Monthly Archives: June 2009

Telling the Tail

Trees were much on my mind last week, so much in fact, that I haven’t had time to write about them. Since the tree pruners are going about it like crazy in my ‘hood, aka “Zone 4,” I’ve been unable to escape their white truck and orange cones no matter what route I take, and the noise of their branch-crunching machinery has become a major cause for anxiety, if it’s okay to share that publicly.

What is there so much to worry about? The fact that the other day A-Plus Trimmers were on Broadway, hacking away at the ashes there. Since I wrote about the trees on Broadway a while ago (specifically the way they’ve butchered/lion-tailed in the past), I’ve been watching them carefully since and I was literally praying they would be spared this time. So when I saw those people in hard hats roping’em up, and the pile of branches on the ground, my heart just sank. Needless to say, I called PW to have them supervise the work, as I believe there’s no more room for mistakes there. I had a long conversation with someone named Flavio who assured me somebody did go on location quickly, and that the job the pruners were doing is okay. But I’m not at all sure. Even though the bad shape of the Broadway trees is not this contractor’s fault, they seem to go on maintaining the bad cut, instead of allowing the tree to recover and try to restore its crown. This is not acceptable. I know that I and a few other people called to express concerns. But more pressure on the city is needed to stop this destructive practice that slowly kills so many of our street trees.

Lion-tailing is so bad, it is truly a mystery to me why it continues to be tolerated. Some of it is probably ignorance, but I’m sure that’s not all. Here’s an excellent article (informative AND funny) that offers some guesses as to why we do what we do to trees. Something’s weird with the PDF and I can’t copy the best parts from it, but just go ahead and read it—you’d be a better person for it and will be able to speak with some authority should you happen to converse with a tree worker who tells you your tree’s “load” needs to be “lightened.”

Here’s a few examples of lion-tailed trees (fine, one is a joke—it’s okay to look that way in a children’s book):

Do you recognize the shape? Do you think THIS is the way a NORMAL tree looks? Hope not. These are not Broadway trees. I have pictures of them here. Make a note of how many trees you see around town have no leaves whatsoever for full 2/3 of their height, and a few tufts whipping around on the top of a shaved branch. This is WRONG. If you see someone doing it—please stop them. It you can’t—report it. The city should—and they do—know better—if they were to follow their own guidelines. But we need eyes on the street, watching for this. The damage is permanent, and it IS your business, I have no problem saying, because you are the one who will have to look at that cripppled creature daily or watch the tree die of malnutrition because of the leaf mass lost. I’ve been advocating a lot of personal action on this blog—even though it would be easier to say it is the city’s job to do things right. For a variety of reasons, they either don’t, or can’t always.

The best way to deal with a lion-tailed tree is to leave it alone— allow it to fill itself first, and maybe later selectively choose some of the new growth and let it develop into branches (not the perfect branch the tree would have had if it never got lion-tailed, but better than nothing). The worst way to act is to continue to “do something” for no good reason whatsoever, typically repeating the previous mistakes all over again, by cleaning out the “suckers” until the tree dies of malnutrition.

Will you help stop the tails now?


Pave paradise?-UPDATE

Taking a break from out regularly scheduled programming (trees) to talk about dirt paths for a change. The one I have in mind is the dirt (grass, sand, mud) foot path along the beach in the back of Bayview Drive. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s because it’s one of our little secrets here in Alameda, and if I’ve now alerted you to it, please go back to sleep and forget I mentioned it.

Seriously, though, somebody wants to pave that path!

This path is one of the very last unpaved spots we have here in Alameda, where a person can go and stroll leisurely along the water behind the homes on Bayview Drive, listening to the birds and the bugs and the wind in the grass without getting run over by a jogger or a bicyclist, as you very well can on the paved Shoreline path. (There are joggers and bicyclist using the dirt path for sure, they just can’t speed because it’s narrow and it isn’t asphalt; people yield. I even used to take a stroller there, when the weather was dry.) When I wrote an ode to dirt sometime ago, I have to admit that I very much had this hidden little spot in mind. I’ve watched that path gently transform over the course of a year, the grass coming in and retreating with the seasons, the mud becoming caked dirt, sand, then mud again, the driftwood and rock “ramps” kids have built to get closer to the water’s edge, and the flowers and drought resistant plants that have crept all the way from the homeowners backyards onto the sloping side, making it really pretty and serene. It’s an alive path! The thought of putting that, or even part of it, under concrete makes me sick! Not everything needs to be paved!

