While most trees on the island are blooming with flowers, about a dozen big ones on Fernside Blvd (33rd and 32nd block, both sides) have bloomed with tree removal notices instead. The notices read, most ominously:
The tree may need to be removed as part of the Fernside re-surfacing project to re-establish the curb line, restore the drainage flow line, and minimize ponding problems. At the time of construction, determination of tree removal will be made with the consultation of a licensed arborist. Every effort will be made to retain the tree.
Anyone may protest its removal. Protests must be in writing, stating the reason for said protest, along with the name, address and signature of the person making the protest, and must be postmarked or delivered before April 13, 2009, to the City Engineer, 950 West Mall Square, Room 110, Alameda 94501-7575.
Should you have questions or require further information, contact Trung Nguyen, Assistant Engineer, at (510) 749-5851, Monday thought Thursday, 9 am to 5 pm.
The thought that always comes into my head when I see these things things plastered on a beautiful old tree in a leafy neighborhood is: Why does it look like the city simply has no interest in maintaining whatever remains of its tree-lined, attractive, and livable neighborhoods, but continues to dismantle and downgrade them, even under the guise of improvement? I say that because nothing says “a neighborhood in decline” like one where mature trees are being cut down in bunches. And because this is Fernside, and I’ve seen the kind of street work that afflicted it around Lincoln Middle School and south of it, let me say upfront—no amount of haphazardly slapped concrete, obnoxious striping, and planter boxes with some flowers in them can make up for the loss of a beautiful, broad, old-fashioned street with a stately tree line, like the one endangered here.
But to the issue at hand: Because the notice says the reason for the proposed removal is curb and drainage issues, I went out yesterday and took some pictures of the curb at the tagged trees’ location. (The sidewalks, you can see, are fine, and work has been done on them recently, so they are by no means a hazard). The curbs is where the tree roots have done damage, and I’m sure there are some ponding issues as well (as corroborated by a resident I ran into while taking pictures). But are they any worse than what’s on any other street featuring large trees? No. Similar problems on other streets have been handled successfully by trimming the roots and rebuilding the curb around them. Using this approach to save our mature trees has resulted in precisely the kind of streets the city loves to brag about to out-of-town visitors, put on promotional brochures, and highlight in real estate ads.
Obviously, a compromise is necessary when dealing with old trees and even older infrastructure. What’s important is that trees are considered just as crucial a public benefit as curbs and working culverts. This understanding is explicit in the city’s own comprehensive sidewalk repair program which council adopted back in 2007. Tree removal in this plan is the very last option, topped by many others. We simply can’t afford, both literally and metaphorically, to be taking trees down wholesale any time street or sewage work needs to happen. Because, if we decide that the state of affairs on Fernside is absolutely unacceptable from a curb standpoint, that dooms a good deal of other streets as well. And if we decide that a perfect curb or flawless drainage is more important than a mature urban forest, Alameda will lose—quickly—much of its property appeal and overall charm, and it will become an even bigger heat island and contributor to air quality and global warming issues—something nobody I know is looking forward to.
So what to do?
First things first—protest the removal. The notice clearly says “may, not will be removed” and that “every effort will be made to retain the tree.” I choose to take that at face value at this time. Good thing is, some of the neighbors are firmly behind keeping their trees, and are willing to work with the city for a solution that addresses both the infrastructure problems and keeping the mature trees, using all the tools and methods at Public Works’ disposal. An arborist report should be provided as is routine but I would appeal to the city to focus its effort on working with the neighbors to keep the trees rather than pursuing an opinion slanted towards removal.
Two, attend the meeting to show you really care. Wringing one’s hands and feeling bad is not enough. People need to stand up for the trees or risk bidding them goodbye, along with their shade, wildlife, noise-reducing qualities, and yes, your property value.
To help save the Fernside trees, call and write Public Works using the info on the notice, above. Just so you know, you can protest a tree removal and attend the meeting regardless of where in Alameda you live.