Tree Policy Roots

The loss on Park Street of 28 mature trees in one fell swoop on October 19 and 20 (and three more trees days later) is not only heart-wrenching, it shows how official city policy doesn’t always guide official city action.

The trees were not diseased nor were their roots damaging the sidewalks, creating tripping hazards, except where concrete was poured right up to the trunks of two trees.

The 31 trees were removed in the name of “progress”—a continuation of the 2002 Park Street Streetscape and Town Center Project—to make way for the installation of vintage lighting and parking meter kiosks.

As part of its consent calendar, the city council approved the tree removal without discussion in March 2011, and an October 4 press release announcing the resumption of work on the streetscape project did not mention tree removal.  City leaders have since apologized for the lack of notice and for not holding a new public meeting “to remind the community of this project and confirm its support.”

Something else in the process also went wrong.  Between the completion of phase one of the streetscape project (Webb to Central) in 2005 and the recent start of phase two (Central to San Jose and Lincoln to Webb), a citywide tree policy was adopted.  It should have triggered the revisiting of the 2002 streetscape plan.  Instead, city officials moved forward with a plan that contradicted the new tree policy—a policy the community had spent valuable resources putting together.  Likewise, the new tree policy failed to specifically address the pending Park Street project and made only a generic design recommendation for “removing trees that are in decline and planting new ones.”  It’s no wonder the public was not expecting every tree in the project area of Park Street to be removed.

An overall goal of our citywide tree policy is to “Discourage the unnecessary removal of existing healthy trees in the design, construction, or reconstruction of street projects.”  The tree policy states explicitly that “tree removal is a last resort alternative … after all practical and reasonable alternatives have been considered.”  Could we have worked around and saved many of the existing trees on Park Street?

The tree policy warns that “when construction occurs in the name of progress, trees are often compromised in the process.  Attempts to save trees during the construction process are often doomed unless protective measures are carefully implemented prior to … construction.”

The city may well be working to make sure protective measures are in place for future redevelopment or construction projects, but unfortunately the Park Street streetscape project was not flagged for closer scrutiny in the tree policy.

Memories will fade, new trees will be planted, and we will move on, hopefully, to a future in which previously approved plans are updated to match current policy and new policies address existing plans.  For now, we mourn the loss of these 31 trees.

Originally published in Alameda Sun

See related posts:  In Memoriam: Tree Grande and Chop Park Street.  Read my commentary, unrelated to trees, about when the city ignored the 2002 Park Street Streetscape and Town Center Project.

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One Response to Tree Policy Roots

  1. Ariane says:

    I went to last night’s public meeting (held after the damage was done). The Patch article, http://alameda.patch.com/articles/alameda-park-street-trees-cutting-removal, leaves out a lot of what was said. It was enlightening and well attended. And to repeat what I said last night, in the future the public should not just be informed in advance of a public tree’s removal. The public should be given advance notice of the City’s intention to remove a tree, and the public should then be given the chance to stop it if that is what the majority of the citizens would prefer happen.

    Also, after the meeting I spoke with someone at a Park St. neighborhood business about the meeting. What I was told then in combination to what was said at the meeting brought a new aspect to the haste with which the trees were cut down. Recent CALTRANS funding approval that required using the funds before a deadline next year seems to have a lot to do with why these trees were hurriedly cut down all at once, when that is not how the project description said things would happen. It had basically said that only trees that were in bad health or causing safety issues would be replaced over time, not all at once. And, the discussion of the contractor bid process and changes regarding “bulb outs” was also enlightening.

    Early during the meeting the City representatives were trying to say that Phase 2 had some changes and updates after public feedback against the Phase 1 “bulb outs”. Later in the meeting it came to light that the deletion of “bulb outs” in Phase 2 was really the result of cost, budget, and funding amount issues, and also costs to the “risk management” department because of people whose cars had been damaged by hitting the “bulb outs”. And one public attendee also questioned how there had been a unilateral decision by City staffers to delete “bulb outs” from Phase 2 if they were specified in the “approved” and “vetted” plan. My friends, fellow Alameda residents and I, all thought the bulb outs were insane and a nuisance when they first started appearing on both Park and Webster Streets. The only “bulb outs” that I think have any value are the ones that serve as bus stops.

    How the streetscape plan was initiated, approved and vetted were also called in to question. It sounds as if the City Council was never given a full description of what was intended with the streetscape plan, and only limited details were submitted for “consent” by the Council.

    What happened to the trees on Park Street was horrific, mishandled completely, depressing, etc. It can’t be reversed. What can be changed are the policies within the City government and departments, to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, that true public input is sought (not just a small group on committees), that there is sufficient advance notice to the public to voice their concerns and stop undesired actions such as this, and also to fix the City and departmental approval procedures. So much was overlooked by those involved, five years went by since any true public notice was last given, the way it happened last month was not even in accordance to what was “approved”.

    The few remaining mature trees on Park St. need to be saved. If they are healthy, they should be trimmed and have the Phase 3 of the new “streetscape” include them in the design and implementation.

    There was a lot of damage control, “spin”, etc. last night. The majority there were trying to work towards solving the situation now in the best manner, and the meeting was very civil, but more distressing facts came out during the discussion.

    The whole nature and character of the city of Alameda and its residents, and why we chose to live here rather than some plastic box “developed” community, was overlooked in this process. There is no excuse for how this went down. I am afraid that some of my comments last night were incomplete as I don’t always finish my thoughts when I am speaking, especially when my feathers are ruffled.

    When I lived in San Francisco I saw City of SF notices posted on the trees in my neighborhood near the St. Francis Hospital letting the public know the hospital’s intention of cutting down the trees to make bigger driveways on three sides of the large city block. I put up posters all over the neighborhood and encouraged my neighbors to come to the public Planning Commission hearing, and apparently plenty of other people took action as well. I took the day off work to attend the meeting and there were many other people there as well to speak up against the trees removal. Our actions helped spare the majority of those trees, and the few that were removed had to be replaced in other parts of the blocks per the City’s instructions to the hospital.

    I spent a lot of time researching the issue of urban trees during that period. There are reasons that there are laws in place so that people cannot chop down trees willy-nilly. The urban canopy of trees contributes to a healthy environment. “Each person in the U.S. generates approximately 2.3 tons of CO2 each year. A healthy tree stores about 13 pounds of carbon annually — or 2.6 tons per acre each year. An acre of trees absorbs enough CO2 over one year to equal the amount produced by driving a car 26,000 miles. An estimate of carbon emitted per vehicle mile is between 0.88 lb. CO2/mi. – 1.06 lb. CO2/mi. (Nowak, 1993). Thus, a car driven 26,000 miles will emit between 22,880 lbs CO2 and 27,647 lbs. CO2. Thus, one acre of tree cover in Brooklyn can compensate for automobile fuel use equivalent to driving a car between 7,200 and 8,700 miles.” [from Nowak, David J., “Benefits of Community Trees”, (Brooklyn Trees, USDA Forest Service General Technical Report, in review) via http://www.coloradotrees.org/benefits.htm%5D

    We have now lost part of our tree canopy and it will take many years to replace, along with really harming the beauty and feel of one of our main business areas that is enjoyed by many, now full of people saddened by the loss of the beautiful trees.

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