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Everyone 'sad' after surprise removal of school tree

Original post made on Apr 14, 2012

Children and parents at Fairmeadow School are wondering why a beloved tree, which had been fenced for protection during a school construction project, was cut down over spring break.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, April 14, 2012, 1:48 PM

Comments (37)

Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Once again the arborists are showing themselves to be the worst danger to the trees themselves.

If you can't predict what will happen then recuse yourself from the job and let someone who can predict do it.
How lame.
Trees have less rights than slaves.

It is the era of the scouring of the shire. Until folks wake up it will continue.

A 50 year old Redwood tree was removed at Gunn for "progress" it also speaks to archtects with zero or negative imagination on how to build with nature. Memo - review Frank Lloyd Wright's body of work.


Posted by seriously?, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm

"Trees have less rights than slaves"


As well they should. They are trees.


Posted by anon, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Vegetables Unite!, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm

You have nothing to lose but your leaves!


Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 14, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Did the PAUSD school district approve the removal of this tree?
School administrators shouldn't be allowed to remove trees on their own without school board approval.Period.

And to seriously? - yes trees have rights. Even in Palo Alto there are tree ordinances which protect the rights of some trees. Other cities have more expansive tree ordinances that protect many more types and classes of trees.

You have your priorties wrong if you think any building is more important than the trees. When was last time a building provided oxygen for you to breath. That tree even provided oxygen to the chain saw which took it out.

Ever since CA Ave trees were cut the War on Trees has begun - and don't think for a second they are not connected. At the top are a bunch of folks who appear to love power over trees more than trees themselves.


Posted by Missing the point, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm

The comment from paloaltotreewatch seriously needs to calm down.

"When was the last time a building provided oxygen for you to (sic) breath?"

Um, when was the last time a tree taught your children how to read and write. Not saying that trees have no purpose, they do, but trying to argue in this way looks sad. You can't compare apples to oranges. What's really endangering trees aren't school districts trying to teach children; it's people clear cutting the rainforest. Go take your crusade over there. Clearly, more trees are being planted in its place, so the environmental impact is low. The real reason people are concerned are because of sentimental value, not because this is going to lead to some kind of tree cutting mania.

"Ever since CA Ave trees were cut the War on Trees has begun... At the top are a bunch of folks who appear to love power over trees more than trees themselves."

If you could clarify this, that would be nice, because it sounds like you're trying to do some baseless fear mongering. Except it's worse, because you can't even connect it to a real threat. The War on Trees? Don't make me laugh? This is even worse than far right Republicans people ranting about Muslims and terrorism.


Posted by brad, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 14, 2012 at 10:24 pm

I cannot predict or guarantee what will happen ...

this really is sad, if pausd relies on such generic c.y.a. advice like this. the exact same statement could be equally applied to every tree on pausd property. obviously, pausd should cut down all their trees to be sure none will ever fall over without permission.


Posted by munro, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm

*Unbelievable.* after the Calif Ave fiasco...
I'm with anon; Palo Alto has become a soulless outpost of USSR (or Isengard). no doubt the project would have been delayed, money lost while children scrambled to collect donations for hand trenching. the real lesson is, people don't matter; the Deciders rule and we'd best go along.

Bob Golton puts out more cow patties than even a bovine can stomach.
as for community character--it's been thrown under the bus. start looking toward Mountain View for your next home.


Posted by Long tims Palo Altoan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2012 at 11:37 pm

So... has anyoen seen the PAUSD arborist's report that doomed this tree? What is the date of it? Where can it be read? What is the name of the arborist? What are his or her credentials?

It's just so completely bizarre one day a tree is behind protective fences after other trees nearby were "accidently" removed and then POOF it's gone with just some you-little-people trust-us piffle after the fact.

I am still outraged PAUSD can ignore all City laws on trees while the rest of us must abide by them. What makes PAUSD so special?


Posted by Long time Palo Altoan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2012 at 11:50 pm

OK, I reread the article and see the school district arborist's name and reasonings for tree removal. So.... the tree was removed to save the costs of mechanical or hand trenching for a sewer line.

A sewer line... which somehow could not be placed somewhere else on the original plans or modified as the arborist rethought things as the building work progressed. Was the cost in dollars of removing the tree really lower than changing the location of a sewer line? Removing big trees like that would be $10,000+. Cost to trench a few extra feet of sewer line?

I suppose the real decision process was tree=danger because it is big and something MIGHT fall off it. Eek! With an attitude like that, one should never get out of a safe bed in the morning.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2012 at 9:28 am

Out of curiosity, why doesn't the school district have to get a permit to remove a heritage tree just like everyone else?


Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2012 at 11:10 am

This will be an issue that repeats itself all over Palo Alto. Being the tree city, we have thousands of MATURE trees in our neighborhoods, Parks and Open Space, and business districts. Even with proper care and maintenance of these mature trees, they will fall into poor health and become a danger to everyone. Some trees will be able to be save using arborculture practices, but other will not be able to be saved regardless of how 'important' and 'significant' they are. Think of it as the circle of life. This will repeat itself all over the city in greater numbers in the near future.


Posted by Tree Lover, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I still miss the enormous and beautiful Pistache tree that was in front of the Palo Alto Weekly building. It too was covered, then chopped down, in order for the building to go up.

At that time, no one noticed. Too bad there weren't kids to draw attention to it. The Weekly never reported about its removal.

That tree was very healthy, and not causing any problems at all. It was merely inconvenient. Its replacement is puny and thin.


Posted by Why?, a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Follow the money.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

For people attacking the arborist for "I cannot predict or guarantee"

You should read the full quote in the article: "I cannot predict or guarantee what will happen to this tree if all of the planned improvements are constructed around it. There seem to be more construction damage thrown at this tree every week!"

Notice the exclamation point. This statement is a warning in a very standard format: That the cumulative construction damage was approaching a critical point. Despite the goal of preserving the tree, there appears to have been a failure in both the planning and management of the project.

Contrary to the School District's statement, the tree was not (yet) unsafe, nor was it inevitable that it would become prematurely unsafe. Rather it was inconvenient for the future course of the construction project.

I have no involvement in this particular issue, but see echoes of ones I have been involved in. For example, despite years of attempts on our part, the School District chooses to time the mowing an area of open space to suppress the native wildflowers and to benefit the weedy grasses. Doing the right thing would be trivial, so doing the wrong thing appears to be primarily an arrogant assertion of power.


Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm

The way it works in Palo Alto is.. Cut first, answer questions later...IF you get caught.


Posted by Redwoods, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2012 at 9:11 am

I am not familiar with this specific tree, but I own hundreds of redwoods. They will take most anything thrown at them, except one thing. If you compromise the root structure, the tend to have problems. The root structure for these trees is very large. If the construction kept eliminating the root system, I understand the arborists concerns.


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2012 at 10:25 am

PA must hire a new arborist; one who likes trees and is willing to try and save a few rather than just 'remove' them.


Posted by Rossta0825, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 16, 2012 at 10:49 am

This is very troubling. A heritage redwood tree taken down without cause or notification. I hope there are steep financial penalties assess for this. It is unlikely that the planned 3 replacement redwoods will thrive in any way like an established one. The arborist's report sounds like an alert to the school district that they better take action to fix what was happening at the construction site - the tree protections were inadequate. Yet they chose to, instead, take the option to remove the tree. This is a classic devaluation of the value a mature tree has.

Ask a nursery how much to buy and plant a 50 year old redwood. Can't be done, I know, but they could extrapolate. Add to that the value of the wood when it is harvested. That should be the starting point for the fine assessed to the school district for their failure to save this tree.


Posted by Kris, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

We are a Fairmeadow family and that beautiful tree gave my daughters a quiet sanctuary in the otherwise busy and chaotic schoolyard. I cannot speak to the arborist/construction issues but I absolutely know that the children should have been given a chance to say goodbye, take photos, or sit and sketch it one last time. Prior warning would have caused a certain uprising to be sure, but the children at Fairmeadow deserve better. The gracious teaching staff would have turned it into a beautiful and meaningful lesson.

Under Mrs. Sabbag, two classrooms have been taking daily photos of the construction site for a "time lapse" photo project. The removal of the tree will be a significant change in that video...and a reminder the Fairmeadow community had a terribly rude awakening at the end of Spring Break, one that could have been easily softened by sincere communication.

I invite PAUSD and the Palo Alto Arborist to a Fairmeadow assembly to explain to the 450 children the decision making process in removing their beloved tree. The deserve to know the truth.


Posted by Very Sad, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 16, 2012 at 11:26 am

I'm sure some see this as "just another tree," but to the kids at Fairmeadow it was a well-loved icon. There were alternatives but the School District opted for the quickest and easiest, with complete disregard for the community they serve. I don't believe for one second that it was an "oopsie" that no one was informed of the change in plans for that tree or that the removal during Spring Break had anything to do with safety. The behavior of the powers that be here (those that sneakily directed it be cut down during Spring Break) is reprehensible, far beyond just this one tree, and the responsible parties should be fired. The school district should be staffed with people the children admire and respect, not people they fear and feel betrayed by.


