California Avenue still has its trees, but this time it's the limbs that are missing.
About 40 newly planted trees in Palo Alto's bustling arts district have been excessively pruned, the city has determined, with many lower branches completely removed. City Arborist Eric Krebs reported the damage on Monday, prompting an immediate investigation.
The pruning was conducted by a contractor who is responsible for landscape maintenance at California Avenue and various local parks, according to a statement from the city. The contractor allegedly trimmed the trees to "remove eye-level branches that might be a hazard to pedestrians on the street and sidewalk," but did not discuss the trimming plans with city arborists or parks officials.
The contractor responsible for maintaining California Avenue and the medians on Birch Street is the Menlo Park-based company Gachina Landscape Management, which also maintains most of Palo Alto's parks. The city has traditionally maintained its parks with in-house staff, but the City Council decided in June to contract out most park-maintenance operations to save money.
"Typically, these contract maintenance workers are responsible for picking up litter along California Avenue, removing leaf litter from tree wells, tending to bed flowers in flower baskets, and the care and maintenance of shrubs and landscape material," the city's announcement stated. "Staff will continue to investigate this situation to determine what form of discipline, continued training, or administrative penalty will be appropriate in this situation."
After city officials learned about the damage on California Avenue, they barred the contractor from pruning any newly planted trees unless first directed to do so by city staff.
Trees are a sensitive subject in Palo Alto, and nowhere more than on California Avenue. In September 2009, the city authorized the removal of 63 holly oaks on California without properly notifying residents. The action prompted an outpouring of anger from the community, repeated apologies from city officials and a revamping of city procedures for tree removal.
Krebs inspected the trees and "believes the damage from the pruning will be minimal." Palo Alto officials will now monitor the trees and work to "ensure that these trees are nurtured during the next growing season to allow the trees to fully recuperate," according to the city's statement.