Tag Archives: alameda trees

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.

Are you a tree thinker yet?

Somebody mentioned to me awhile ago that to do good by its trees Alameda needs to adopt a “tree-first” policy.

I wholeheartedly agree, but I’ve been also thinking what exactly that means. No doubt, it’s different things to different people.
tree first

To me, it means 1) noticing there are trees around us and 2) acting as if they really matter—like pedestrians matter to drivers for example, or pets matter to their owners. That would mean a status almost on par with ourselves, and an attitude towards trees that matches that status. But I don’t think we are such “tree-thinking” society yet.

In fact, I have a small collection of examples of how much of an afterthought, if that, trees really are to us and how the way we act and think really shows a lack of tree awareness that is detrimental to our surroundings, quality of life, and even budget. I’ve written about such tree afterthoughts here and here, but wanted to share couple more recent ones.

One was a case a couple weeks ago where a permit was issued for sidewalk work by a home owner, and the person cut some roots of the street tree on the sidewalk during work, whether from ignorance or by accident, who knows. The result is that the tree is now considered hazardous and will need to be removed—and replaced at city expense. Was this preventable? Sure, with some forethought. Public Works (they claim now the tree was previously deceased with root rot but that’s another story) could have advised the resident about the tree or made sure to supervise the tree’s well-being while the work is underway. Chances are though, the idea simply did not cross anyone’s mind. Chances are, the person who signed the permit didn’t even know and didn’t wonder whether there is a tree in the way the work s/he approved. It took a phone call to bring this fact to their attention. (They did say they would address similar situations in the future.)

My other example also involves construction, at a school site over the summer, where workers were installing cables next to some newly planted gingko trees, dumping the dug up soil around them, leaning a wooden palette on one of the thin trunks, and generally acting like the trees were some cheap replaceable furniture, not living things in the environment worthy of consideration. A conversation and a visit from the principal cleared that up (that the trees need to be protected during work). Again, I wonder if the trees were ever noted on the plan as existing objects when the workmen got it? Does the district even know how many trees are around each school? I know the volunteers who planted them had to get a permit to plant them, so likely there is a map somewhere… Regardless, looks like nobody told the contractor prior to the work, “Watch those trees, okay?” (Contrast this with construction work around Lake Merrit in Oakland, where trees had orange fencing around them for the longest time and a sign that said “Careful around trees.” But then there was a big tree removal controversy there, so that may have had something to do with it…)

Controversies aside, I think our society needs a serious mental switch when it comes to trees. A mental switch doesn’t cost a penny—and in some cases saves a bundle, for tree replacements for example, when such preventable oopsies happen. But mental switches come about slowly, not unlike growing a tree from a seed.

Here’s what I think a different tree mentality looks like though: I read these two news reports and I found the differences interesting—one is about the fires near Santa Cruz, CA (or any CA fire account for that matter, see L.A. ) and the other one about the fires nearAthens, Greece.

It’s hard to miss a certain difference in focus (people losing their possessions, trees as “fuel on the ground” vs. “ecological disaster”). I know that’s not accidental. When I was in Europe in the summer 2007, when Greece was again engulfed in fires, the disaster was being called as much an environmental one as it was economic and human. What’s more, people (on radio) mourned the burned forests as much as they mourned the loss of life and property. It was refreshing (though sad of course) to hear someone feeling devastated over the loss of an ancient forest instead of several million dollars and a swimming pool for a change.

I hope I’m planting some seeds when I write these things. I know there are people out there who care and see, and other who care but don’t quite know how to see. Where to start? I’d say, looking up more, noting the trees around, learning something about them, is a good first step. If more of us do more of the above, we’ll be happily on our way to becoming tree thinkers, and having policies that are “tree-first” will be no burden at all. Because it’s harder to ignore or hurt a tree you’ve gotten to know personally, right?

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.

Drawing lines

So I found some more about the bike bridge path realignment project I wrote about the other day (this is at the Fernside end of the Harbor Bay bicycle bridge). When I went back there to meet with a guy from the city who had the scoop on it, someone had conveniently drawn pink lines on the ground to show exactly where the path should go. Here they are.

As you can plainly see, it’s only HALF the tree that’s in the way. That’s a real pity in my opinion. The main reason the man said the tree can’t stay is that there is a visibility issue because of it. The thing I tried to point out is that the visibility issue has pretty much been there for the past 20 years, yet no head-on bicycle collisions have been reported because of it. I mean, people are a lot more careful in real life than the liability experts will have you believe, I think that’s common knowledge. Yet the Liability Specter looms large every time someone undertakes even the tiniest project, and giant trees are felled like sticks because a line was drawn through them! I can totally see that pink line being drawn just a foot inward, putting the whole instead of half the tree behind it, and the whole issue disappears like that, easy. I even offered to redraw the line, but I think he thought I was joking. You know, planners are so serious about their lines. Got pink spray paint, anyone?

So after reflecting on this, I think I’m going to write to our Chief City Engineer, Barbara Hawkins, and see what she think about redrawing that line. I’m concerned that if this tree goes, the two behind it may become a problem soon too. When trees grow together in groves like this, they protect each other from the elements and each develops in relationship to the rest. Like your teeth, kind of. The one in the way of the path is the strongest of the tree, and the other two may not be able to withstand gusts of wind too well without it.

For the sake of fair reporting, I should say that the plan calls for the planting of five additional trees as part of the project. This is wonderful, of course, I just think we should try and retain the older trees too as long as they are healthy and thriving, and way can be devised around them.

Will be updated.