By John Ramos

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A plan to upgrade a water treatment facility in San Francisco will include removing almost two dozen large, healthy trees from the industrial neighborhood, a proposal that has at least one local resident waging a David vs. Goliath battle to save the trees.

The Southeast Treatment Plant in San Francisco’s Bayview District, known ironically as the Headworks facility, will soon get a multi-billion dollar upgrade. But to do it, the city says some 20 trees along the 1700 block of Evans Ave. will have to be removed.

So far, the only one standing up for them is local resident Josh Klipp. “It’s gutting trees out of a neighborhood that needs it the most,” he said.

The 20 trees – Josh believes it’ll be more like 80 – will be taken out to make room for heavy equipment and a temporary 60″ bypass pipe while equipment inside the plant is replaced.

“Being able to move that equipment around and putting in some of that temporary infrastructure, there’s just no way to do that project unless we remove these trees,” said San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tyler Gamble.

But Klipp has filed an appeal of the project, believing the SFPUC didn’t consider options that might save the trees or otherwise increase the number of trees in the blighted, industrial neighborhood.

He’s not very optimistic he will win. “They are essentially their own judge and jury in this process, said Klipp. “They are not required to seek permits from the city and to go through the usual processes.”

That’s because in 2002, voters approved Prop E, designed to make the SFPUC run more efficiently. But language in the measure took nearly all control over the utilities commission away from City Hall. An opinion from the City Attorney’s Office states, “… the Board of Supervisors may not adopt ordinances directed specifically at the PUC or the city’s utility system.” That means Josh’s appeal of the PUC’s plans will not be heard by City Hall but by the agency itself.

“We are able to handle that process in-house in terms of the appeals process for tree removal,” said Gamble.

The PUC promises to replace each mature tree with a new one but Klipp would like to see a 3-to-1 replacement instead. But for those that are already here, it looks like their days are numbered.

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