New City Policy Sprouts After California Avenue Tree Removal

By David Carini

PALO ALTO – The nine-member City Council unanimously approved revamping the city’s tree removal policy at the Oct. 5 meeting after city workers uprooted 63 mature holly oaks in mid- September without proper community consent.

The Department of Public Works removed trees on Sept. 14, the same day the Architectural Review Board approved the project. According to city policy a two-week grace period is required to allow for community input before any action is taken. Hundreds of residents sent inflammatory emails in protest to city council members.

About eight residents attended the Oct. 5 meeting and voiced concerns over lack of public involvement prior to the tree cutting.

“I didn’t get a notice, and I’m on my neighborhood mailing list,” Michael Eager of Evergreen Park said.

“What took place was unacceptable and wrong. The public was not involved and I feel embarrassed,” Glenn Roberts, Director of Public Works told city counselors and residents.
As a result, DPW proposed a series of public meetings.

The first will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 8 at the Escondido Elementary School. DPW hopes to involve the community in new tree selection for California Avenue, as well as a review process for new street furniture and repaving. On Oct. 15 and 28, DPW will then present its findings to the ARB and the Planning & Transportation Commission. DPW will propose a final detailed recommendation to City Council by Nov. 16.

City Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto suggested adding other green improvements to the agenda, such as paving with permeable asphalt.

According to Terry Shuchat, Treasurer of a merchant’s group, The California Avenue Area Development Association, and owner of Keeble & Shuchat Photography on 261 California Ave, tree removal notices were posted and mailed throughout the community weeks prior to cutting day.

But many residents and proprietors along California Avenue claim they had no knowledge of tree removal until the day cutting began. According to DPW staff, trees were cut because they were diseased and so posed a hazard to pedestrians.

The city’s agenda, posted online, did not contain any mention of tree removal between Sept. 17 and 24, according to a memo Fred Balin, resident of 2385 Columbia St., sent to city officials.

Originally, the city planned to replace the holly oaks with red maples. But now, city staff and arborists will discuss benefits of other tree species and consider public input, potentially postponing the project. Although most city council members want this matter quickly resolved, they emphasized that community involvement should take precedent over timeliness.

Nevertheless, the city hopes to plant new trees soon. “November is the best time to plant, right before the rainy season. Trees can be in short supply after November since we’re not the only ones looking to plant then,” Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie told city council. He added that if the trees aren’t planted by then, the project could extend until mid 2010.

Some merchants said the sparse streetscape was hurting business. “It’s too late. When you wipe out 63 trees, there are no birds, no squirrels. You’ve done irrefutable damage to the area,” Bill Buruss, owner of Know Knew Books, on 415 California Ave. said.. “The street looks like Kansas. I’ve already noticed a decline in customers.”

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