News

Palo Alto residents fear another California Ave. tree debacle

City rescinds order to cut down two mature redwoods and will seek alternatives

Two large California Avenue redwood trees slated for removal by the City of Palo Alto are being defended by neighborhood groups concerned about another California Avenue tree debacle.

The two stately, 2.5-foot-diameter trees behind Citibank, which sits on the south corner of El Camino Real and California Avenue, were scheduled to be taken down by the Public Works Department no sooner than Nov. 28.

White signs posted on the trees Nov. 14 stated: "The tree roots are damaging the building wall and foundation ans cannot be removed without threatening the stability of the tree."

Fred Balin, a member of Friends of California Avenue, said in an email to City Manager James Keene on Thursday that the group would likely protest the planned loss of the mature redwoods. He said a member of the group is an attorney and has contacted the city.

"While we investigate this matter further, ensure that absolutely no action is taken with regard to removing or harming the trees within the 14-day waiting period," Balin wrote.

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Keene, in an email to Balin, said he had only learned of the planned removal early Thursday morning. The order arose in response to a private property owner and concerns regarding safety. He said he planned to meet with city staff Thursday afternoon to be briefed.

"But rest assured, I share your concern about these trees. The city will not repeat the prior Cal. Avenue tree debacle. The city has consistently been very sensitive to all things trees since that event," he wrote to Balin.

More than 50 mature street trees were removed in September 2009 in the retail district, with little warning to businesses and residents. Even though new trees were planned as replacements, public outrage ensued at the trees' sudden disappearance. City leaders vowed to institute policies that would prevent a repeat incident.

Linda Clerkson, city communications manager, confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the order for removal has been rescinded to allow the city to explore safety issues and alternatives to tree removal.

"It is good that that the removal notice has been rescinded. The redwoods are a protected species, and  the only mature trees on the streetscape; the city must make every effort to preserve them," Balin said by email.

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The city issued a press release Thursday evening that said the property owner and Citibank followed city procedures and applied for a tree removal permit. They want to prevent possible damage to the building and sidewalk and to water and gas service lines.

The city issued the permit learning that conditions met the Palo Alto tree ordinance. The trees and their roots had caused cracks in the building foundation and walls, had broken a water line, were lifting the public sidewalk, and were likely to make things worse as the trees continued to grow.

The trees were to be replaced as part of an overall landscaping and parking reconfiguration for the site, city officials said.

"The property owner applied for the tree removal permit and the city granted it as the onsite conditions appeared to comply with our tree removal regulations," said Mike Sartor, director of Public Works.

"However, because these two trees are located within the California Avenue area and there is a heightened level of sensitivity to tree removals, we are taking a 'time-out' to work with the property owner and tenant to ensure that a variety of options are considered and the community is fully engaged."

Last week, city staff told managers they were concerned about the potential tree removal. They began an internal discussion about what other options could be considered.

"The property owner applied for the tree removal permit and the city granted it as the onsite conditions appeared to comply with our tree removal regulations," said Mike Sartor, director of Public Works.

"However, because these two trees are located within the California Avenue area and there is a heightened level of sensitivity to tree removals, we are taking a 'time-out' to work with the property owner and tenant to ensure that a variety of options are considered and the community is fully engaged."

The tenant and the project contractor have been notified that the permit has been rescinded. A meeting will be scheduled as soon as possible to explore the options, city officials said.

"We're interested in thinking more creatively about this situation," Keene said. "We want the property owner to be able to make planned improvements to the landscaping and to protect their buildings and utilities, while also addressing the community's value to protect redwood trees and concerns about the California Avenue streetscape canopy. I am confident we can reach a mutually acceptable solution once we explore this issue further."

More information about the City of Palo Alto's tree preservation and management regulations are available at www.cityofpaloalto.org/services/sustainability/trees.asp.

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Palo Alto residents fear another California Ave. tree debacle

City rescinds order to cut down two mature redwoods and will seek alternatives

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Nov 15, 2012, 7:58 pm
Updated: Thu, Nov 15, 2012, 8:44 pm

Two large California Avenue redwood trees slated for removal by the City of Palo Alto are being defended by neighborhood groups concerned about another California Avenue tree debacle.

