Tag Archives: Tree policy

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.

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?

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