By Susie Steimle

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Cut down a tree without permission and go to jail.

Sounds a little dramatic, but that’s the warning in San Francisco.

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San Francisco resident Gene Kelly is one of dozens of Noe Valley neighbors who were shocked to see the building owners at 610 Clipper Street illegally chop down an old Cypress tree in front of his apartment complex.

The owners may be on the hook for $8,000, the assessed value of the Cypress tree they cut down. The city is saying pay the bill or spend time behind bars.

Kelly said, “It was a very prestigious and majestic tree.”

Google street views show what the tree used to look like, but now only a stump remains.

“”I wasn’t even being made aware they were going to cut it. I came out and I could smell it,” Kelly said.

Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru says this illegal activity is considered a misdemeanor and cutting it down could mean up to six months in jail.

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Nuru says his department has seen an uptick in illegal tree cutting.

“Frankly, I’m going to be moving toward stricter penalties,” Nuru said. “I think a value judgement needs to be made by our organization as to whether this offense, and it is an offense, was committed intentionally or accidentally.”

Come July, Proposition E will go into effect which means any trees on or around public sidewalks are to be pruned, and cared for, by city employees only.

Greentree, the owners of the Noe Valley apartment building, told KPIX 5 that chopping down this tree was an accident.

Greentree said, “We deeply regret that a miscommunication resulted in inadvertent removal of the Cypress tree…during some much-needed property improvements. We’re working with the city to correct the situation and expect to replace the tree with a suitable native species.”

Nuru says this case should serve as a warning.

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“We will come after you and we will get the maximum out of you because you have no business touching those trees,” Nuru said.