The two stately, 2.5-foot-diameter trees behind Citibank, which sits on the south corner of El Camino Real and California Avenue, were scheduled to be taken down by the Public Works Department no sooner than Nov. 28.

White signs posted on the trees Nov. 14 stated: "The tree roots are damaging the building wall and foundation ans cannot be removed without threatening the stability of the tree."

Fred Balin, a member of Friends of California Avenue, said in an email to City Manager James Keene on Thursday that the group would likely protest the planned loss of the mature redwoods. He said a member of the group is an attorney and has contacted the city.

"While we investigate this matter further, ensure that absolutely no action is taken with regard to removing or harming the trees within the 14-day waiting period," Balin wrote.

Keene, in an email to Balin, said he had only learned of the planned removal early Thursday morning. The order arose in response to a private property owner and concerns regarding safety. He said he planned to meet with city staff Thursday afternoon to be briefed.

"But rest assured, I share your concern about these trees. The city will not repeat the prior Cal. Avenue tree debacle. The city has consistently been very sensitive to all things trees since that event," he wrote to Balin.

More than 50 mature street trees were removed in September 2009 in the retail district, with little warning to businesses and residents. Even though new trees were planned as replacements, public outrage ensued at the trees' sudden disappearance. City leaders vowed to institute policies that would prevent a repeat incident.

Linda Clerkson, city communications manager, confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the order for removal has been rescinded to allow the city to explore safety issues and alternatives to tree removal.

"It is good that that the removal notice has been rescinded. The redwoods are a protected species, and  the only mature trees on the streetscape; the city must make every effort to preserve them," Balin said by email.

The city issued a press release Thursday evening that said the property owner and Citibank followed city procedures and applied for a tree removal permit. They want to prevent possible damage to the building and sidewalk and to water and gas service lines.

The city issued the permit learning that conditions met the Palo Alto tree ordinance. The trees and their roots had caused cracks in the building foundation and walls, had broken a water line, were lifting the public sidewalk, and were likely to make things worse as the trees continued to grow.

The trees were to be replaced as part of an overall landscaping and parking reconfiguration for the site, city officials said.

"The property owner applied for the tree removal permit and the city granted it as the onsite conditions appeared to comply with our tree removal regulations," said Mike Sartor, director of Public Works.

"However, because these two trees are located within the California Avenue area and there is a heightened level of sensitivity to tree removals, we are taking a 'time-out' to work with the property owner and tenant to ensure that a variety of options are considered and the community is fully engaged."

Last week, city staff told managers they were concerned about the potential tree removal. They began an internal discussion about what other options could be considered.

"The property owner applied for the tree removal permit and the city granted it as the onsite conditions appeared to comply with our tree removal regulations," said Mike Sartor, director of Public Works.

"However, because these two trees are located within the California Avenue area and there is a heightened level of sensitivity to tree removals, we are taking a 'time-out' to work with the property owner and tenant to ensure that a variety of options are considered and the community is fully engaged."

The tenant and the project contractor have been notified that the permit has been rescinded. A meeting will be scheduled as soon as possible to explore the options, city officials said.

"We're interested in thinking more creatively about this situation," Keene said. "We want the property owner to be able to make planned improvements to the landscaping and to protect their buildings and utilities, while also addressing the community's value to protect redwood trees and concerns about the California Avenue streetscape canopy. I am confident we can reach a mutually acceptable solution once we explore this issue further."

More information about the City of Palo Alto's tree preservation and management regulations are available at www.cityofpaloalto.org/services/sustainability/trees.asp.

Comments

Hilda
Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:23 am
Hilda, Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:23 am
Like this comment

Take them down if they are going to be a danger! common sense.


