Street tree duty falls to property owners

Street-tree-051505On Tuesday, the council will consider a new law that makes homeowners responsible for maintaining street trees and sidewalks and liable if they fail to do the job and someone gets hurt.

The city says it no longer has the money to proactively prune trees after eliminating several tree-trimmer jobs last year. It still has two pruning crews that work on trees that pose immediate safety risks.

Under the new law, property owners must maintain street trees and other landscaping mostly along the grassy parking strip between the sidewalk and the gutter.

If a property owner doesn’t do his/her duty and someone gets hurt from uneven sidewalks or a low branch, then the property owner is liable for damages, under the proposed ordinance. And if the city gets sued over that, it can try to recover its loss from the property owner.

On the bright side, residents won’t have to pay a fee to obtain a permit for replacing a street tree. But if they damage a street tree, fines range from $250 to $1,000

Matt Artz


  1. This makes no sense. The homeowner will bear the cost and legal liability of City tree and sidewalk maintenance for the city’s property. It sounds like a scam to save city money and make money by enforcing an illegal ordinance. The City claims they have no money to fund this taxpayer funded service, they need to prove it.

  2. Does this mean the City will give up it’s easement rights as well? I wonder…

  3. You can see where this is going. A homeowner determines a tree must be removed because its roots are damaging the sidewalk. The homeowner requests city approval to remove the tree, since it would be considered damage to the tree. How long do you think it will take to get through the bureaucratic process to receive the approval?

    You must maintain it, but you don’t own it and you must get permission before you do anything to it. Sounds like a heck of a deal.

  4. How about when a city tree has already damaged the sidewalk but is not yet considered a safety hazard? How about pension reform?

  5. God is in the details –

    1. Is the “property mangager” responsible for

    2.”..street trees and other landscaping mostly along the grassy parking strip between the sidewalk and the gutter.” ?



  6. Sorry – hit the wrong key – let’s try it again –

    God is in the details –

    Is the “property mangager” responsible for

    1.”..street trees and other landscaping mostly along the grassy parking strip between the sidewalk and the gutter.” ?

    AND/OR maintenance of

    2. “.. uneven sidewalks…” ?

    Where is Bobbie W. on this ? – As an attorney he can certainly comprehend and explain the problems associated with a handing off of liability, current condition of the properties etc., etc., – he’ll set the council straight on this idea.

  7. Nice try, B, but Bobby Wieckowski isn’t going to get his skirts dirty by posting here, at least not under his real name. He’s on his way to “bigger and better” things than the town that he grew up in can offer. You may have a better chance of getting a response from Anu or Bill, who are presumably running for Council re-election. BTW, I can’t find a campaign site for either of them – anybody have the URL?

    Did anybody notice that, on the tri-fold mailer that Bob sent out, there are only two places where is says, in little print, what office he’s running for? Looks like hubris to me, presuming that voters know what office you’re seeking.

  8. Argh the blasted public is complaining again. How are we going to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the A’s stadium studies if we have to pay for trimming city trees and fixing our sidewalks? When will the dense Fremont citizens understand that their taxes are for fat employee pensions, developer perks, and backroom politics. Maybe we can charge our citizens if they need a police or fireman to come to their help. We take Visa and Mastercard.

    Fred Dazed and Backpocket Bob

  9. From Martz full story in the Argus “Fremont pushes tree and sidewalk responsibility onto homeowners”

    “Fremont still spends about $1 million a year repairing sidewalks, but it can still take up to four years for repairs to be made, he (Pierson) said.

    I wonder if homeowners who are notified that the sidewalk in front of their home needs repair will have four years to make it?

  10. I’ve been contacting the city over the past few years about the condition of the sidewalk in front of my house…it’s like a skateboard ramp! So now because of their poor management of funds I’m going to be saddled with a mess that they never fixed? Lovely!

