Tree Root Damage

San Mateo is home to many mature trees lining our streets and this is one feature of our city our residents love. We take care of our suburban forest canopy and add 200-250 new trees to the city each year. While trees are beautiful, providing shade and an attractive streetscape, they can also cause sidewalk issues.

We want to maintain our forest canopy and the safety of our sidewalks and we try to find ways to save the tree while repairing the sidewalk.

Regardless of who planted the trees, you are responsible for the safety of your sidewalk. We can provide assistance for trees in the public right-of-way (the sidewalk).
Example - Sidewalk Defect - Tree
Damage from Trees on Private Property

If the damage to the sidewalk is caused by the roots from a tree planted by the property owner off the “public right-of-way” (in the front yard, for example), the property owner is 100% responsible for the repairs to the sidewalk, per San Mateo Municipal Code 17.24.

If your tree is a Heritage Tree and you are required to remove more than 1/3 of the root base to repair the sidewalk, you must apply for a permit to work on the tree.

Damage from Street Trees

When funding is available, we provide financial assistance as a courtesy to help property owners maintain safe sidewalks. Our interest is in public safety and enforcing public safety.

If it has been determined that the sidewalk damage in your property frontage is caused by a street tree, the City will share the repair cost and have the sidewalk repaired by a contractor previously selected by the City through an open bid process. In 2009, the City began a program that pays up to 50% of the repair cost, excluding the driveway approach.

If the City determines that the species of tree currently planted is not suitable for the environment, City personnel will remove and replace with a more appropriate species of tree at no cost to you.

Tree Replacement

When repairing the sidewalk due to street tree damage, we sometimes have to remove the tree and replace it if:

  • The root cutting will cause the tree to die or become unstable
  • The tree will displace the repaired pavement within 5 years

The City pays for removal and replacement of street trees. The contractor hired by the City to repair the sidewalks in the priority area will also remove and replace trees as necessary in addition to repairing the concrete. All street trees removed will be replaced with new trees approved by the City arborists unless there is an inadequate amount of space for a new tree.

If you select the option to hire a private contractor to repair your sidewalk and it is determined that a street tree must be removed and replaced according to the criteria above, the person or company that is doing the tree removal and replacement must get an Encroachment Permit and the replacement tree will need to be approved by a City arborist.

Please be sure to have your contractor contact a City arborist during normal business hours at (650) 522-7420 before beginning any work.

If your tree is on private property and it needs to be removed because repair will irreparably damage the root base and kill the tree, you can remove the tree without a permit, unless it is a heritage tree.

Please contact us for more information.

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