Dear Commissioners:

I respectfully request that you overturn the decision of
Edwin M. Lee, Director of Public Works, to approve the
request for removal, without replacement, of the tree at
1478 Page.  For the reasons which I shall lay out in this
brief, I feel that this decision was made in error and that
it is imperative that it not be upheld.

The tree in question, a ficifolia eucalyptus, is
approximately 30 years old, 30 feet tall, well-maintained,
and in excellent condition.  According to Paul Sacamano, the
Urban Forester, it is doing only very minimal amounts of
sidewalk damage and has no apparent deficiencies.  It does
not pose a hazard in any way.  The only reason for the tree
to be destroyed is that it is in the way of a driveway which
the owner of 1478 Page wants to build.  No replacement for
the tree is possible, since space on the sidewalk will not
allow it.

This tree is part of a row of identical trees which were all
planted at the same time, forming a 2400 square foot tree
canopy.  Destroying one of them would do irreparable harm to
this beautiful, historic stretch of Page Street.

At the DPW hearing for this tree on March 25, as well as at
a hearing on February 25 for a tree at 1514 Waller (Appeal
#02-054), Olga Arias, the Hearing Officer for DPW, and
Mr. Sacamano publicly admitted that there is something wrong
with the way the tree removal permitting process is
structured.  In particular, they both questioned why DPW is
brought in so late in the process, after all the building
permits have been issued.  According to Mr. Sacamano,
building permits are always issued first, and tree removal
permits are always applied for separately, as the last part
of the permitting process.  Both Mr. Sacamano and Ms. Arias
have stated unequivocally, and repeatedly, that they feel
that this aspect of the permitting process is in drastic
need of revision.

Shortly after the February hearing, Mr. Sacamano began a
dialogue with Larry Badiner, the Zoning Administrator for
the Planning Department, to change the way the permitting
process is conducted.  Among the changes they are trying to
implement are:  requiring public notice for every garage,
curb cut, and driveway permit application; requiring tree
removal permits to be applied for and noticed at the
beginning, rather than the end of any building project they
are a part of; establishing greater coördination between
DPW and Planning on any project both agencies are involved
in; and requiring all existing street trees to be notated on
all drawings submitted to Planning.

The need for these talks is obvious.  It makes sense for DPW
to be brought in at the beginning of any project they will
eventually play a role in, instead of at the very end, when
their ability to have any influence is greatly diminished.

As Mr. Sacamano himself said recently, "No one is dealing
with the whole issue."  He and Mr. Badiner are trying to
ensure that from now on, when different departments are
involved in the same project, it is treated as one project
from the very beginning, instead of being dealt with
piecemeal as it is now.

To me, this is absolutely key to understanding why Mr. Lee's
decision must be overturned.  It is my belief that under the
current circumstances it is impossible for him to decide any

This case in particular shows why these reforms are needed.
As you will see when Mr. Farr submits his plans, there is no
sign of a tree on any of them.  This means that Planning was
not even aware that there was a tree in the way when they
approved the drawings.  Plus, Mr. Farr began work on his
garage before the tree removal permit application was even
posted, and has continued working on it unabated through all
the protests, hearings, and appeals that have taken place
around this tree.  This shows an alarming amount of bad faith
on his part, and underscores the need for the city to write
these reforms into law posthaste, instead of leaving them up
to the discretion of the individual property owners.

Everyone involved agrees that it was a mistake for something
as significant as a 30' street tree to be overlooked, and
they are determined to see to it that does not happen
again.  I am very glad that these talks are going forward.
The only problem I have with them is that they can't
possibly happen fast enough for this particular tree to be

My own personal experience in trying to intervene to save
this tree is that although this is a complicated and
multi-tiered project -- involving a garage, a sidewalk
encroachment, a curb cut, and a tree removal -- there was
next to no communication between Planning, DBI, and DPW, the
different departments involved.

Permits for garages and curb cuts are currently issued
without any public notice at all.  Public notice is only
required if a garage alters the footprint of a building, and
a tree is not considered part of that envelope.  This means
that even adjoining neighbors who would be very upset about
the loss of beautiful old street trees are not informed
about garage projects that necessitate destroying them until
the notice of the tree-removal application is posted.  But
by the time that notice is posted -- by the time anyone is
even aware that there is a problem -- the deadline for
appealing the building permits has already elapsed.

