The second phase of redevelopment at the former Naval Air Station is focused on the Main Street neighborhood. The neighborhood is near the Main Street Ferry Terminal and encompasses the “Big Whites” and surrounding homes. Many old structures will likely be torn down, but what will become of the trees?
On May 9, the planning board held its first public hearing to review three development alternatives for the area. There was barely a mention of trees.
Planning board member David Burton questioned why the city was recommending a park in one area rather than filling it with homes. City staff responded that one park was kept in all the development alternatives because the plot of land is an existing greenspace with trees. Burton acquiesced, saying, “Beautiful trees do make it seem that the development has been there forever.”
The Main Street neighborhood is filled with an array of beautiful trees, some over 50 years old. They include sycamores, elms, acacias, pines, cedars, and so many more.
These established trees are a defining characteristic of the neighborhood. If any of them can be spared during construction, Alameda will be better for it. It could take decades for new trees to grow and, even then, new trees don’t always replace what currently exists.
According to city policy, trees can be removed if their location is slated for the construction of public or private improvements. However, the policy discourages “the unnecessary removal of existing healthy trees in the design, construction, or reconstruction of street projects and other property development.”
Unfortunately, Alameda Point is exempt from the city’s master street tree plan because when it was adopted, plans for developing the area hadn’t yet begun.
The city needs to update its master street tree plan to include Alameda Point, and the clear cutting of trees when the old housing is removed should be prohibited. At the very least, the public works director should take a fresh inventory of the 64 species of trees identified in the Navy’s 2012 Cultural Landscape Report, and the city council should become engaged.
The management plan in the city’s tree policy states that the city council “has discretion to identify special situations where a comprehensive tree removal and replacement program may be desirable.” That comprehensive program is “to be guided” by the master street tree plan, which states tree removal “is permissible only after all practical and reasonable alternatives have been considered.”
Until Alameda Point is incorporated into the master street tree plan, the specific plan for the Main Street neighborhood should include a section dealing with the trees, with specific guidelines on tree removal there. While some trees may warrant removal to make way for new infrastructure, others can surely be saved because, for the most part, the street layout is going to remain the same.
Let’s safeguard and expand our urban forest while accommodating growth. “The maintenance and protection of fine old trees links the past with the present, binding [Alameda’s] heritage to the future,” begins the city’s master street tree plan. “[T]oday’s decisions and actions about trees are a part of tomorrow’s environmental heritage.”
The trees in the Main Street neighborhood are no exception.
Originally published in the Alameda Sun
Navy’s Cultural Landscape Report