Park Street Tree Post-mortem

Last night’s Park Street Tree meeting was really invigorating (depressing as well). Below is the twitter comments at #alamtg. Before I get there, I want to share some brief thoughts now that it’s 12-hours later.

  • The meeting was a perfect example of how public involvement, even when its contentious, is good. Disparate voices, many who often disagree, came, ranted and then magically made the process for moving forward 10,000 times better. Instead of choosing from a list of 6 uninspiring trees picked by Public Works because they won’t possibly damage sidewalks in a decade or two, there will be a survey of characteristics that the public would like in their streetscape. Then professional landscape designers from the community will engage with Public Works to help select the trees that meet that criteria. A perfect example of planning and design trumping engineering-first principles.
  • It was clear that the Public Works department is still unclear on what they did wrong. After stating that the Phase I project was a huge success, they then started presenting how they have changed every single aspect of the 2nd phase, ignoring consultant advice and relying on the personal anecdotal evidence received by the PW Director. At one point, PW’s 2nd in command responded that public input on parking kiosks was done in the form of calling city staff from other cities to see how kiosks have worked for them.
  • Old plans and policies, not one of which stated that 21 trees would be cut down all at once, were trotted out to support the fact that this was all well planned and understood. Again and again, Public Works took the position that they did everything right, but that we’ll change the policies/rules for the future so that everything will be done differently.
  • Apparently the Master Tree Plan exempts streetscape projects from noticing. PW wrote the plan. Not once did they explain what part of the community asked to have that exemption written into it. I’ll but $5 on the fact that that issue was never  discussed and that nobody ever really noticed it. Others, more involved in the development of the plan can correct me if I’m wrong.
  • After saying that pedestrian bulb-outs were removed from the plan based on the feedback of PSBA, “a few phone complaints” and “concerns of the risk management office {apparently Alameda is a special place where bulbouts are a risk liability to the City, unlike the rest of the universe…I mean seriously}, it turns out that the bulb-outs were value-engineered out of the plan to save money. However, the ones in phase 1 are where the healthy trees are, etc. Irony?
  • Some members of the public were looking to recall the council over this, convinced that just a council people approved the plan. This was put to rest hopefully.
  • After making some compelling statements about public process, School Board member Trish Spencer stood up, pointed at PSBA Executive Director and started yelling “you don’t even live here” in what was the ugliest moment of the entire meeting. This followed the Public Works Director saying that City Staff rushed the Tree removal and streetscape work based on Ratto’s comments at the City Council. Ratto found himself in the unfortunate position of having to say “I’m an employee who expresses the opinions of my Board when they ask me too.” It was a really ugly and divisive way to end the meeting.
  • The other jaw dropper was during a combative question from the audience about how PW could possibly have thought that the policies they were following (and had written) could make sense, the Public Works Director told an audience member “Then you should have gotten involved in developing the Master Tree Plan a few years ago.” {To this day, Public Works doesn’t seem to understand that the Master Tree Plan policy allows for the non-notification of trees in a streetscape, but doesn’t require it. Therefore, they still made a decision not to notice the trees.}
  • It’s clear that significant changes to the way that the city plans public works projects have to be undertaken. I think after last night, the City Manager’s office, who were in attendance, should have a very good idea of what the problems are with the “planning” that is coming out of the PW dept.
  • Lastly, Deputy City Manager Alex Nguyen “guaranteed” that staff would be bringing the council a Public Participation Policy for the city in the next couple of months. (that’s #2 on the petition, #1 is plant bigger trees, which we’ll get as well, though they may come in the form of smaller trees that grow 2-3 feet a year, two done, one to go).

Here’s the twitter feed, all the un-identified ones are mine, many of them are quotes from people in the meeting, though I rarely used “‘s, still getting used to twitter:

Staff presentation interupted twice by angry people. #alamtg

#alamtg parking meter uproar. Folks hate the kiosks.

#alamtg pw did outreach on parking meters. Asked cities what is the best way to implement there predetermined decision

#alamtg had to remove trees for streetlights.

#alamtg had to remove parking meters for trees

#alamtg eek. Support for kiosks! I’m personally fan

#alamtg parking kiosks are a pilot.

#alamtg calls get out “get back to the trees”

#alamtg didn’t it occur to you in the last five years to talk to the public

#alamtg comment “you have to notice trees in residential areas. It didn’t occur to you to notice?”