    The city doesn’t have enough money to maintain sidewalks around here but they’re perfectly fine with re-landscaping Fremont Blvd. or sprucing up the areas where the Art & Wine Festival is held ever year. If I ran my personal finances like that I’d be broke and out of luck! But when it’s the government that does it they just call it a “deficit”

  11. This November there is a election for two (2) city council members.

    Are you happy with the direction Fremont is going.
    Do you like to having inherited the liability of the city of Fremont’s sidewalks.
    Are you happy with Fred getting $250,000 per year.
    Are you happy with the city spending your tax dollars trying to get a Ball Park.
    Are you happy that the city of Fremont, that gave 14 acres of prime land in Centerville to a developer for a buck?, one dollar. The city of Fremont has $16 million dollars of taxpayers money invested in this site.

    If this makes you happy then by all means, re elect the incumbents.

    Please study the issues then make a informed decision!

  12. If I dont want to maintain the tree, can I knock it off? Will this drive people to a solution of removing trees because they damage sidewalks? I can fix 2 issues this way…

    If I am in a corner location, am I responsible for sidewalk and tree maintainence on 2 sides versus my neighbour who just has to do 1 side? is that fair? Will this cause people to shun homes on a corner lot?

  13. I wonder if current homeowners can file suit against the city to correct existing tree issues before liability is transferred? I suspect a tree planted by the city that is showing even the most trivial sign of damage to the sidewalk before this law is the responsibility of the city, not the current owner.

    Regardless, with liability I think homeowners should get absolute control, even if that means being able to cut the tree down on day one if they wish.

  14. The article says City saved about $300K by eliminating 5 tree trimmers, or $60K per trimmer. So if we get rid of Fred Diaz and his $260K salary, we can rehire at least 4 tree trimmers. That sounds like a better use of our tax money.

  15. This is interesting. It the city management continues to put the burden of tree and sidewalk maintenance up to the homeowner then one wonders what would be the need to pay for these management positions. They just might talk themselves right out of existence. Oh Well

  16. It costs me a lot of money to maintain the stuff I OWN too. It belongs to the City, the city is responsible.

    I think this proposed law overlooks a basic idea: Ownership.

    Ownership, property ownership, comes with two things, control and responsibility. By legally owning a patch of Earth, everyone else is acknowledging “Mr. Smith gets control of this patch here.”

    …and with Mr. Smith’s privilege of control comes responsibility. We all say: “Mr. Smith is also responsible for whatever happens on his patch.”

    Mr. Smith has the ability, has the right to prevent much of the trouble he would be responsible for simply by not allowing other people on his patch, on his property. He has that option.

    When he does allow, he then assumes the responsibility; a fair trade.

    What this proposed law suggests is that Mr. Smith assume responsibility, without giving him any control. He cannot prevent people from walking on the sidewalk and yet is still responsible for it.

  17. Matt’s artical indicates that:

    “State law makes homeowners responsible for street tree and sidewalk maintenance; however, Fremont accepted liability for both dating back at least to 1981, City Attorney Harvey Levine said.”

    I cannot find any State Law regarding street tree maintenance falling on the homeowner only sidewalk maintenance. Could be Harvey is stretch it.

    What’s next each homeowner is going to be responsible for maintaining the street pavement, street lights, and sewers in front of their home.

  18. Interesting dialog going on here. Some thoughts for the mix:

    What does this mean for areas in Fremont that do not have sidewalks in front of the homes?
    What about the unpaved alleys in Fremont?
    What is the general definition of a hazard that is being used to for these new maintenance areas?

  19. Tbone, don’t give the City any ideas. They may just take you up on it.

    Why is it we always eliminate the five people who do the work and make the least, and not the one boss that makes almost as much as the five combined and just oversees the work?

  20. And another thing….I know someone who just spent several months going back and forth with the City to have a tree removed in front of their home. The homeowner felt it was a hazard, but the city inspector initially said it was okay. Eventually the City agreed to have the tree removed.

    This is going to get real interesting. Oh well, it’ll keep Mr. Levine’s office busy.

  21. I have a suspicion that a contractor such as Arborwell could do the work for a fraction of what the COF assumes.

  22. AND ONCE AGAIN – something is – at worst – sorely mis-represented OR we dont possess any reasonable accumen and decision making. . . . (BOBBIE WIECKOWSKI – come on !! – you can’t be running for higher office with this kind of nonsense dribbling out of City Haul !)

