In 300 pages or so

Why oh why does every city plan/EIR/”initiative” needs to be 300 pages give or take, including this here Master Tree Plan? That’s just like the perpetual $800 estimate my van always gets whenever anything goes wrong. Lost the remote, $800, busted runner board, $800, CD stuck in the player, $800. No kidding. Manufacturer suggested repair bill for van-driving suburbanites? Cars assembled in equally priced units? But enough complaining and asking the unanswerable life questions. The CD will remain stuck. The money is better spend on printer paper and ink.

I’ve read it folks (after I killed a tree to print it)! I read the Master Tree Plan and while I think it’s comprehensive and covers a lot of ground, I do have some concerns with it as well. Since I already wrote and sent my comment to the Planning Board, I’ll just copy and paste it here. The short version—too many reasons for tree removals, not enough new tree planting. My hope is there will be enough speakers tonight to emphasize the need to go easy on the existing forest until all empty spots are filled and newly planted trees are well on their way to becoming strong and permanent. A positive aspect of the plan—calls for a lot of community involvement. More on this to come.

The meeting is at 7 pm tonight, Council chambers as usual. Agenda and staff report are here.

My comment:

Planning Board September 24, 2009
City of Alameda
Re: 9/28/09 meeting: Master Tree Plan

Dear Planning Board members,

I have read the Master Tree Plan and I am impressed with the amount of work and detail that has gone into it. Nice work on behalf of Tanaka and city staff who assisted them.

There are many portions of the plan I have questions about but it is impossible to address them all here. My comments here are limited a few major issues, listed below. To focus on the specifics, I would appreciate an opportunity to sit down with any of you and go over the Plan in more detail, between now and the time the Plan is submitted for approval to the City Council.

Management Priorities/budget allocation, (Chapter 4, Sections 4.1–4.3). Main concern: The way the priorities are ordered and rated could result in a reduction in the urban forest both in numbers and in canopy cover in the next 20 years, which could lead to reduction of property values, increase in crime, and have a general demoralizing effect on residents.

• Hazard tree abatement is given the highest priority, as well as the highest level of service (LOS 4) (meaning removal of all hazardous trees within a year, or 400 trees in the first year to eliminate backlog). At the same time, young tree planting is given a LOS of 2 (replacing yearly removals only, or only 150 trees a year). That means that in the first 2 years Alameda will see a net loss of trees, and will only begin to catch up on the numbers in the third year of implementation (if budget stays similar). Even if the replacement ratio is 1:1 in the first years, Alameda could still see a reduction in its forest presence and the benefits derived from it, as the trees deemed hazardous are typically old and large, and newly planted trees have a high mortality rate. It is not clear whether replacements will be provided for in the budget to maintain the target number for new plantings. It is also not clear whether the budget given to Tree Planting includes replacements of trees removed for other reasons (construction, sidewalk damage, undesirable species, clearances, etc.)

• There is no clear definition of “hazardous.” The way the text reads, these appear to be the same as “dead and dying trees”, but the actual definition of hazardous trees is probably broader, e.g. including trees that are structurally unbalanced and appear ready to fall over. Also, is “hazardous” the same as “high-risk,” and high risk to what—life?, property?, city infrastucture? Finally, how do trees that are removed for sidewalk repairs fit into this definition, since there appears to be no provision for tree removals other than for “high-risk” (or “hazardous”) trees.

• Young Tree care (pruning and training) is given less priority (#3) than mature tree care (pruning) (#2), and the recommended level of service (LOS) is lower as well. In reality, mature trees require less pruning once structure is established, while young trees need more frequent and careful pruning to ensure long life and less maintenance cost later.

Suggested changes to priorities:

• Young tree care should be a higher priority than mature tree care. Mature care is best done on a tree-by-tree basis at the discretion of the tree maintenance supervisor, while young tree care needs to be applied to all young trees more frequently as recommended in the LOS table. Any budget surplus resulting should be directed towards young tree training to reduce future maintenance costs.

• Immediate tree planting and filling of the 3,500 ready-to-plant locations identified by the consultant needs a level of priority at least equal to hazardous tree abatement. This will mitigate the effect of removals for all reasons and prevent conflict due to the perception that more large trees are taken out than new ones are planted.

Distances Between Infrastructure and Trees (Vol. 1, Appendix 3). Main concern: The distances as recommended differ significantly form the realities on the ground and if strictly applied can have an effect of eliminating many healthy trees that are not in compliance with the recommended numbers.

• The recommended distances differ, sometimes significantly, by those listed in the previous Master Tree Plan (for example 10 feet from driveways in the new MTP as opposed to 2 feet previously)—what new criteria and/or information was used to develop these specs?

• What priority is given to enforcement of these distances?

Collaboration between departments (Goal 4 in Chapter 4, Section 4.0, Management Policies, Standards and Actions). Main concern: The policies address tree management plan rather than department coordination.

• I support the creation of a City Arborist position. In the absence of such position, it is in the best interest of the forest that the Public Works Tree Maintenance supervisor coordinates all work performed on trees within the City of Alameda, whether the work is for routine pruning or utility clearance, and include trees on city streets, in parks, and those on private property but encroaching on public utilities.

• Appropriate standards for pruning should be provided based on the tree’s location within the city—for example, parks trees and trees on certain wide medians need not follow guidlines for overhead clearance as sidewalk trees do. Contractors need to be given the proper instruction and guidelines—this includes using the CPUC standards when doing work for AMP. This individualized attention is best done when a single source of work orders exists. (I am not sure if guidelines for pruning park trees exist?)

• Create a process of coordination between the Planning Department and Public Works when a project requiring a permit involves potential tree removal. Any Public Works decision for street tree removal involving a development project on adjacent property must be made through the normal public notification process (and the City Council appeal period expired) before a decision is made on the related Planning permit and possibly even before a Planning Permit application is accepted as “complete” for purposes of the State Permit Streamlining Act. The idea is to ensure that all reasonable development alternatives that might save the tree are considered (through the tree removal permit process) before the development plans get too far along. To streamline this process, it would be helpful add a tree checkbox on the application submittal list and to require a description and/or photo of any adjacent trees.

Removal notification procedure—suggestion for improvement. Though trees proposed for removal are noticed now, it is typically just the people in the neighborhood who see the notice. Because trees are a concern and benefit to all of us, not just the immediate neighbors, it would be helpful to create a notification process that reaches more residents. I suggest a removal notification section on the Public Works webpage, and possibly email notification service to people who sign up or subscribe to it, perhaps for a small annual fee.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I look forward to discussing the above issues with you in more detail, at your convenience.

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