#alamtg tree master plan says trees should be kept under most circumstances

#alamtg streetscape plan says shade is undeairable….(laughter)

#alamtg 2002 plan says “over time” trees will be removed.

#alamtg exception for streetscape to clear cut

#alamtg PW director is getting testy with people’s questioning of PW de isions

#alamtg Only plans that show streetscape drawings are in 2000 vision plan

#alamtg apparently no drawings done for streetscape work during committee work

#alamtg PW says tree plan requires no notice for streetscape. And community approved

#alamtg school board member Spencer shouts “I wonder what they are thinking now!

#alamtg oh joy. Dot activity to decide tree types for the project.

#alamtg Speaker demands promise that what was done in this phase will not happen in the future.

#alamtg people want to know who to recall

#alamtg PW director just told an audience member that they “should have been involved in the tree plan” if they really cared

#alamtg businesses received notice that “site prep” would begin. No mention of trees.

#alamtg shop owner. We don’t speak for PSBA and sometimes PSBA doesn’t speak for us. :-)

@HRiderReed: Just said my piece… Here’s to moving forward. Lots of bogus goin on here #alamtg

#alamtg detailed list of trees being discussed. Caonpy. Damage to sidewalks. Size. Yawn

#alamtg we get to vote on six trees

@HRiderReed They’re letting everyone share their opinion via voting for species of tree #alamtg

#alamtg brisbane box. Mature at 50ft with 30 ft crown

#alamtg crape myrtle. 25 ft with 15 ft crown

#alamtg silver linden. 50 ft with 40 ft crown

@MonkeyBarsCA Hooray!! They’re using my online voting idea! Nice work #Alameda – way to go! #alamtg

@HRiderReed Hooray!! They’re using my online voting idea! Nice work #Alameda – way to go! #alamtg

#alamtg “starbucks tree might regrow. Will PW allow it to grow. Ans. No

#alamtg New trees will be 10-12ft

#alamtg chinese pistache 65 ft crown: 50

#alamtg frontier elm. 40 ft crown:30 ft

#alamtg hedge maple 35 ft crown: 35

#alamtg petition with 400+ sigs delivered

#alamtg process issues back on the forefront

#alamtg SB Spencer, when people are upset. A project should stop until its worked out.

#alamtg “Time to move forward in the process, so lets slow done and plan”

#alamtg landscape architect says tree options inappropriate for Alameda.

#alamtg Ezzy Ashcraft says: know the landscape designer, highly respect her

#alamtg a.nguyen says. Funding limits options. Master tree plan is the limit of what can be done.

#alamtg B. Mooney: stop saying “we can’t do that” and start working to do things different

#alamtg Tree officianado A. Dimushiva says tree plan gives more choice than PW is offering. All we need is in there.

#alamtg drop dead deadline for funding is: Oct. 2012. Then most of it disappeared.

#alamtg Economic Development did the design work. Then AMG killed it and PW took it over.

#alamtg Spangler jumping on bulbouts. When were changes made.

#alamtg PSBA asked for bulbouts to be removed and PW got a few calls.

#alamtg PW removed bulboutz to lower costs in third RFP attempt to save costs.

#alamtg Apparently people can take avoid parked cars at corners. But bulbouts the same size as that car are a problem.

#alamtg trees in previous bulbouts are the ones that are doing well

#alamtg Ratto there were no bulbouts in the plan originally.

#alamtg apparently thousands were saved by removing no existent bulbouts?

#alamtg Ratto. Streetscape plan was approved by council. Does he mean vision plan?

#alamtg SB Spencer. Lets do everything but trees so that we can decide on types of trees.

#alamtg back to kiosks

#alamtg now planning for moving forward.

#alamtg staff to meet with tree experts.

#alamtg consensus forming around the idea of asking public what characteristics the want and then let community experts choose the trees

#alamtg like the occupyoakland general assembly. Without the cool hand signals

#alamtg trees unite many people

#alamtg business owner reading a statement about impact on local biz during fourth quarter holidays. “thanks a lot city”

#alamtg PW Director says PSBA Exec asked the council to start as fast as possible.

#alamtg clarifies that PSBA Director comments were at Council

#alamtg PSBA ED clarifies that his comments at the behest of his board.

#alamtg Ugly “you don’t live here comments” starting.

#alamtg people leaving

#alamtg next steps. Back to identifying criteria

#alamtg shade. Growth rate. Canopy width. Damage to hardscape

#alamtg common sense recommendation. Just ask for positive attributes. Let experts figure out how to make it work