The removal of 50 mature street trees lining the California Avenue business district has some residents, shoppers and merchants upset.
The tree removal began on Monday, after the City of Palo Alto sent out notices to area businesses about the project, which is part of an overall beautification plan to help revitalize the city's "second downtown."
The plan includes replacing the mature holly oaks with red maples; resurfacing the street and adding additional parking spaces and striping; reducing the lanes from four to two with bike lanes; and adding new trash cans, new benches and bike racks, according to Mike Sartor, Palo Alto assistant public works director.
Workers said the new trees will be at least 10 feet tall, have 2.5-inch diameters and be planted after the stumps and roots of the old oaks are removed. Some pavement will also be replaced.
As chainsaws buzzed Tuesday afternoon and large pieces of tree trunks were loaded into trucks, some merchants and area residents expressed shock at the change.
"It looks like any other street in the Valley," said Joe Villareal, surveying the now-treeless northern side of the street. He added that he hoped the new trees would make up for the loss.
Hector Sol, owner of Palo Alto Sol restaurant, said the removal of a large tree in front of his place was already affecting his business.
"A huge, nice tree gave shade to the customers. They like to sit at the tables outside. Now they don't want to sit there; the sun hits the tables," he said.
Sol said he can understand pruning the trees, but he doesn't see a need to cut them all down.
"I feel so guilty that I wasn't here this morning. I would do anything not to let them cut my tree," he said.
The new maples won't be able to replicate the old, mature trees, he said.
"It will grow out in 20 years. By the time they will be nice and good I will be dead," he said.
Sol said he and other business owners were not consulted about the tree removals. He reasoned that if he wanted to remove a tree from in front of his place, he would have to get permission from the city; that arrangement should be reciprocal, with the city consulting with merchants who pay taxes, he said.
But Sartor said city planners had worked a long time with the California Avenue community and with the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA) to come up with the beautification plan. A city arborist had determined the oak trees were largely diseased. Those not needing immediate removal would have to be taken out in a few years.
"Rather than replace them over the next few years, it was decided to do it all at once," he said.
Acorns dropped by the oaks also cause a tripping hazard for pedestrians, arborists wrote in a notice to businesses.
The street "looks dead. It's going to take a long time until the trees will grow. We didn't expect them to cut everything down," Jit Lakngam of Lotus Thai Bistro said.
But some merchants said they are happy their storefronts can now be seen from the street, according to Ronna Devincenzi, president of the business-district association.
"Others said it will be fun to see the fall colors change on the newly installed red-maple leaves," she said.
At the California Avenue plaza, near the Caltrain station, some trees will remain while others will be uprooted, Devincenzi said.
The plaza's Chinese pistachio trees are doing well and will stay, but the pine trees behind the flagpoles and those parallel to the train tracks were removed due to poor health.
They "were so dense they were growing around the streetlights, impeding light from shining down, causing safety concerns, especially in that area, so close to where there were robberies of women last year," she said.
At least one merchant said he approved of the change. Sami Lama, owner of Mediterranean Wrapps, said if the oaks were a hazard, then he's happy the new maples will be put in.
The tree removal will continue on Wednesday and part of Thursday if necessary, workers said.