Category Archives: 2009 Master Tree Plan

Master Street Tree Plan vs Planning Board, round two

Hi all,

Long time no write. When life thickens sometimes, blogging falls by the wayside. What can a small furry thing that lives in a tree stump do??

A quick note to y’all that the MSTP is before the Planning Board again tonight. Between last time and this, members of the community met with staff to iron out some of the gaps and inconsistencies in the massive, tree-killing document, with some issues actually getting resolved and others still unsettled. Tree removal policy was a biggie and I can’t say I’m quite satisfied with it but improvements were definitely made.

As I am busy writing my comments for tonight which will focus on planting policies (as in having some) and guidelines for clearances between trees and infrastructure, I will leave you with the link to the staff report to read, enjoy, and scribble your thoughts over, and hope you make it to the meeting tonight to share them.


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.

MTP—see it at the library

According to Barbara Hawkins, city engineer, the Master Tree Plan Update is available for review at the library as of this week. It may also be available to download from the city’s website (but isn’t yet). I will post a link when it is. Download is here.

Planing Board will review and take comment on the MTP on Monday, September 28, at its regular meeting.

Planning Board set to review Master Tree Plan Update

Word is out that the Planning Board will review the new Master Tree Plan on September 28 at its regular meeting.

While this date may change yet again (all parts of the plan are not yet completed to my knowledge), it’s good to put it on the calendar. And submit your comments now. Check the Master Tree Plan documents page above for contact info.

With an eye on the hawks

Over the weekend I was forwarded an email by a couple who has been keeping an eye on Cooper’s hawks around Alameda for the past several years and gathering data on them. The data they’ve collected is important from the standpoint of preserving urban wildlife habitats and should therefore be used to inform the approval and implementation of the new Master Tree Plan, which will shape those habitats in the future. The basic conclusion is that the more tall (50-foot or more), dense trees we manage to cultivate and preserve, the better the hawks population (and other high-nesting creatures) will be. I’m copying the email verbatim, and will post an update when they complete their recommendations to the city with regards to the MTP.

This year, we monitored 4 Cooper’s Hawk nests, which fledged 10 birds. Over the last 4 years (2006-2009), we have monitored 17 nests, which have fledged 48 birds. The number of birds fledged per nest per year: 3.8, 2.5, 3.3, and 2.5.

The number of nests by tree species 2006-2009:

Sweet Gum (Liquidambar) 5
London Plane 4
Red Alder 2
Douglas Fir 2
Blue Gum Eucalyptus 1
Moreton Bay Fig 1
Modesto Ash 1
Southern Magnolia 1

Nests by locale:

Street trees 10
Park trees 6
Back yard trees 1

As you can see from the above lists, the most popular nest trees are Sweet Gum, and London Plane. These trees have been deprecated in the city’s tree plan. Also note, that over half the nest trees are street trees.

The next step is to look at the trees recommended in the city tree plan to see if any of them will provide an adequate nesting alternative. Will do this soon and will keep you posted.

Thanks to everyone for their help this season. A special thanks to Monica for visiting all the nest sites today and doing the tree IDs.


For those unfamiliar with the birds in question, here is some background on Cooper’s hawks, excerpted from a letter written to the City last year by Corinne Lambden, another hawks observer:

Alameda is an established nesting environment of Cooper’s hawks and therefore I recommend that the city consider the nesting requirements and the overall wellbeing of these hawks as an environmental management issue, incorporated into a long-term tree management plan.

A vital reason for doing this is that Cooper’s hawks are a California Species of Special Concern, which is a designation applied when a species shows a sudden and measurable decline in numbers. Because of this designation, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, with funding from the California Parks Conservancy and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, has instituted a Cooper’s Hawks Intensive Nesting Survey (CHINS) to more closely monitor the nesting success of Cooper’s hawks in urban environments.
These hawks prefer to locate their nests on groups of older, mature trees and the nests are typically a inimum of 50′ above the ground. Examples of nesting sites are Gibbons Drive, Washington Park, Chapin Street, Central Avenue and Jackson Park. [….]