This is obviously very bad public policy.  Because garages
can generally be fit into a building's existing footprint,
it is fairly simple to build them without any public notice
at all.  But garages create many disturbances for
communities, on many levels, and often for long stretches of
time.  Even if no trees are affected, common sense dictates
that the community be informed of garage projects early on,
and allowed to have input into them.  In the case of
projects that do involve street trees -- such as this one --
there needs to be an opportunity for dialogue to begin
before so many people -- property owners, city officials,
and concerned neighbors such as myself -- have invested so
much time, energy, and expense in trying to work out a final

Also, Planning issues building permits independently of DPW,
acting on faith that if any part of the project is under DPW
jurisdiction, DPW will attend to it.  Under the current
setup, with responsibilities so sharply divided between city
agencies, this approach makes a certain degree of sense.
But this system will work only if DPW feels they have the
right to oppose what Planning has done.  Instead, what
happens -- as we have seen -- is exactly the opposite:
because DPW is brought in so late in the game, they see the
project as a fait accompli, and feel that they do not have
the power to stop it.  This means that Planning is making
its decisions completely independently of DPW, but DPW is
not making its decisions independently of Planning.  Rather,
as Mr. Sacamano's and Ms. Arias' comments attest -- and as
Mr. Lee's verdict makes clear -- DPW's decisions are now
completely contingent on what Planning has done.  So DPW is
now the weak link in the chain.  This, to me, is where the
whole process breaks down.  And a lot of things, like this
street tree, are falling trough the cracks.

This case makes it abundantly clear what a problem this is:
Planning did not even discover that this project would have
any impact on street trees until after they approved it.

When concerned neighbors, including myself, first started
calling to inquire about the tree, we were told by officials
at DPW, "Don't even bother requesting a hearing."  One
official, Tony Wolcott, told me, "It's not so much a hearing
as public notice that the tree is coming down."  The first
person to call DPW, Ignacy Zulawski, was actively
discouraged from filing a protest.  "You're wasting your
time," they told him.  Again and again they told us, "Our
hands are tied.  Once Planning has issued the building
permits, there is nothing we can do to stop them."  The
sense of futility was almost overwhelming.

Mr. Sacamano has told me that DPW has never once denied a
tree removal permit when a garage permit has already been
issued.  This proves how inherently unfair the system is.
If there was any way for DPW to resist Planning's decisions,
they would have done it at least a small percentage of the

Mr. Lee and Ms. Arias ruled in favor of approving this tree
removal permit in the face of overwhelming neighborhood
opposition.  It is clear that they did not decide this case
on its own merits, but because they felt they could not do
otherwise.  This means that what the DPW officials were
telling us was true:  that although there was the appearance
of public process, it was happening in name only, because
there was really only one way things could go.  The only way
justice can be meted out is if you decide to right this
wrong, and overrule Mr. Lee's verdict.

I am attaching copies of a letter I wrote to Tony Wolcott,
and petitions I submitted to DPW before the February
hearing, protesting the removal of the tree at 1514
Waller (Exhibit A).  As you can see, I collected almost 400
signatures of neighborhood people who, given a choice
between a beautiful street tree and yet another private
garage, would gladly choose the tree.  Since this tree is
only a few blocks away, I feel that the same issues and the
same sentiments apply.  My letter to Mr. Wolcott outlines
some of the reasons behind my own personal opposition to Mr.
Farr's garage proposal.  One reason, as I stated in my
letter, is that I feel the rash of garage construction which
is happening city-wide is a violation of Proposition M,
which mandates the city to preserve neighborhood character,
and of the city's stated "transit-first" policy.  I also
feel that it is irresponsible for the city to
indiscriminately hand over valuable public assets such as
curbside parking and street trees to private property owners
without requiring them to adequately mitigate this loss.

But in a way, neither of these things are the most important
points that I am trying to make in this brief.  the most
important point that I am trying to make in this brief is
this:  all of these are issues that need to be argued in
front of the Planning Commission, with DPW actively
participating in the whole decision-making process from
start to finish.  This is how this project should have been
dealt with in the first place.  And it still can be dealt
with this way if you will send the whole project back to
Planning and allow it to go through the type of public
process it should have gone through all along.

In Russian Hill Improvement Association v. Board of Permit
Appeals of the City and County of San Francisco, 66 Cal.2d
34 (1967), the California Supreme court ruled that a city
agency must apply the law as it exists on the date of the
final agency decision.  DPW and Planning have made it clear
that it is their intention to change laws that are directly
relevant to this case.  You have the discretion based on the
spirit of the Russian Hill case to suspend this permit
because it does not comply with the laws DPW and other city
agencies are in the process of changing.

I feel very strongly that this is the only ruling that makes
sense.  You can show your respect for the process that is
underway, and for the people who are trying to change it, by
enforcing voluntarily, what you will soon be technically
bound to do.

Mr. Sacamano has told me that it is due to my efforts that
things are moving so quickly towards a resolution.  It has
taken an extraordinary amount of time and trouble on my part
to bring this about.  Of course I got involved in this issue
of my own volition, and I feel very privileged to have been
able to play a part in the process.  But if you ignore the
efforts I have made, I will be left in the devastating
position of having brought about positive changes to
appallingly poorly thought out public policy, but succeeding
too late to benefit from it myself.  This would send a
terrible message to private citizens like me who get
involved out of principle in improving city government.

As I said at the DPW hearing, if the permitting process is
flawed, and is in the process of being fixed, why not fix it
now, in time to save that tree?  Of course I would consider
it a great honor if you ruled in my favor and overturned
Mr. Lee's decision completely.  But I understand that this
may be difficult for you to do until the ordinances are
changed.  But you can surely send the whole project back to
Planning and let it be adjudicated as it should have been.

Katherine Roberts