When it comes to trees, the golf course's loss may be Arastradero Preserve's gain.
As Palo Alto officials plow forth with a complete overhaul of the city's municipal golf course in the Baylands, they are considering ways to mitigate the loss of 500 trees, which would have to be axed as part of the overhaul. One strategy, which the city is now refining, is to plant new trees in other parts of the city. Assistant Community Services Director Rob de Geus said Tuesday night that Arastradero is a leading candidate for the canopy influx.
De Geus told the Parks and Recreation Commission on Tuesday that city officials had consulted with its partners in the nonprofit community, including Acterra and Canopy, on coming up with strategies to mitigate the tree loss. Arastradero became a leading candidate because it once boasted an oak woodland. Many of the trees were chopped down when the preserve became a horse ranch. Now, the plan is to get live oaks back to Arastradero, de Geus said.
The reconfiguration of the golf course, which is set to begin next spring, was prompted by a regional effort to boost flood protection around the volatile San Francisquito Creek. The plan, which is spearheaded by the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, targets the particularly vulnerable area between U.S. Highway 101 and the San Francisco Bay. It includes building a levee on the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course.
Even though the creek-calming plan would only require the reconfiguration of six or seven holes, Palo Alto officials decided to use the occasion to do a full-scale overhaul, one that would impact just about the entire 18-hole course and emphasize its Baylands location. The reconfiguration would also make room for three athletic fields and a gym.
De Geus stressed on Tuesday that even with the tree removal, the project would have significant environmental benefits. The managed turf area would be reduced by 40 percent, from 135 acres to 81.3 acres, according to the draft Environmental Impact Report for the golf reconfiguration. In addition, nonnative plants and trees would be replaced with native grasses, the report states. Reducing the space that has to be irrigated, fertilized and mowed and converting it to natural areas "vastly improves the Baylands ecosystem in that area," de Geus said.
Even so, going native comes at a price chiefly, trees. The subject became a hot topic at the June 26 meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commission, where several commissioners wondered why so many trees had to be removed. Forrest Richardson, who is designing Palo Alto's new golf course, told the planning commission that most of the trees pegged for removal are "in very poor health and very marginal." He also noted that the design team has identified the course's "iconic" trees and will preserve 80 percent of them.
The Parks and Recreation Commission briefly discussed the subject Tuesday night and agreed to form an ad hoc committee, consisting of Commissioners Deirdre Crommie and Stacey Ashlund, to work with staff on identifying possible locations for new trees.
"We've never been entirely comfortable with that," Chair Ed Lauing said of the tree removal. "They're taking a lot of trees."
De Geus agreed and said that while the restoration of the native habitat in the Baylands is one mitigation for the tree loss, another mitigation would be to replant trees in other parts of the city within a decade.
"We're actually saying, this is good and great, but we also want to replace the entire canopy loss within 10 years," de Geus said. "A lot will happen on the golf course, but the new golf course and Baylands isn't a good place for a lot of the trees."
While many of the new trees are currently slated to take root in the foothills, a final determination has yet to be made. Arastradero, de Geus said, is "not a done deal." Ashlund suggested that some be planted in urban areas, including pocket parks and prominent medians, such as along El Camino Real.
The reconfiguration project is scheduled to undergo another review in front of the Planning and Transportation Commission on July 31. The meeting will be focused on the draft Environmental Impact Report, which has a comment period that ends on Aug. 1.