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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


Last Wednesday, I represented the shul at a Department of Public Works (DPW) hearing to appeal a $14K fine (yes, $14K, you read correctly) levied against us for “excessive pruning” of the trees along 26th Ave. 

Here’s the background. Last August, we were concerned that the sidewalk along 26th Ave was becoming a hazard. The falling leaves made the sidewalk slippery and was an accident waiting to happen. In addition, the branches were beginning to impact the overhead wires and we were concerned about what that could lead to. Since I was aware that it was the city’s responsibility to take care of the trees, I called 311. They checked the schedule and told me that our street was due for tree trimming in a few years. That being the case, I requested that our gardener “trim” the trees.

Unfortunately, for reasons I have yet to understand, he cut off too much, leaving the trees leafless. Unbeknownst to me, it was illegal to do this. How did I find out? Just before Rosh Hashana, I received a two-page letter accompanied by five photos explaining and documenting the incident. With the help of David Pilpel, we crafted an extensive response (with pictures as well) and requested an opportunity to appeal the fine. 

Last week, we sort of had our “day in court.” The DPW made its case in front of a hearing officer and we were allowed three minutes for every “appeal speaker.”  In addition to myself, David Pilpel, Heddy Pilpel, and Vicki Keyak spoke as well. The proceedings were all via Zoom. We did our best to explain that we never intended to harm the trees (just protect people), couldn’t have anticipated that the gardener would excessively prune them, and can’t afford such a heavy fine. After all was said and done, we were told to expect a decision on our appeal in several weeks.  

Truthfully, I was very impressed with DPW’s thorough presentation and learned a lot from it. If all the city’s departments ran as well as this one, San Francisco would be a very well-run city. After reflecting on the DPW’s presentation, which stated that the most important thing to them isn’t the money, but tree preservation, I came up with the following proposal. 

Adath Israel would do several things in lieu of the fine:

  1. Inform its membership of what happened AND what one needs to know about street tree care, as well as caring for trees on one’s property that are within ten feet of the public right-of-way.
  2. Ask the J Weekly, as a public service and in honor of Tu B’Shvat, to inform the Jewish community at large about the city’s tree regulations.
  3. Make sure that the Northern California Board of Rabbis are made aware of the city’s tree regulations and ask that they share the information with their congregations. 

So, what do we need to know?

  1. Trees are more than just beautiful additions to urban life. They are an essential component of the city's ecosystem and provide enormous environmental and social benefits. They help manage stormwater, reduce air pollution, sequester carbon, save energy, increase property values, provide wildlife habitat, calm traffic, provide a more pleasant pedestrian experience and benefit human health. 
  2. Therefore, before doing anything to either a street tree or a tree located on your property that is within 10 feet of the public right-of-way, please check the SFDPW tree website or the Urban Forestry Ordinance.