Cut it down
Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:11 am
Cut it down, Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:11 am
Like this comment

This is the second day in a row that Sue Dremann has posted an article with an infalmmatory headline (Web Link)
Is the weekly trying to stir things up on slow news days??
Anyway to the story at hand. According to the story, the tree has already broken a water line. Should we wait until it breaks a gas line and causes a disaster?? fred Balin does not live near the tree, so any catastrophe will not impact him.
Also not appreciated is the veiled threats implied by Mr Balin if he does not get his way ("He said a member of the group is an attorney and has contacted the city").
As happens many times a new "friends" group has arisen with a limited agenda, that does not take into regard the safety and well being of PA residnets. Beware of Palo Alto "friends" groups.


neighbor
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:49 am
neighbor, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:49 am
Like this comment

If the application to remove the trees meets the requirements for removal - damage, safety issues - then why can't they remove them?! This isn't frivolous nor do they need to cater to outsiders' screeches. There are rules in place and the situation appears to meet those rules. Let's not wait until there is additional property damage or injury/death to a passerby


Retired Teacher
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:51 am
Retired Teacher, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:51 am
Like this comment

Hilda--just remember that common sense is what tells you that the earth is flat. It's possible the safety concerns are justified, and equally possible that the property owner is using safety as an excuse to avoid proper care for the trees. True common sense requires that assertions be verified before accepting them.

Cut it down, your "member" name speaks volumes. Trees, what good are they? Cut 'em down, pave it over? And by the way, it's hardly a threat to mention that an attorney is going to do due diligence to be sure laws and procedures have been followed.

"Friends" groups have a right to be heard, and their opinions should be weighed fairly, not by painting them with an unfair anti-safety smear.


cut it down
Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:02 am
cut it down, Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:02 am
Like this comment

Reitred teacher--read neighbors comments.
I will add, the process has gone forward as the rules state. In addition the the article clearly states that the tree has already ruptured a water line. So we should ignore that and th epossibility that a gas line may be next and keep the tree because trees are more important than people in Palo Alto???
"Friends" groups can say whatever they want and they can imply that they will sue if they do not get their way(which is what Balin is implying). The article clearly states that all th elaws and procedures where followed--but this "friends" group is not interested in that, nor are they are interested in public safety. Their focus is saving each and every tree regardless of the consequences.
Claiming that they are ignoring public safety concerns is not "painting them with an unfair anti-safety smear", but just characterizing their actions.
It is time that Palo Alto and the tree fanatics realize that in certain cases, i.e. public safety, that a tree may need to be removed. This happened with Pardee Park, as well, I believe, where the tree fanatics discounted two reports by trained arborists that said that trees need to be removed.


Vera
Southgate
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:03 am
Vera, Southgate
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:03 am
Like this comment

Redwood trees are inappropriate for urban settings. They are magnificent in the wild, but their shallow roots cause problems for both tree and infrastructure when in town. I would not want one anywhere near my house.


Ellen
College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:05 am
Ellen, College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:05 am
Like this comment

Just get rid of Citi-bank instead. Those big banks have had their day. We don't need them any more. Credit Unions all the way!


FrankF
Registered user
Ventura
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:40 am
FrankF, Ventura
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:40 am
Like this comment

I agree that redwood trees need lots of space from buildings although they can certainly grow quite successfully in an urban environment. Perhaps these trees need to come down - they are very close to the bank (although I do kind of agree with Ellen ) but it would be nice if there were any other mature trees on that street. (I know, I know)


Vote 4 Ellen!!!!
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:47 am
Vote 4 Ellen!!!!, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:47 am
Like this comment

Ellen!

Brilliant! You found the ultimate solution.

Please keep your comments coming.


Ellen
College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:59 am
Ellen, College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:59 am
Like this comment

Well, thank you neighbors. Now I wish I hadn't used a pseudonym! But anyway all my money came out of Citibank a few months ago, and the SFCU has been great.


John Chapman
Woodside
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm
John Chapman, Woodside
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm
Like this comment

The error seems to be in placing the building too close to the tree. The building should obviously be removed.


Sarah
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm
Sarah, Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm
Like this comment

I'm with John Chapman. More sense should have been applied before they put up the building!


Ducatigirl
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm
Ducatigirl, Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm
Like this comment

Redwood trees need a lot of water, and California Ave probably wasn't a good location for them. They are probably a danger now because they never got enough water in the first place. It is a shame this has to happen, but because no one thought about these things, like the location of the Citibank building and proper watering, the trees have to go. Where was the City Arborist in all of this?


WonderfulTrees
Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm
WonderfulTrees, Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm
Like this comment

I agree with Balin.
such trees should be helped along as far as they can without danger of a tree falling. It can be hard for roots...but we DO NEED TALL TREES.
And for any other NEW trees, make sure there will be enough space for the long life the tree SHOULD have.


