Tree Topping Watch

Excessively pruned street trees

Topped trees on the 500 block of Grove Street at Market Street.

Too often we see trees around the city that have been “topped” by bad tree trimmers, meaning they have been cut back so severely they look like hat racks instead of trees. Topping trees reduces their environmental benefits and negatively affects tree health. The weakened trees often die (resulting in large removal and replacement costs) or regrow hazardous branches.

Topping is also illegal in San Francisco, and is punishable by a fine of at least $1,800 (Article 16, Sec. 811 of the Public Works Code). Street trees are a public asset, and belong to all San Franciscans.

This beautiful Strawberry Tree (Arbutus ‘Marina’) in Westwood Park was 10 years old when it was “topped.” Fortunately, someone reported it to the city and the property owner was fined. Thanks to the Westwood Park Association for this information.

Report a tree that is being topped, or has already been topped, to the city: call 311, or submit the information online at

NOTE: Some trees around City Hall, on California Street and on the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park have been pollarded. When pollarding is properly done, it’s not fatal to the trees, and is legal.