Posted by Old Steve, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 16, 2012 at 11:27 am

I went to Fairmeadow (starting in 1963). If you want your kids around old Redwoods, take them to Big Basin! Fifty years old is not an old Redwood (except in Palo Alto). School construction is regulated by a state agency, and not subject to municipal permits (even in Palo Alto) except for off-site utility connections and such. The City's noticing requirements for trees do not apply to the school district. If PAUSD had provided more timely notice, would they have been able to do the work during spring break? What would have been the costs of delaying the tree removal until Summer?During design, I'm sure everyone thought trying to save the tree to be the proper thing to do, so they tried. The design choices were probably to build close to the tree and take your chances, or build further away and chop up a small site even more. At a school, the program and student safety should come first.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

A minimum of 5 redwoods is required to make a safe grove. Fewer than that and the root structure will not support the trees.


Posted by LuvTrees, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2012 at 12:35 pm

REALLY too bad about the tree.
Only if it was at risk for the tree falling down, would have an ok to cut it down....BUT this isn't the situation.
They just wanted to get more area for a project. That's NOT Right!!
Be ashamed.


Posted by LRG, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2012 at 12:38 pm

"Why don't you make like a tree and get outta here!" Biff from Back to the future.

Seriously though, it's all fun and games until the tree falls and does some heavy property damage or kills someone. Then all of the finger pointing and lawsuits will be directed at the consulting arborist Deborah Ellis.


Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm

This tree really was a icon at the school, and the kids were very upset to find out that it was gone. No one at the school seemed to have an explanation for them or their parents for days afterward.

I think this was very poorly handled, and I'm not usually critical of PAUSD.


Posted by Ronna Devincenzi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm

I don't know how redwood roots differ from other trees. But new sidewalks are being installed right now, up and down Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View.

It just looks like only new cement is involved. None of the work looks invasive, but all mature trees are being kept intact, despite jackhammering done in and around their roots.

By comparison with Cal Ave's compromised tree roots, I can share:
There was *one* Holly Oak I wanted removed on Cal Ave, and lobbied hard for years about it, either to be removed, or even trimmed.

I had an artist design an art piece *including the tree*, if it could have been trimmed. But PW said no removal, and they said there was no way to trim it.

By the way, that was 1 (ONE) tree about which I personally brought to the city's attention, lobbying to have removed, not 63 trees.

But for the first six months of 2009, when Utilities gas work had the main street and the sidestreets torn up, plus a few areas of sidewalk, Public Works & the PW arborist photographed each tree after the work was done, detailing the condition to see if anything had changed from the last time the trees were checked.

Gas work was done in the immediate area of sidewalk by the tree I wanted removed (after having had complaints from merchants about it, for years; even that tree was not bothering me, personally).

So after the Utility work was done, I was told the roots on that tree had been "compromised" and it needed to be removed after all.

The artist and I thought it comical that the tree could *not* be trimmed, after she created an art piece to *include* the tree, but the whole thing could be removed, and easily.

So when I later asked the city why the public was never told the condition of the trees whose roots had been compromised, PW told me
"One city department does not make another city department look bad."

But when I mentioned the jackhammering of this tree to a NON-city worker that is just a friend, saying it would have been impossible for Utilities to have done invasive gas equipment work in the middle of such established tree roots, I was told it *was* indeed possible.

So between this Redwood, and all the sidewalk work on Shoreline in Mountain View now, it makes me wonder what policies are in cities.
Perhaps Palo Alto's policy is to remove trees rather than go to extraordinary lengths to save them?

This is important because when the Palo Alto Weekly building went up on Cambridge Ave a few years ago, there was a very healthy, huge Pistache tree that was removed to allow the construction to go through.

It's sad because Cambridge has such lovely fall color, with the whole street lined with Pistache. If the policy in Palo Alto is to allow those to be removed, one by one, just for construction, the loss of mature canopy may happen there too. Maybe Palo Alto could check with Mountain View, and see how they do it. The new sidewalks look great there, and the mature trees look very healthy.

To compare apples with apples, the one tree that I was personally involved with trying to get removed (or trimmed) was a large Holly Oak, and not a Redwood; and none of the trees in Mountain View look like Redwoods or Holly Oaks.


Posted by synchronic, a resident of Monroe Park
on Apr 16, 2012 at 2:45 pm

synchronicity is when an outer event corresponds to an inner feeling or thought. a conclusion came to a person emphatically, that anyone in position of authority in this world, like news media police drug companies priests etc. there is something hidden from everything they say. they tell you one thing but there is something they are hiding from you,.. just at that realization, a fisker karma drives by. no accident. that is synchronicity. a law of our reality. watch for synchronicity yourself. the fisker karma came along at this time in history. just the perfect time for it!


