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My comments on 6/6 Item H2: Heritage tree appeal for 318 Pope Street

From: domainremoved <Mitchel>
Date: Mon, 5 Jun 2017 16:39:29 -0700

Dear City Council Members,

As you are aware I served on the Environmental Quality Commission for nearly eight years and have a good deal of experience in adjudicating heritage tree appeals. I live in the Willows neighborhood and have been closely following the appeals process in regards to the Heritage Redwood tree at 318 Pope Street which the owners are desiring to remove.

On the surface, the information presented by the appellant may seem sufficient to some to save the tree. Two private arborists assessed the tree, expressed concerns about the viability of the structure, indicated that the tree has a risk of failure and, given the size and location of the tree, attendant risk to life and property. The appellants express a great deal of concern for their safety and appeal to you to allow them to remove this heritage tree.

Yet, the City’s arborist, a professional deeply experienced in assessing the health of trees who utilizes a very thorough procedure, has asserted that while the tree does present some structural risks, these risks can be mitigated through cabling and careful watering, and the ongoing risk can be re-assessed through regular inspections.

The City’s Planning Commission has supported the survival of this tree as have the Environmental Quality Commissioners, on a unanimous basis.

In public letters and non-public NextDoor postings a large number of neighbors have supported the survival of this tree and a smaller number have supported its removal, with some asserting, and I paraphrase “the rights of the property owner to remove the tree if they determine it is a safety hazard.”

While I doubt that any of you need a reminder, Menlo Park’s Heritage Tree Ordinance does NOT in any way provide for property owners to remove heritage trees at their personal discretion out of concern for safety or any other reason. Instead, heritage tree removal is treated within the City’s adopted public policy as an exceptional circumstance. Our Heritage Tree Ordinance, in effect, requires property owners to act as stewards for their Heritage Trees, and enumerates the exceptional circumstances by which removal is permitted. I particularly draw your attention to Condition #8 of the Ordinance which requires you to consider whehere there is “availability of reasonable and feasible alternatives that would allow for the preservation of the tree."

Condition #1 of the Ordinance would enable the City to find for removal of a tree that has danger of falling if there was not a reasonable remedy available. As the City’s arborist has provided such remedies and they have withstood careful scrutiny by the EQC, I submit that this condition has not been met by the appellant.

Condition #2 is not an issue, as I believe the existing plans submitted by the owners (and the prior owners), contemplating preservation of this tree.

Conditions #4, #5, and #6 are quite persuasive to me as a former EQC member and a neighbor, and are implied in the comments of many of the neighbors asking you to protect this tree. Redwood trees as a species are under duress due to our changing climate. While some may argue that redwood trees are not native to the Willows neighborhood, those that are rooted in the San Francisquito Creek aquifer (as, I believe, is this tree), thrive in times of rain as well as drought. They sequester far more CO2 than does any other species of tree growing in our community. Redwood trees are long-lived and we have examples in Palo Alto (within the same aquifer) of redwoods that have lived for hundreds of years (such as El Palo Alto).

The ecological value of redwood trees may be unparalleled, as they are a home for numerous species for nesting, habitat protection, and shade. A neighborhood bird watcher has observed a golden eagle in this very tree. This particular tree also provides shade for many homes within the area, which I am quite sure is reducing HVAC bills during the warm and hot parts of the year.

This particular redwood tree is an extraordinarily beautiful specimen. As I walk through the Willows, I do not see any other redwood trees with such a beautiful canopy. Forcing the removal of this tree would be an enormous blow to the scenic beauty of the neighborhood. If a comparable replacement were to be planted, it would require at least 50 years to grow to such an extent.

My neighbors are concerned that if this tree should fall it could have a catastrophic impact on their home and/or that of their neighbors and/or cause grave injury. The assertion of this fear certainly gave me pause before composing this letter and I do not take it lightly. Yet, stepping back from this particular situation, I am mindful that failure of any number of tends of thousands of heritage trees in our community could have a similar unfortunate impact. This is the risk we take in choosing to live in a Tree City and in choosing to live in homes that have heritage trees that are protected by the public policy of our community. We cannot guarantee safety. Yet, we can reasonably mitigate risks.

It is your duty to protect this tree if a reasonable and feasible risk mitigation remedy is available to the owners, and the City arborist has identified such as a remedy, a finding that was validated by your very commission that is charged with vetting such determinations when appealed. A decision in favor of the appellant would in effect broadcast to our community that if you are afraid of your heritage tree, come to City Council to get permission to remove it. Thousands of our trees could be at risk.

The last time such a magnificent tree was threatened (220 University Drive, by a spec developer whose approved plans required tree removal), Council agonized for two meetings before voting 3-2 in favor of removal. In essence, you determined that there was no reasonable remedy available to protect the owner’s economic interest.

In this case, economics are not the issue and safety concerns can be reasonably addressed. Indeed, to act for removal of such a tree when reasonable remedies have been identified strikes me as quite unreasonable.

Please save this magnificent redwood tree and avoid setting an unfortunate precedent by siding with fear over wise mitigation.

Many thanks for listening.

Mitch Slomiak
former Chair and Member, Menlo Park Environmental Quality Commission


Mitchel J. Slomiak

Virtual CFO and Business Planning Services

Office: 650-322-6349

  "Nothing short of Everything will really do."
   --Aldous Huxley, Island
Received on Mon Jun 05 2017 - 16:43:37 PDT

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