination and designation process by the Committee, Council and Board of Supervisors and (2) landmark tree hearing recommended guidelines. Ms. Hui provided a staff analysis of her evaluation of the Sequoia sempervirens at 46 Stillings Avenue describing the tree’s physical, environmental and cultural attributes which she recommended for landmark tree status (see explanatory document: Staff Evaluation Report).
Property Owner and Sponsor’s Presentation
Ms. Maggi Rubenstein, property owner and sponsor, stated that the nominated tree serves as an important wildlife habitat and described family, neighborhood, and her appreciation for the tree as well as its physical attributes. She presented an arborist report and letter from a neighbor in support of landmark tree status (see explanatory documents).
Mr. David Rubenstein, property owner’s son, stated that the nominated tree serves as an important wildlife habitat, is in an ideal location for survival, and described the tree’s physical and environmental attributes. He spoke in support of landmark tree status.
Affected Property Owner’s Presentation
Mr. Eric Kramvik stated that he is representing two property owners residing adjacent to 46 Stillings Avenue. He stated that when he first moved into his property, there were Cypress and Pine trees on the property that were removed due to concerns for the safety of neighbors. Mr. Kramvik questioned the contention that the nominated tree is over 100 years old and stated that he does not think that adequate maintenance is being provided to the tree because stress is causing all the foliage to move to the east side of the tree (the side he lives on) causing an unbalanced situation. He expressed his concern that if this tree were to be landmarked, it may cause an imminent safety hazard for neighboring properties. (Explanatory document: adjacent property owner letters not supporting landmark tree status and photographs.)
Mr. Jeff Tanenbaum stated that he lives next door to 46 Stillings Avenue and questioned (1) whether the tree meets landmark tree designation as it is not located in a visible or prominent location and is a typical redwood tree not in its natural environment; (2) referred to issues raised by Mr. Kramvik about whether the tree poses an imminent danger to surrounding properties; and (3) requested that conditions be attached as part of the findings if the tree were to be designated as a landmark. He requested that before the tree receives landmark tree designation, that an initial and annual inspection/study be prepared by a certified/licensed arborist about whether the tree is healthy and sound with those recommendations shared with the affected neighbors. He asked that there be a requirement that the owner of the property engage in major maintenance on an annual basis or as otherwise decided by an arborist. Mr. Tanenbaum requested that documentation of major maintenance be provided to adjoining neighbors as well as notice of landmark designation to future prospective owners or renters.
Member Hillan inquired whether the Council has the power to put specific conditions on recommendations for landmark tree designations. Ms. Hui stated that the Landmark Tree Ordinance contains controls requiring that the tree be maintained and for removing the tree. She stated that as far as she knows, there have not been specific requirements added on to landmark tree designations in the past, but that it is a possibility since there is a separate Ordinance for each landmark tree. She stated that she would consult with legal counsel and provide a report at the next meeting. Chair Hillan stated that a report would be made on this issue at a future meeting.
Ms. Rachel Rubenstein expressed her appreciation for the tree and spoke in support of landmark status.
Mr. David Rubenstein stated that the Sequoia sempervirens is not a tree that is commonly found in the city of San Francisco. He explained that the location where it is growing is similar to the coast range location of where this species is typical because it receives about the same amount of rainfall. In the summer time, this area is extremely foggy and is like a lot of conifers--it cones moisture out of the fog and the ground is typically wet. This creates its own microclimate in a way that adds to the health of the tree.
Member Vargas asked affected property owners to describe their concerns for landmarking this tree. Mr. Kramvik discussed his concern that if this tree were to be landmarked, there would be a long process for removal if the tree were to become an imminent hazard. He also described his concern with the arborist’s objectivity as it relates to the property owner’s trees. Mr. Tanenbaum described his difficulty in reaching past agreements with the property owner to remove hazardous trees that were encroaching into his property. He requested assurance that the tree is healthy and sound.
Committee Evaluation Reports: Committee Members Cohen, Hillan, and Vargas discussed their evaluation reports for the subject tree describing its physical, environmental, and cultural attributes. Council Member Buck, Department of Public Works Bureau of Urban Forestry Inspector, as requested by the Committee, addressed safety concerns and the health of the tree. He presented his evaluation report and photographs. (Explanatory Documents: Committee and Council Member Buck’s Evaluation Reports.)
Staff Rebuttal: Ms. Hui stated that there are emergency removal procedures for landmarked trees and referenced a landmark tree on Bush Street that is in the process of being removed. She stated that she would check with the Deputy City Attorney on the process for adding conditions and would report back at the next Urban Forestry Council meeting.
Property Owner Rebuttal
Ms. Sarah Rubenstein-Thomas, property owner’s daughter, stated that statutory conditions would be abided by, but that she would object to conditions that the statute doesn’t impose as being excessive. She stated that this tree could be there for generations, and she would like to see it stay. Ms. Rubenstein-Thomas stated that she would not want to compromise anyone’s safety and appreciates that the Department of Public Works would take precedence in regard to safety concerns.
Mr. David Rubenstein stated that this type of tree does not typically require the amount of shaping as other trees that may become extremely large with branches growing in many different directions. In this location, more frequent inspections (somewhat less than every year) and pruning would be needed to direct that growth to be appropriate for this site. He addressed comments made about his mother’s involvement with regard to the two cypress trees that were removed. He explained that those trees were originally on Mr. Kramvik’s property and had grown into his mother’s property, so was not her responsibility for removal. She had suggested at the time that the trees be pruned and maintained so they could survive for another twenty years.
Ms. Maggi Rubenstein addressed the comments made about the arborist being her friend and not providing an objective opinion. Ms. Rubenstein described her relationship with the arborist as one of having mutual respect, but not as “good friends” as was described.
Affected Property Owner Rebuttal
Mr. Roger Fong stated that he resides next door to 46 Stillings and does not have a strong opinion because he has only seen the top of the tree. He described his concern about his relationship with the property owners in regards to plants in general as well as the proximity of the tree to neighboring properties. He stated that he is not convinced that the tree has been properly maintained and does not have evidence that concerns have been met.
Mr. Jeff Tanenbaum stated that landmarking a tree that is solely in one person’s yard would be less of a reason for landmarking than if it were accessible to the community. He stated that he feels that the Ordinance is broad enough to allow for the Council to incorporate findings for landmark designation. Mr. Tanenbaum stated that he has not seen the entire tree and is hearing that it may meet the environmental and wildlife habitat criteria, but asked how this redwood tree is different than all other redwood trees that could potentially be landmarked. He stated that requiring conditions to follow the directions of a certified arborist is not difficult and is a reasonable request. Mr. Tanenbaum questioned whether the arborist has maintained the tree over the years. He stated that his concern is less with the designation issue, than with his main concern to protect and ensure the safety of neighbors.
Mr. Eric Kramvik stated that arborists have pointed out that for a large tree growing in an environment like this one you are supposed to open up the crown of the tree and allow the wind to pass through the tree instead of allowing the tree to present a solid wall to the west wind. This tree has not been opened up or pruned for a long time and nothing has been done to open up the tree to the west wind. He discussed redwood trees in Humboldt State Park that had fallen because of wind conditions and expressed his concern for this particular tree falling as it is not in a redwood forest such as the trees in Humboldt State Park and is near neighboring properties.
Discussion and Action by Committee: Committee Members and Council Member Buck addressed private property rights, the landmarking process, maintenance/pruning requirements, and safety and other concerns that neighboring property owners addressed. Members also described their appreciation for the physical attributes of the tree and its surroundings and the potential for unifying the community through the landmarking process.
Upon Motion by Member Vargas, second by Member Cohen, the Sequoia sempervirens located at 46 Stillings Avenue was recommended for landmark status to the full Urban Forestry Council (AYES: Members Cohen, Hillan, Hillson and Vargas). Landmark Tree Committee Chair Hillan would be providing a written report of findings, and all explanatory documents would be provided to the Council for their consideration at the next meeting.