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

 

 

 

3 comments for “Park Street Tree Post-mortem

  1. Ariane
    November 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Hi – I sat behind you at the meeting last night, and made a few comments. I am glad I left a few minutes before it sounds like it got ugly. As it was, the discussion literally gave me a giant pain in my neck. Thanks for your work with the petition and all. I am posting my comments below in as many places as I can. I am a resident, not a Park Street business person.

    It was enlightening and well attended. And to repeat what I said last night, in the future the public should not just be informed in advance of a public tree’s removal. The public should be given advance notice of the City’s intention to remove a tree, and the public should then be given the chance to stop it if that is what the majority of the citizens would prefer happen. Also, after the meeting I spoke with someone at a Park St. neighborhood business about the meeting. What I was told then in combination to what was said at the meeting brought a new aspect to the haste with which the trees were cut down. Recent CALTRANS funding approval that required using the funds before a deadline next year seems to have a lot to do with why these trees were hurriedly cut down all at once, when that is not how the project description said things would happen. It had basically said that only trees that were in bad health or causing safety issues would be replaced over time, not all at once. And, the discussion of the contractor bid process and changes regarding “bulb outs” was also enlightening. Early during the meeting the City representatives were trying to say that Phase 2 had some changes and updates after public feedback against the Phase 1 “bulb outs”. Later in the meeting it came to light that the deletion of “bulb outs” in Phase 2 was really the result of cost, budget, and funding amount issues, and also costs to the “risk management” department because of people whose cars had been damaged by hitting the “bulb outs”. And one public attendee also questioned how there had been a unilateral decision by City staffers to delete “bulb outs” from Phase 2 if they were specified in the “approved” and “vetted” plan. My friends, fellow Alameda residents and I, all thought the bulb outs were insane and a nuisance when they first started appearing on both Park and Webster Streets. The only “bulb outs” that I think have any value are the ones that serve as bus stops. How the streetscape plan was initiated, approved and vetted were also called in to question. It sounds as if the City Council was never given a full description of what was intended with the streetscape plan, and only limited details were submitted for “consent” by the Council.
    What happened to the trees on Park Street was horrific, mishandled completely, depressing, etc. It can’t be reversed. What can be changed are the policies within the City government and departments, to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, that true public input is sought (not just a small group on committees), that there is sufficient advance notice to the public to voice their concerns and stop undesired actions such as this, and also to fix the City and departmental approval procedures. So much was overlooked by those involved, five years went by since any true public notice was last given, the way it happened last month was not even in accordance to what was “approved”. The few remaining mature trees on Park St. need to be saved. If they are healthy, they should be trimmed and have the Phase 3 of the new “streetscape” include them in the design and implementation. There was a lot of damage control, “spin”, etc. last night. The majority there were trying to work towards solving the situation now in the best manner, and the meeting was very civil, but more distressing facts came out during the discussion.
    The whole nature and character of the city of Alameda and its residents, and why we chose to live here rather than some plastic box “developed” community, was overlooked in this process. There is no excuse for how this went down. I am afraid that some of my comments last night were incomplete as I don’t always finish my thoughts when I am speaking, especially when my feathers are ruffled. When I lived in San Francisco I saw City of SF notices posted on the trees in my neighborhood near the St. Francis Hospital letting the public know the hospital’s intention of cutting down the trees to make bigger driveways on three sides of the large city block. I put up posters all over the neighborhood and encouraged my neighbors to come to the public Planning Commission hearing, and apparently plenty of other people took action as well. I took the day off work to attend the meeting and there were many other people there as well to speak up against the trees removal. Our actions helped spare the majority of those trees, and the few that were removed had to be replaced in other parts of the blocks per the City’s instructions to the hospital. I spent a lot of time researching the issue of urban trees during that period. There are reasons that there are laws in place so that people cannot chop down trees willy-nilly. The urban canopy of trees contributes to a healthy environment.
    “Each person in the U.S. generates approximately 2.3 tons of CO2 each year. A healthy tree stores about 13 pounds of carbon annually — or 2.6 tons per acre each year. An acre of trees absorbs enough CO2 over one year to equal the amount produced by driving a car 26,000 miles. An estimate of carbon emitted per vehicle mile is between 0.88 lb. CO2/mi. – 1.06 lb. CO2/mi. (Nowak, 1993). Thus, a car driven 26,000 miles will emit between 22,880 lbs CO2 and 27,647 lbs. CO2. Thus, one acre of tree cover in Brooklyn can compensate for automobile fuel use equivalent to driving a car between 7,200 and 8,700 miles.” [from Nowak, David J., “Benefits of Community Trees”, (Brooklyn Trees, USDA Forest Service General Technical Report, in review) via http://www.coloradotrees.org/benefits.htm We have now lost part of our tree canopy and it will take many years to replace, along with really harming the beauty and feel of one of our main business areas that is enjoyed by many, now full of people saddened by the loss of the beautiful trees.

  2. Stephanie Palmer
    November 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    John,

    First, a BIG THANK YOU for the tweets, the info, the website, your time and the petition.

    Second, I wrote Alex Nguyen asking where I could find the meeting minutes / outcomes of last night’s meeting and he replied:

    Subject: Park Street Tree Meeting
    Date: Thu, 10 Nov 2011 17:24:35 -0800

    Dear Stephanie:

    Minutes were not taken at last night’s community meeting.

    We will be posting an update at the city website with the outcomes from the meeting and next steps.

    It should be up next Monday or Tuesday.

    Please contact me if you have any immediate questions.

    Sincerely,

    Alexander Nguyen
    Deputy City Manager
    City of Alameda, CA

    Just thought you might like to know. Have a nice night and thanks again for all that you have done so far.

    -Stephanie

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