    Here’s the facts –

    We got folks out spraying the weeds along the Paseo Padre divider today – – – but we can’t afford to prune a few trees ????

    Somebody’s got their damn priorities confused. Forget the weeds along the divider – – – go prune some trees or fix a sidewalk or two – already !

  23. For the record: it’s just not the sidewalks that the State Law asigns to adjacent property owner’s resposibility – but also curbs and gutters (which all adds up).

  24. If you find this upsetting, you’re probably not alone.
    There are some things you can do.

    For starters – take pictures of any seriously undermaintained trees or sidewalks for which you MAY eventually accept responsibility – send them along with a letter to City Hall. . call to their attention any dangerous conditions which exist at present. Keep a copy for yourselves.

    Another good, but longer-term remedy might be to identify and support those prospective candidates who present the greatest likelihood of unseating one or more of those who voted in favor of this “solution”.

  25. Re BBox, 26 — First off, many years ago, the city, while maintaining the street trees, removed my 25 year old magnolia tree and never replaced it. I have no problems with my sidewalk or gutter, so I have no real position on this matter, but your post reminded me of two things.

    When Fremont incorporated, they accepted all the streets from the county, except one, Adams Avenue on the north side of Roberts. It did not meet city standards. It took more than 40 years and a city affordable housing project to bring the street to standards and have it become a city responsibility.

    A second thought deals with the transfer of a state highway to city responsibility. State law requires Caltrans to bring the street up to city standards (I forget the exact term, “State of good repair” maybe) before the city is responsible for the road.

    Your point of documenting the state of your tree and sidewalk today would make a lot of sense and a probable good argument to make to the council – “I will be responsible from now on, but you are responsible to bring it up to a state of good repair before you dump it on me.” Makes sense to me.

  26. I just drove down one of the long-time established residential streets in Mission San Jose, Ohlones Ave. The trees along the street are very old and very big. I wish all of those homeowners well in the coming years.

  27. Remember, folks, according to Matt’s article about this, it was passed unanimously by our illustrious City Council, 5 – 0. Every one of our Current City Council members Voted For It. Every darned one of them. That’s one more darned good reason to Not vote for anyone who is on the council now.

    And, furthermore, GRRRRRR!

  28. This is the most whacked-out thing I’ve heard of since the non-response alarm policy.

    So – the city walks away from their accumulated negligence and “bequeaths” same to the residents because the city “can’t afford” to do their job any longer.

    But – many residents who are out of jobs, living on fixed incomes or are just stretched thin with the cost of living (oh, and taxes – did I mention TAXES) – may not be able to afford to maintain these trees or sidewalks any better than the city can – – – or maybe, their personal finances are worse off than that of the city . . . . who knows – WHO DO THEY RELINQUISH THEIR RESPONSIBILTY TO ?

    Take a picture of any pre-existing conditions. Send a letter to City Hall. Keep a copy for your own file.

    November right around the corner . . . . many choices for alternative candidates . . . . consider carefully though, there are many candidates – yet only one or two will have any reasonable chance of unseating any of the incumbants – – – educate your neighbors and friends.

  29. Did any of the council challengers say that they would have voted differently?

  30. The final outcome would not have changed even if both incumbents were replaced and the two new council members voted no. The final 3-2 vote would result in the same decision.

  31. One thing is for certain- Vinnie Bacon would have hugged the tree before voting for you to take responsibility for it’s upkeep.

  32. One thing is for certain – Marty would have buldosed that tree!

  33. Interesting U-turn by that little community of Los Angeles on the matter of sidewalk maintenance.

    Despite the (recently) and oft-quoted “califronia law” that all cities have whipped out of their proverbial behinds – – – L.A. City officials “.. said they know it is their responsibility to repair the sidewalks and the department of public works is looking at what can be done.”

    Seems there is this minor matter of something called ADA.


    But – here in Fremont our council is hoping that – “..if someone gets hurt from uneven sidewalks or a low branch, then the property owner is liable for damages.”

