It’s spring, and the trees are brooming everywhere! (And, no, I didn’t misspell that word.) Many of Alameda’s street trees no longer have their wide canopies because they’ve been pruned to look like brooms—one long tree trunk with some branches left fanning out at the top.
The city’s current arborists don’t cut the trees below the power lines into ugly Y shapes like the previous contractors did, but cutting off the trees’ arms is not desirable either.
The street maintenance guidelines state that trees “are to be pruned … for clearance of obstructing branches or foliage for pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles. The intent of the trimming program is to prune trees for safety and health rather than cosmetic appearance.” It is hard to see in some cases what “obstruction” has necessitated the deformation of the trees, compromising their health, appearance and even safety in some cases.
If you, too, are disturbed by the mutilation, don’t bother making a lone call to city hall. You’ll get a canned response saying the trees are diseased and need the saw. Instead, take an interest in the tree outside your home or one that’s in your neighborhood.
When you see the warning sign that tree trimmers are coming, you just might want to sweep into action. I’d make sure to watch over the contractors’ work, ask them what branches they plan on cutting off and why, and try to stop them if it looks like they are about to inflict irreversible damage. I’d definitely trust my sense of what is right because what I see out there being done definitely isn’t right. I’d have Public Works’ and the city manager’s phone numbers handy on my phone that day.
When I see beautiful canopy trees in certain neighborhoods, I think, “these neighbors are organized.” When I see the opposite, I wonder if the residents just don’t care or hadn’t realized what was about to happen to their rooted friends.
Over time I have gotten more used to the over-cutting that took place on my street and don’t wince so much when I see ”my” trees. They didn’t get broomed as much as mushroomed, with the trees having rounded tops.
Good pruning takes skill. A good trimming of your street tree should preserve and enhance the tree so it can continue to give the benefits it was planted for. It is an extension of your home and only you can preserve the ambiance it gives to your property. Plant your own tree — you will have a vested interest in keeping it healthy and beautiful. And even if it is a city-planted tree, it needs your attention and protection.
This spring, make a resolution to pay attention to the trees all over Alameda. Enjoy the blooms but take action against the brooms.
Originally published in Alameda Sun
I loved your article in the Alameda Sun on Brooming Trees for the Spring. I really enjoyed Dimusheva’s City Tree Art cartoon. The problem is that your advice is faulty. I’ve asked the tree trimmers for years to remove branches from the Liquid Amber across the street because every time a wind came up it would drop a branch. Luckily in years past, no car was hit. Last November my luck ran out. The very same limbs I’ve asked to have trimmed back and never were broke away crashing onto my Honda Civic totaling it. I found out the hard way that unless you write a letter to the city and send it to them certified, they will deny ever hearing any complaints or concerns. The tree trimmers are subcontractors, they have no say nor do they relay concerns or problems to the City of Alameda. The problem with the branch I wanted cut back was that it had grown around a power line and was the sole support keeping the powerline from sagging. I didn’t know this until the branch rotted out and broke off pulling the powerline down. Our street was closed for 2 days because they had to install a power pole and attach the power line to that since they had to cut the tree branches back. The brand trimming now matches Ani Dimusheva’s “WTF?!” tree art design. The contractors are not interested in talking or working for the people who live on the streets with trees. Advise your readers to start sending certified letters to Todd Williams, City of Alameda, Public Works Supervisor and demanding a timely response if there is a problem with the trees on their street.
Old Chinese Proverb: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now.
I’m glad you liked it, Camille, and sorry to hear about your car. Thank you for advising my readers.
The trimmers work at the same time most of us work. Even if we are present, you can not influence the tree trimmers. They take orders from Todd Williams only. Many of us work. We only find the results of their work after we get home. Look what happen to Park Street.
Many of the problems with older trees stem from the fact that they were not proactively and intelligently pruned in their early years. The city has lacked a young tree pruning program for years. Usually, the city reacts when the problem is imminent with a drastic measure by cutting large mature branches, some of which should have been removed selectively when the tree was young to allow other, better positioned branches to develop. Removing large branches weakens the tree overall as it reduces its ability to nourish itself. It also creates an off balance situation.
It is a good idea to write certified letters and also to call Todd Williams directly but then be there to supervise the work – when you can. Contractors will typically overprune than underprune, especially if the situation is deemed a “liability”. This only causes more trouble down the road. See above reasons.
More importantly, the city needs to start training the trees that are in their young stage NOW, before they become a problem. There are funds supposedly alotted to this, however, it is not clear when and how this is happening. Contractors are also for the most part clueless on how to prune for training, as evidenced by the butchering last year of the young flowering pears in Redwood square (the alley off Park Street, next to Tomatina). These trees were a perfect opportunity to practice good care – unfortunately, they are now another problem waiting to happen.
What can you do? Write letters about possible problems that you notice, insist on having your tree be trained properly while it is still young, supervise, TAKE PHOTOS (before and after) so you can document any negligent work and generally make the city know you are an engaged resident. Usually there is a notice n the tree before work is to begin. Call Todd Williams and say what you expect and insist that he be there to make sure no damage happens to your tree. If you are there, ask the contractors WHY they are doing what they are doing – it forces them to think, and to be more careful knowing they are watched.
Finally, overhead clearance over the sidewalk is 8′, and over the street is 14 feet. A helium balloon on a string can help you measure the height. No major branches should be removed above this height unless they are dead and pose an imminent danger. Excessive “rasing” (cutting over the needed clearance is another pervasive problem with these contractors.