Brian
Evergreen Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm
Brian, Evergreen Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm
Like this comment

Maybe the people that want to keep the trees can put some money up so the owners can do something more elaborate. All problems can be solvewd as long as they don't break the laws of physics and there is enough money and time.

Maybe the city attorney should get a back bone and allow the city departments to do there jobs. Sounds like they have. Even in the earlier tree removal there were notices.


safety first
Palo Alto Orchards
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm
safety first, Palo Alto Orchards
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm
Like this comment

It does not matter now if the tree was there first and the building was built in the "wrong place"--the issue is safety--can the tree fall over?? Can the roots damage a gasline??
Can the tree be saved? if not it should be removed.
Public safety is at stake and that is more important then the tree and the desires of Fred balin


Retired Teacher
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm
Retired Teacher, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm
Like this comment

Cut it down--by all means, ignore the bias implied in your "member" name. Bias aside, you don't seem to understand what the article actually says, as opposed to what you want it to say. The director of public works said that "conditions APPEARED to comply with our tree removal regulations." (Yes, Cut it down, I put in the caps.) Perhaps, after you read the neighbors' comments, you personally verified that the water line problem did occur and was related to the tree roots. Furthermore, your expertise may be such that you are qualified to make a unilateral decision about the public safety. Or perhaps not.

Meanwhile, the actions of the city manager in rescinding the permit for further study suggests that more care is needed before we decide to cut down trees, especially based on the say-so of people who might be as concerned with saving money as with public safety.


Savetheredwoods
Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:06 pm
Savetheredwoods, Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:06 pm
Like this comment

Wait... the trees where growing long before the building was in place. Seems really poor planning to build a building so close to large trees! Redwoods don't grow that quickly. The building was put up without any concern for the trees. How much life is left to the building anyway. Can't imagine it will last 100 years.


Nora Charles
Stanford
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm
Nora Charles, Stanford
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm
Like this comment

Walls can be replaced; mature trees cannot. Kudos to all involved in helping save these trees!

From some of the anti-tree comments here we might think about renaming the city.


cut it down
Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm
cut it down, Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm
Like this comment

Retired teacher--you seem to have ignored a portion of the story:

"The city issued the permit learning that conditions met the Palo Alto tree ordinance. The trees and their roots had caused cracks in the building foundation and walls, had broken a water line, were lifting the public sidewalk, and were likely to make things worse as the trees continued to grow."

Note that the article states that conditions MET the PA tree ordinance and HAD BROKEN a water line. (yes, retired teacher, I put in the caps)
Note that i do not need to verify the water line issue occured, since the city said it did. SO much for your arguments.
I guess that part does not fit your scenario. Let the city review the application based on pressure from a group with blinders on--I sincerely hope that we do not have a major catastrophe or even an injury as a result of their pressure. I hope that this potential threat to public safety does not get caught up in the usual Palo Alto process


Ducatigirl
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm
Ducatigirl, Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm
Like this comment

Any new trees anywhere, but especially tall trees, need to be in a location where they will get enough water to put down deep roots. Otherwise, the roots will grow upward in an effort to look for water. Then they are prone to uprooting, as I have personally found out in the past when planting big trees in my yard in the East Bay. Redwoods are different from other evergreens. They have flat needles to help them get moisture from the air, which they do in coastal regions where they are native. They really do not belong this far inland unless a good water source can be guaranteed. The redwoods in Berkeley get most of their water in the form of fog, but even some of them do not look too healthy lately.


Ellen
College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:53 pm
Ellen, College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:53 pm
Like this comment

I wonder if it has anything to do with all the basements that are going in. Messing with the water table. Now the tree roots have to push upwards.


Retired Teacher
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:31 pm
Retired Teacher, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:31 pm
Like this comment

Well, cut it down, you say the "city" SAID that the tree broke a water line. But who speaks for the city? A press release? A statement from the director of public works saying the conditions for a permit APPEARED to have been met? The city manager, who clearly didn't have total confidence in the process of approval and who has a fair amount of say in these matters? And who canceled the permit to look into the matter?