  34. Finally somebody notices!

    And how about the land the city trimmed off properties on Osgood Rd. through eminent domain? How did they determine what each property-owner was compensated and were they under federal, state or local guidelines?

    Anyone know where I can get that info?

    And is Robert Suplik aka Robert Smith? Because the house Robert Suplik was supposedly shot in front of is owned by Robert Smith. -see recent comments

  35. Questions for incumbent Council members in 2012 –

    Why is Fremont selective in its choice to exploit the revenue-generating opportunities created by red-light violators but simultaneously refuses to bill false-alarm violators?

    Why was the repair and improvement of a PRIVATELY-OWNED access road slated for funding by current council members while so many other needs which affect a much broader Fremont population are time and time again told “..we dont have the money..” ?

    Did you vote in favor of or against the two most recent international trips by Fremont officials to cities in Asia and India? What benefit did these visits return to the taxpayers of Fremont?

    …..more later.

  36. # 39…So ya really thinks that Vinnie is the cure? It might be true the *final solution* for Niles envy is a vote exempli gratia *Bacon* know to some as the cure. Please remember empowering little tyrants usually doesn’t work out …..more later.

  37. “Existing law requires the owners of lots or portions of lots fronting on any portion of a public street or place to maintain any sidewalk in such condition that the sidewalk will not endanger persons or property
    and maintain it in a condition that will not interfere with the public convenience in the use of those works or areas, except as to those conditions created or maintained by persons other than the owner.”

    The operative phrase here is “…except as to those conditions created or maintained by persons other than the owner.” – which in the overwhelming majority of cases is, has been, and continues to be the cities and municipalities in which you live and pay taxes.

    So – “under current law” – whoever has *been* maintaining a given patch of sidewalk and/or curb-strip is the legally responsible entity.

    Of course, your city council members would very much like you to believe otherwise. . . . .


  38. Why was the repair and improvement of a PRIVATELY-OWNED access road in Niles approved to be paid for at at Fremont city expense, while so many other needs which have the opportunity to benefit a much broader Fremont population are over and over and over again responded to with the “..we dont have the money..” excuse ? To fix a PRIVATELY OWNED access road in Niles, we have the money. To fix potholes on major thoroughfares, we have nothing. . . . .

  39. Niles envy doesn’t become you. As you know *everyone* in Fremont would have had an “opportunity to benefit” from major league baseball coming here. Come on…why in the hell did you and the soon to be 3 time loser really oppose it?

  40. Charlie, Why don’t you work on getting the Minor league team from San Jose, now that they are the new home of the A’s.
    It would be fitting to have the San Jose Giants Minor league team move to, Minor league Fremont.
    Charlie have you found someone, to help you with your Mental Health Problems, good luck with that.

  41. Why are we so able and willing to send a bill to someone for running a red light (money making opportunity), or, over-staying our welcome at the local parking meter but, COMPLETELY unwilling to take the same path in the case of a false-alarm infraction?

    In the first two cases, we can afford to setup the necessary infrastructure and are willing to incur the expense of response and billing and collection, and, in the other, we’re unable to do anything at all.

    In all of the example cases there are additional costs and potential revenues and logistical uncertainties. But, in the first two instances, we’ve CHOSEN to overcome obstacles to the economic AND SERVICE benefit of or city – in the latter – we’ve CHOSEN to deny residents of service and economic benefit.

    Far more importantly, neither Anu nor Bill have bothered to ask these questions and press for the clarity of a well-thought-out response.

  42. So what would Vinnie insight on this subject be … eat a vegan hotdog?

  43. What Vinnie or anyone else might do is speculative, Charlie.

    What is NOT speculative is that the Harrisson’s, Natarajan’s, and Chan’s of the world have demonstrated profound ineptitude, over, and over, and over again.

    It’s time for someone else to take a swing of the bat. .hopefully, someone with an ounce of critical thinking skills.

  44. So someone who teams up with Kathy McDonald and oppose the ballpark village is a better choice? Bacon has NO critical thinking skills!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *