Tag Archives: 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.

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.

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.

The “What happened?”

Quick recap of last night’s Fernside trees meeting from scribbled notes and memory. There is a very thorough staff report (good job, Laurie), which I will see if I can get a PDF of from the city and post here. There was also a presentation which will be on the city website soon, and I will make sure to link it when it is.

There was a pretty good attendance, and everybody seemed engaged, concerned, and wanting to save for the trees, including staff. About a 100 written protests were received.

Basically, the reason for the proposed removals is street resurfacing and sewer work, and the reason for the work, the way I understand it, is that the city planned it thinking it was eligible for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka stimulus) money. However, it turned out the money is not coming right away, but the street, as a high-traffic street (19,000 cars per day), has had its soft sides worn out by garbage trucks and parked cars, changing the curve of the pavement and creating ponding issues, and so needs to be done one way or another. In case you didn’t know it, the middle of Fernside is built with harder materials because there was a trolley line at one time (still buried underneath); the sides, however, built with bay mud, have sunk with time, exaggerating the curve and receiving more runoff than the drains can handle.

The project is two part: 1) From Thompson Street to High Street, where the pavement needs to be dug out 2 feet and totally replaced thanks to the sinking, along with concurrent sewer work, and 2) resurfacing and putting a slurry seal from High Street all the way to Tilden Way.

The 13 trees are noticed because it is POSSIBLE they will get hurt during the construction, with the sewer work obviously being the more disruptive one. However, the good news is that staff recommends a long list of arborist-suggested measures to take in order to preserve the trees. The other good news is that the side that would be most disrupted because of the sewer work (east) has the fewer trees posted (4).

Here are some of the suggestions that staff made, and wanted feedback on from residents, in order to save the trees:
• Move the curbs a foot into the street, to allow more growing space
• Decrease sidewalk width to 3 feet (same reason)
• Remove some pavement around the base of trees to allow air and water penetration
• Build new curb around old curb where the old curb serves to prop the tree
• Shave some of the surface roots, though an arborist recommends this only be done minimally to avoid instability and infection
• Install French drain alongside planting strip, to divert lawn water that atracting roots to the surface

Some additional suggestions proposed by people at the meeting:
• Reduce the crown of trees that are leaning, in a way that would distribute the weight more evenly
• Reduce the height of the pavement in the middle of the street (the crown) so curbs can be moved even further in (2 ft)
• Educate residents on lawn watering/promote drought resistant yards
• Use the opportunity of opening up the street to put utilities underground
• Create a street improvement/lighting district, similar to the Bay Street where residents pay for tree care not provided by the city

So what next?

Matt Naclerio said that now that this meeting is over, the city will open the sidewalk around some of the trees (I think he said five of them) to examine the roots and find out what could be done around them. If a tree moves more than a 1/4 inch in the process, it would signal instability and would have to be taken out. If PW decides the tree has to go, they’ll notify everybody on the list of interested citizens; the decision can then be appealed to the City Council (new appeal fee of $250 + up to $500 T&M would apply). Speakers asked that comment period on the trees be kept open and that newly determined trees be reposted, but Matt Naclerio didn’t explicitly promise that would happen. Which means, if you are not on the city’s list for this issue, you likely won’t hear about the developments. So call right now and ask to be added.

A note about the cost of the project (according to Matt, not the Alameda Journal): $1 million is budgeted for the street work, and $800,000 for the sewer. The money will come from a number of sources, including CMA funds, Waste Management or “recycling money” (something to do with recycling your old asphalt), and Prop 1B money. (The question I wonder about is, what strings are attached to each of these, but that’s a reflection for another post.) The cost of moving the curb one foot in is $75,000; this is money the city says it doesn’t yet have; however, it does seem a drop in the bucket in the overall budget and could have the most positive effect on several levels—reducing street width, increasing plant strip for future plantings, and retaining the trees that are spilling out of their spaces.

A second note on tree replacement/new trees selections: The two species mentioned were the silver linden, Kentucky coffee tree, and London Plane, or sycamore. The residents like sycamores, the arborist recommends the linden, and the Master Tree plan—all of the above. Whatever the species, everyone agrees that Fernside needs large trees because of its width, heavy usage, and proximity to an entry point.

And a third, picky note on the Alameda Journal fact-checking: While I’m glad they covered the issue, both in a front page article and an editorial, they got the gist of the story right, but too many facts wrong! The trees marked for removal are sycamores, camphor and liquidambar, not maples, carobs and gingkos! And no bulbouts are proposed—the idea was for the entire curb to be moved in, or so Matt Naclerio made clear. Plus, they estimated the cost at “up to $1 million” when it’s actually closer to two. Well, details…

I’ll be keeping an eye on this and posting updates and links as they become available, so check back often.

North of Lincoln trees headed south?

Here’s a disturbing thought: What if someone came and cut every single tree on your street overnight? And what if that already happened once, oh, some three years ago, on a street called Park, and what if it’s about to happen again?

This may be one side effect of the North of Lincoln plan, the redevelopment of Park Street north of Lincoln (aka the Gateway district). If earlier practice is any indication, the redevelopment will result in the demise of more than two dozen trees, including these extra gorgeous ones.

How can that be? you ask. The plan clearly embraces trees, along with concepts such as “walkable,” “pedestrian-friendly,” and “attractive to shoppers.” Surely they’ll be planting trees, not cutting them down!

You would think so.

When the first round of Park Street redevelopment between Central Avenue and Lincoln occurred, I was so shocked I called Public Works to find out how the heck could someone clear cut two entire blocks without notice, and in clear violation of the Master Tree Plan. I was told to talk to redevelopment. I tried, and never could quite reach the person they pointed me to. The trees were gone, and there were other more pressing issues at the time, and I did not pursue the contact. But the uncomfortable thought remained—watch out for the sequel! With North of Lincoln plans making a buzz again, it’s timely to ask the question—should the remaining trees be allowed to go?

Of course, my answer is no. Any good tree north of Lincoln needs to stay right where it is. And many more need to be planted.

When I’ve told people how upset I was at the wholesale tree removal on Park Street, I’ve been reminded that the cut trees have been replaced with new ones; that the old trees were “in decline,” “broken,” or “old”; and that the goal is to achieve a uniform “signature” look for the district. I’m not buying any of that. Not every tree was in decline (some, maybe; but rumor has it, some trees were broken on purpose, because they “obscured” store signage—if true, this is not only illegal but also not too smart as studies show that trees are key to attracting shoppers, sometimes even more that signage). The replacement trees are tiny, and three years later they still look like they have just been put in the ground. The choice was poor too: Gingkos are notoriously slow growing; if you want to see what 50-60-year old gingkos look like, visit Thompson Street on the East End—even at this mature age they are by no means “big.”

As far as the uniform look goes, I buy that for an area that has no trees to begin with, where starting from scratch you may choose to go for that uniform look. (Central Avenue is an example as is Burbank Street, and Appezzato Way more recently). But removing healthy living trees to plant matching ones is the epitome of waste, not to mention environmentally irresponsible. Importantly enough, the city’s own current tree consultants recommend tree variety over uniformity, as monocultures are prone to mass extinction in case of a decease. The consultants clearly stated they do not recommend extracting healthy trees to replace them with a different species, and especially not for the purpose of achieving uniformity.

It seems entirely foolish and self-serving to remove mature, healthy trees that cause no problem other than interfere with someone’s idea of what a street should look like. The North of Lincoln plan itself calls for “fast-growing, deciduous trees” on sidewalks to achieve a more attractive, pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. Why remove the ones that already match that description?? The wise, economical, and sustainable thing to do would be to preserve every tree that is alive and doing well north of Lincoln right now, and to plant MORE in all the available spaces (of which there are plenty); to maintain a visually diverse treescape that integrates the existing with the new. The thinking that applies to buildings in the area (mixing historical and new) should certainly apply to trees as well.

Revitalization often happens best when good things are added, not subtracted. This is especially true for trees in places undergoing transformation, because trees take so long to reach an age where their benefit to us is optimal—and some don’t even make it. On Park Street, a few of the young gingkos were broken early on—saplings are hard to care for, especially in a busy walking district—which is why a tree that has made it there should be considered a “keeper.” A good example is downtown Oakland where no mass tree removals had to occur for the area to receive its face lift—old and new trees on Broadway all thrive together, and many more were planted in the pocket parks and streets around downtown. Preserving existing trees is cost effective, too: Removal of a mature tree runs in the thousands of dollars. That’s money that could be spent on public art, or facade improvement.

I am pretty sure the people who decided to remove the trees between Lincoln and Central thought they were doing the street a favor. However, I have since talked to a few of the merchants (south of Central, where the clear-cutting didn’t reach) who said they would prefer to keep their shading trees instead of losing them to saplings they will never see a benefit from. The one large tree by Starbucks in particular gives that corner a definite leg up over Peet’s. You just need to walk by and see where people hang out on a hot day. (Clue: Try the shade.) I can’t imagine why it would be any different north of Lincoln, especially when we’ll be trying to attract shoppers, not chase them to leafier shopping districts. Whatever location a restaurant or merchant is attracted to, a large shade tree in front would only be a plus.

I’ll leave you with a this short research paper that touches on many of the urban tree issues I’ve talked about here and in other posts. (Be sure to look at the picture on page 4, a tree in Savannah, GA.) And when you can, take a stroll down Park Street and see what trees will be lost if things go on as they did under Phase 1. Imagine for yourself how these trees will give a newly spruced up area an immediate head start if they are kept and cared for, instead of thrown in the chipper.

Oops, they’ve done it again. And again. And again…

Hey, it was a big tree week in the newspapers last week. There was this piece, talking about protected trees in Alameda, and then this letter (“Trees reflect their city,” all the way down the page) which was right spot on.

On the subject of protected trees, I want to state the obvious, which is that the rash of illegal removals is not going to stop until there is a serious penalty applied to those who do such unconscionable act. Letting someone with a tree grudge who’s bent on getting rid of the “nuisance” know that what he is about to do is illegal, without any consequence, is about as as effective as waving a feather at an Orc. What kind of penalty? A stiff one. I say, the cost of replacing the tree, multiplied by the age of the tree they cut or damaged. For a 60-year-old tree, that would be $300 x 60 = 18,000. Let them sweat that. A friend told me her neighbor hacked an oak tree to death a few years ago. When she called to complain, the city said, sorry, they couldn’t do anything after the fact. Hello! This is not how you protect something you say you really care about.

Regarding the letter by Joel Rambaud complaining about the terrible pruning job done on the ash trees along Broadway—I agree completely. The terrible job is especially obvious now, with the leaves gone. They say the trees are in decline—I submit it’s in large part because of overpruning. Some tree trimming quack decided at some point that a trees needs just 4 or 5 branches, and that these need to be shaved clean of all growth. The result is something that looks more like an arthritic witch’s hand, than a lush living organism. The term for this ignorant practice—leaving a bare branch with a tuft at the end—is “lion’s tail trimming.” It’s a no-no acording to all pruning books; to see it all over Broadway is outright criminal. As if this is not enough, some of the trees have also been “topped”—a practice roundly condemned by every urban forestry manual and one our city claims is banned here also. Yet, here it is

—a proof that what the city says it does, it doesn’t do or can’t enforce. Were these tree pruners paid, or fined and reported to their certifying agency? I really want the latter to be the case. Why can’t the work of pruning contractors be subject to approval by Public Works, and the company paid only if they do the job according to the city’s guidelines? This is city property after all, a public investment! Defacing it should be treated on par with other vandalism, like graffiti. Both of the above cases are matters of policy—the Master Tree Plan we’ve spent so much money and energy on, without sound policy and enforcement, would be a sorry waste of the pulp it took to print it.

The trees on Broadway may yet recover from their lion’s tails, if left alone right now. I’ve also elicited a promise by Public Works to fill many of the gaps along this once gorgeous street with species from the new tree plan. My hope is, this will be accompanied by changes in our code along the lines suggested, so what we sow today won’t be squandered out of incompetence, but we (or our children) can reap the benefits for many years.