Unfortunately, it appears that the types of trees that he hawks favor for nesting, because they provide the necesety height and thickly foliaged canopy, are the same trees that frequently cause problems because of the habit of their roots to raise sidewalks and street surfaces. It is therefore particularly important that the city be aware of the needs of Cooper’s hawks, as well as other worldlife that rely on our urban forests for food and cover, and include these considerations into their actions to mitigate the damage cause by liquidambars and similar trees.

I want to personally thank Corinne, Harv, Monica and all the other volunteers taking time to monitor, advocate for, and enhance the habitat of all the wild creatures we share this pleasant island with. If you want to be involved in this endeavour, drop me a line and I will see that you get in touch.

Yes you can!

I stopped by this morning to check out a tree marked for removal on High Street. It’s not posted because it is one of those trees Public Works decides are “hazardous” and does not have to post, according to policy. (How do you know a tree is to be taken out?—There a pink line drawn across the trunk, at right about neck height. Pretty obvious, huh?) To be honest, I’m not sure why one tree would be labeled hazardous while another down the block in the same shape or worse is not, and I’m trying to find out the criteria, as well as what’s budgeted for this work as opposed to let’s say planting, but meanwhile, as I was checking it out, the resident walked out and we chatted a little. He said the city removed the tree next door 5 years ago, some flowers taking up the planting strip now. He said the city would not replace it. “Oh no, I said, maybe they would, if you call them and ask them.” “Really, he said, then maybe I will.” “Bye.” “Bye—thanks for letting me know.” I hope he follows through.

My point telling this is that yes you can cause a tree to be planted! You don’t need to suffer quietly as you look out on your treeless sidewalk, grumble that the city never does anything right (which it often doesn’t), or shrug your shoulders and declare it not your business. All you need to do is pick up the phone, call 749-5840, give them your address and say that you’d like a replacement tree (or two) in front of your property. Don’t forget to mention you’d water, weed, and take good care of the new tree.

Yes, it takes that kind of personal initiative, even it feels like that shouldn’t be “your business.” We all know that the budget is in shreds and dozens of city workers just got laid off, making the work of all departments that much harder, but the folks at Public Works will appreciate your active interest in making your street a better place, and just might help you do that. At any rate, they would rather plant a tree near a residence where the people care, as opposed to a place where nobody gives a hoot.

Should you decide—and you very well could, considering how good trees are for your property value—to pay for the street tree (or an extra tree) yourself, be sure it’s a species approved in the Master Tree Plan. Because cities receive pretty decent nursery discounts, you may get it cheaper by offering to pay for one of their trees than if you just go for it on your own.

Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

Fernside, the follow up

Letters protesting the Fernside removals have apparently been coming into Public Works, and we now have more details straight from Matt Naclerio:

“The Public Works Department is currently in the design phase of a project to replace the existing sewer main located under the easterly sidewalk and relocating it to the street. Many of the trees that are posted are possible candidates for tree removal due to this sewer work. In addition, some trees on the west side are posted because of pavement subsidence and isolated flooding problems. Public Works will do all we can to preserve these trees and will be working closely with an arborist to advise on pruning the tree roots so they can remain. However, if the size of roots are too large, it will not be possible to prune the roots and keep the tree. In this instance the tree would be removed and a replacement tree planted close by. We post all candidate trees prior to knowing which trees, if any, will be removed so that any protests can be resolved prior to going to construction. […] Nonetheless, the Public Works Department is committed to retaining any tree that safely can remain.”

And Michele Ellson at the Island has posed the question about the removals to Deputy City Manager Lisa Goldman, who pretty much says the same thing but adds an interesting note about funding. I’m intrigued by the refusal of the state to use money (I assume that was stimulus money) on “historic tree corridors”. I need to poke a little to find out what that means.

For now, it looks like the trees are getting a reprieve (lack of money can be a good thing sometimes). That doesn’t mean the issue should fade. You still have five more days to get your protest letter in (deadline is Monday, April 13), which will ensure you will be contacted to attend the public meeting on the matter.

Meanwhile, if the project is indeed on hold due to lack of funds, the scary notices should probably be removed after Monday the 13th, and re-posted again when the project becomes financially viable so that people will not feel 6 months from now that something has been sneaked past them unnoticed.

I’ll be posting updates on this as they come.