Posted by Very Sad, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm

The tree was there for 50 years, the root structure seemed to be doing ok so far. It was the construction that put it at risk, and PAUSD's refusal to take steps to protect it brought it down. We're over-crowding our school sites when we have to take out fields and trees to put in massive buildings. In addition to "uglifying" our schools, we are losing available field space for baseball, softball, soccer, etc, and for just running and playing! It is very sad what is happening in what used to be a community that valued the beauty of our environment and the safety and enjoyment of our residents. It is particularly disheartening that PAUSD is behaving as badly as the City now. The City keeps allowing more high-density construction with no plan for where all these kids are going to go to school and play, let alone the impact on the kids that are already here. PAUSD is reacting by over-crowding the schools and removing trees and fields to put in big buildings. It's all about $$$. Where does it stop?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

It seems to me having read these posts over the past week or so that the problem is not the removal of the tree necessarily but the way in which the deed was done.

Firstly it seems that a no removal notice had been placed and that means that at some stage there was a discussion and a decision had been made not to remove the tree.

Secondly, during spring break, the tree was removed without any attention being paid to the no removal notice.

This discrepancy of events is the problem, in my opinion. Yes trees get old and have to be removed and yes Redwoods do better in a grove. For these reasons it may have been prudent to remove the tree. But the question remains, why remove a tree which had a no removal notice? And why remove it without the Fairmeadow community's knowledge? Or, did the Principal know and decide not to inform anyone of what was about to occur?


Posted by Oh My Gosh, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Unvelievable, a tree, not just any tree, but a sacred and loved tree that generations have come to know and love. That family reunions were enriched by the lengthy discussions of its beauty, the small children who grew to love and adore it, the enriched oxygen it provided the near and dear. The fodder it has produced that allows the deep thinkers in Palo Alto the ability to rant about nothing. The heck with starving americans, foreclosed homes, the wealth gap, nuclear proliferation, child abductions, no lets rant about a tree that probably shouldn't have been there in the first place.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

So rather than chop down one lousy tree, exercise eminent domain and take half a dozen houses to expand the site? Suuuure!


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2012 at 8:18 am

I understand the reasoning as stated, but, given all of the other recent mistakes and communication gaps, it is pretty easy to suspect a conspiracy. I continue to be surprised that in Palo Alto of all places people don't see the need to communicate about it when trees are cut down. "Trust us" is not a viable answer.


Posted by PA Resident, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

Can we please stop cutting down these beautiful trees. What can we do to get the city to enforce their safety on public property the way they do on private property. Building a house in Palo alto has become ridiculous with all the rules one must follow, I think the city needs to hold itself to the same standard. we need to held them accountable.


Posted by Sue, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Palo Alto's arborist is trying to cover his ass. He thinks that as long as no tree falls down due to age, etc., his job won't be in jeopardy. The problem with city government in Palo Alto is that no one who works for the city lives in Palo Alto. They don't care what happens to our town. All they care about is their lucrative retirement and health packages.


Posted by Ronna Devincenzi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Sue, in the story, it appears as if the school retained a consulting arborist, a woman not on PA city staff. Perhaps I missed information elsewhere, so I may be wrong, but I don't think PA city staff, either Public Works (that has a person that handles trees) or PA's official arborist (another person) had anything to do with the removal of this particular tree.

Some of what you write rings true, but not all. Whether or not they live in Palo Alto (and many do) there are still many, many capable, enthusiastic and hard-working city employees in Palo Alto, that take pride in their work, and they try to please the public.

Often it is *management* decisions and pecking order protocol that can sometimes thwart, or diminish, the efforts of staff that is lower in command, and it can result in a form of paralysis that comes across as uncaring, when it may not be.

With that said, there were others that fit your description. But most of the ones I knew like that already retired. I think with all the attention given to trees over the past two years, Palo Alto is very careful now.

They'd not do much that would be controversial, and yet, one by one, trees taken out to make way for development, such as this one, is an issue that still needs to be addressed, such as the Pistache trees on Cambridge. People often do not notice trees taken out one by one, except if it's a cherished tree such as this one.


Posted by anon, a resident of University South
on Apr 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm

This was a "teachable moment" for these kids. They got to see how government (in this case, the city and PAUSD) screwed up. I hope this lesson gets taught in class, but I'll bet not one teacher will mention any criticism of these two government agencies.


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