San Jose Street Tree Maintenance

Fallen treeThe recent storms in the Bay Area caused trees throughout the city to fall, blocking traffic and causing various levels of damage.

In one very tragic incident, a large city owned American elm fell on a truck on Seventh Street in San Jose with 3 occupants inside. While 2 survived, 2-year-old Mateo Ortiz died. The city claimed that proper maintenance of the tree was not performed resulting in the tree’s crown to rot since it was last inspected.

When the second storm came through, half of the city owned tree in my front yard came crashing down, blocking both the sidewalk and half the street. Luckily, my own experience resulted in no damages or injuries.

While I knew that I’m responsible for tree maintenance, I was surprised to learn that I was responsible for any clean-up. I was also surprised to learn I’m also responsible for any injuries and property damage. A few years ago, a large part of the same tree came crashing down on my driveway — the city performed the cleanup without charge, and when we discovered our 2 week old Saturn Vue was damaged as a result, the city sent us an insurance claim form so the damages from the tree could be repaired. Apparently, this was done as a courtesy. Now that the city strapped for cash, homeowners need to flip the bill no thanks to the Great Recession.

The death of Mateo Ortiz has forced the City of San Jose to educate the public of this change — they’ve now included a link to a tree maintenance FAQ on the city’s website home page.

Some basics to know as a homeowner are:

  • You are responsible for the cost of maintaining street trees, in addition to any trees, shrubs, hedges or other landscaping, as well as any cleanup required if a tree, or a portion of the tree falls
  • You are responsible for personal damages, including property damage and personal injury
  • If the city sends a cleanup crew, or you call the city for cleanup, you will be charged a $100 administrative fee and will be billed by the registered contractor for their services

Note that before you start trimming, you need to file for a pruning permit before you trim a street tree — it’s free. It’s also important to note that a street tree can only be removed a) if it poses a danger to the public and the City Arborist approves, or b) a request is made to remove a tree and the City Arborist has given their approval for a removal permit (which generally requires replacing the tree) plus a fee.

The San Jose Mercury News is conducting a poll on who should be responsible for maintaining the trees – see the results and reader feedback.

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