Here’s what I know about this paving idea, and I hope to learn more in the very near future:

Bike Alameda wants it to become part of the bike network, and it may even be proposed as such on the Bike Master Plan, though I’m pretty sure the orange line on this PDF is Bayview Drive, the street.

• The neighbors want to keep it just as it is, no paving (citing increased traffic in back of their homes, safety, etc.)

• Bird watchers are with the neighbors.

• I will be devastated if they pave that path.

• There is a meeting on June 23 to talk about it, but where, what time, and with whom is a mystery at this point. It’s a Bicycle Task Force meeting, at 7:30 PM, Alameda City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue, Room 360. Here is the staff report. The Bayview path is mentioned on page 2, as connection between Shoreline Drive and bicycle bridge.

• City planner Barry Bergman is the person working on this.

In addition, the path

is supposedly a link on the Bay Trail, and so there would be this kind of pressure to widen it, pave it, and make it “accessible” (it already is, just not to many people at a time!). Actually, it’s listed as an off-street facility on the report, not as part of the Bay Trail.

• is under BCDC‘s jurisdiction, so this agency will likely have a say (would like to find out more on that)

• is not the only route for bicycles to connect from Shoreline’s paved beach path to the other side near High Street where the paved bike path continues. Bayview Drive is a perfectly safe, residential street on which to ride your bike a short distance, and even has speed bumps so cars are not able to speed there. It’s what you turn on now when you come to the end of Shoreline and you want to keep going east (that is, if you don’t want to go on the dirt path)

I will update some of this info as I learn more but wanted to just give the heads up.

250,176 and counting

San Jose is yet another city that does not immediately evoke the idea of “lush” or “verdant,” for me anyway. I think of it more as big, diverse, and pragmatic as a Silicon Valley capital, and rather dusty from what I’ve seen driving through. Nevertheless, it’s a city of some quarter million trees, or one for every 4 inhabitants, and I heard that it’s working towards a one-to-one ratio (increasing the number of trees, that is, not getting rid of residents). Who is responsible for this worthy goal? Why, a non-profit tree group of course, called Our City Forest, that has been working closely with the City of San Jose for over 15 years. I happened to be there last Saturday for a job fair, learning more about the group and listening to what some of the attendees, many from San Jose themselves, had to say. (Two themes that stuck out: “The air in San Jose is so dirty, I had to do something about it,” and “People really take their trees for granted until they are gone, and then it’s too late.”) But guess what? OCF does not wait until it’s too late: Their rather small staff and 4,000 (!) unpaid volunteers plant anywhere for just a few to up to 40 trees on public rights of way EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY! The group, which receives funding through grants and gets recruits through the AmeriCorps service program among others, owns not one or two but a fleet (!) of vehicles, including watering trucks (it’s the heart of the valley after all) as well as several nurseries, and helps homeowners comply with the San Jose’s strict tree ordinances.

San Jose has an extensive Municipal Code section dealing with trees, residents’ responsibilities towards trees, tree removal permits, and enforcement. For starters, San Jose homeowners are required to have a tree fronting their property (3 trees per corner property and 2 trees per mid-block property, as space allows, and in their deed it needs to state whether the property complies with the requirement or not). The trees are to be planted, watered, mulched and even pruned (with a permit) by the responsible homeowner. It is a city that clearly takes its urban forest seriously (It has an official City Arborist position for god’s sake!). I haven’t read the entire code in detail, but the two things I gleaned from it so far are that 1) it places a lot of responsibility for the adjacent street tree on the individual homeowner, and 2) provides excellent incentives and resources for residents to assume this responsibility, OCF being its prime educator and assistant in this task.

I will leave you with couple links to browse at your leisure. I have to say I really enjoy the look of the OCF’s website, and the programs they offer are definitely worth learning about to see what could be applied here on our fair island. Like the Sacramento Tree Foundation I wrote about here, OCF too has an alliance with PG&E to reduce energy consumption through strategically planted trees.

Our City Forest website
San Jose Tree ordinances, Chapters 13-28 and 13-32