Maybe you'd like to make decisions based solely on newspaper reports, without bothering to check the facts. Personally I'm glad that thoughtful citizens are not following your example and are asking for more careful review before we knock down a couple of beautiful trees based on a landlord's and Citibank's say-so.


Jeremy
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 4:48 am
Jeremy, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 4:48 am
Like this comment

As an arborist told me once "the tree is supposed to be there. The building is not!" Leave the tree alone.

You and can make a building. You can't make a tree.


Maker of Trees
Barron Park
on Nov 17, 2012 at 6:22 am
Maker of Trees, Barron Park
on Nov 17, 2012 at 6:22 am
Like this comment

@Jeremy said: "You can't make a tree."
Well, I have this thing called a "seed". In time, if cared for properly, it will be a tree...swear to god, really. Oh wait...I have millions of seeds and can get millions more. Same outcome though, and we can make all you want.


Jeremy
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 7:30 am
Jeremy, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 7:30 am
Like this comment

Dear Maker of Trees: and how long will it take for that seed of yours to become a towering 40ft magnificent Redwood? Will you or I be around to sit in its shade?
And how long would it take to repair that foundation or erect a new building?


cut it down
Midtown
on Nov 17, 2012 at 11:52 am
cut it down, Midtown
on Nov 17, 2012 at 11:52 am
Like this comment

Well retired teacher, when it suits you, you use the statements in the article--when it does not conform with your agends--you make false claims.

"Well, cut it down, you say the "city" SAID that the tree broke a water line. But who speaks for the city?"
Are you saying that the city is lying?? that they did not check the tree and verify the claims of the owner? Let's see your proof for that claim.

"The city manager, who clearly didn't have total confidence in the process of approval and who has a fair amount of say in these matters? And who canceled the permit to look into the matter?"
Where do you get the claim that the city manager had nbo confidence in the process? It is quite clear that the city manager rescinded the approval after being pressure by the Balin group and the threat of legal action. You have no proof that the proper steps were not followed

"Maybe you'd like to make decisions based solely on newspaper reports, without bothering to check the facts. "
But I guess you can make decisions based solely on newspaper articles?
Have you "checked the facts"? What are they? Are you saying the building owner lied? Are you saying that the city staff lied? Let's see your proof.

"are asking for more careful review "
By all means, lets have further review, but quickly. If this tree is a danger to rupture a gasline we do not want this to happen--some people care about public safety. Of course people in Duveneck/St. Francis will not beimpacted if a major catastrophe happens where the tree is.


Retired Teacher
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm
Retired Teacher, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm
Like this comment

Cut it down, you're really good at passing off your assumptions as facts. It's not "quite clear" at all that the city manager gave in to pressure and any threat of legal action. It's more reasonable to assume he's being careful have his staff check the facts, especially after the previous California Avenue debacle. (Note, cut it down, that was his label, not the headline writer's.)

It's also not clear at all that there's a gas line problem, or that alternatives to cutting the trees down don't exist. Your assumptions again, not facts.

As for your assumption that I must be accusing people of lying, that's as farfetched as your attempt to demonize lawyers by implying that even mentioning their existence is a threat.

Unless you work for Citibank, park under the two redwoods, or hang out in that neighborhood all day, sounds like you're as safe in Midtown as I am in Duveneck-St. Francis. Not that we have to be in danger to express an opinion on saving or chopping down trees.


the teacher had to ” retire”
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm
the teacher had to ” retire”, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm
Like this comment

Retired teacher- based on your writings, it is clear that you assume that anyone supporting the removal of the trees are not relying on facts. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


far
College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm
far, College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


the teacher had to ” retire”
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm
the teacher had to ” retire”, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


mj
College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm
mj, College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm
Like this comment

The redwood trees were planted after the building. (I think they may have been planted when California Federal moved into the building.) After they were planted I remember thinking what a stupid landscaping decision and what in the world were they thinking.

Redwoods grow remarkably quickly for the first twenty years, and fairly quickly for the next twenty, which is probably why people who haven't lived here that long assume they must be older than the building.

I doubt that there is any way the redwoods can continue to co-exist with a building on that lot for much longer. I love trees and a wise choice at the time would now be a mature tree.


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