Monthly Archives: January 2009

Master Tree Plan-Inventory and Planting Palette Presented

I just attended the city Tree Master Plan meeting where Tanaka Design Group presented their tree matrix and tree planting palette for the street trees in Alameda. The Power Point presentation from the meeting is not yet online, but when it gets there, you’ll be able to find it here.

Quick impressions from the meeting follow. (I’ll be writing more about this in installments as the information is too much to digest at once.)

Tanaka’s recommendations are for the most part well thought-out, with some important caveats which I will mention in a bit. The two presenters came across as knowledgeable people who also love their job.

They started by reporting on their inventory of public trees and the empty spots they found ready to be planted. Here’s what they counted: 15,000 trees (they said they counted 80% and estimated the total; private trees and trees on Harbor Bay were not part of the inventory), and 3,500 ready-to-plant locations (that would be soft spots, not cemented or bricked over former tree wells).

It was good to learn a few things from that inventory report, for example, which species are in decline and which ones have done well in a stressful urban environment.

For starters, sycamores are great urban warriors–these are the trees lining Central Ave. (A friend of mine told me once she would be happy to camp on Central among those trees. Lucky for her, she now lives there, in a house.) Even though the plan calls for diversification of species (no more than 5% of the same species so that whole blocks are not wiped out when a disease strikes) the consultants recommend a specific exception which would allow sycamores to continue to be planted on Central, to retain the distinctive, traditional  look of that street, and also because they seem to do so well in our soil and climate. Twenty-four percent of trees in Alameda are sycamores.

Liquidambars, or sweet gum trees are not so lucky. These are the flaming red (in fall) giants on Gibbons Drive. Liquidambars are no longer recommended by the consultants because of their aggressive roots that tend to buckle sidewalks, and it is suggested they be phased out. This is sad, not only because they are SO BIG, with dramatic trunks and amazing foliage, but because they are home to Cooper’s hawks. There are quite a few hawk fans here on the island and apparently, once you know a hawk nests in your tree, you fall in love with hawk and tree and it’s really hard to let it go. Me, I loved liquidambars before I knew about the hawks. Now I’m doubly devastated.

Ash, the species lining High, Broadway and parts of Encinal, is in trouble. Many are in decline apparently, and the branches break off fairly easily. As it is, I love ash too. I love the slightly disheveled look of that tree, the dark skin and the bright yellow foliage. It’s a tree I can hardly imagine High Street without. One of the  recommended replacement is maple. I like maples too, but ashes on High is just a match made in heaven. They seem to be the perfect size and color for that street.

These highlights stuck with me. Oh, and palms for Shoreline Drive (to preserve the views from those waterfront condos). I guess I’m OK with that, palms don’t excite me at all, but then I’m from a deciduous climate zone.

The thing that troubled me the most was a recommendation I really don’t know how to get around to accepting: That new trees planted are to be no taller than the overhead wires. That would be 25 feet. Yikes! That’s not a very big tree, that’s for sure. You just need to go out on your street and take a look and see how many trees right now are taller than the wires. I’m guessing, most of them. There’s no question that a branch tangled in a wire can sometimes cause a problem. On the other hand–25 foot trees on 90% of the island? Can we all say together “UNDERGROUND UTILITIES”?

Trying to resolve the conflict in some instances has resulted in abominable tree mutilation, see the V-cut, also known as “the crotch.” In other instances the wires simply go through the tree and somehow the two coexist together. How is that decision made—when to cut and when to let be? Can tree branches be thinned instead of clear cut around the lines? It seems to me it’s something we can look into.

A good question raised by Chris Buckley, our resident tree expert extraordinaire, was which wires are actually required to have free clearance. It could be the case that utility lines can coexist with branches, while high voltage ones need clearance. Well, high voltage wires happen to be higher, so maybe 25 feet is the very safest, and thus recommended, tree size, though if you ask me, if that recommendation is to be faithfully followed (no tree taller that the wire overhead) we would become known as the city of dwarf trees. I think that’s a question we need to clarify and act accordingly because the proposed alternative would mean a complete overhaul of Alameda’s look and feel.

Stay tuned for more on the tree plan, like, who will pay for all this? And, what gets priority when limited funds are available–planting or removing? An account for donations was mentioned…. Also, what will city policy be when neighbors want to remove an existing tree, do not want any tree, or want only a certain kind of tree? These were touched upon but not really discussed at the meeting.

Heads up: The Master Tree Plan will be coming before the City Council soon. March 30 is the date the whole process is supposed to wrap up.

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