With more than 600 trees about to get the axe at the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, city officials are looking at nearby marshlands, distant foothills and the golf course itself for possible locations to regain lost canopy.
The city's Parks and Recreation Commission approved on Tuesday night a plan that would mitigate the loss of trees at the Baylands golf course by undertaking a range of planting projects, including one nowhere near the impacted site. The "hybrid" approach includes planting about 300 smaller trees at the golf course, which is about to undergo a complete redesign. In addition, the city's mitigation strategy includes the restoration of at least 2 acres of native Baylands habitat near the golf course site and protection of up to 500 seedlings at the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve.
The strategy, which combines new trees at the site, new trees outside the site and new plant species in the marshes, was put together over months of negotiations between staff, nature-loving stakeholders and a three-commissioner subcommittee. In the end, the parties reached a consensus on the the multi-pronged approach but had differing opinions on how to fund the maintenance of the new trees. City Arborist Walter Passmore and staff from the Community Services Department favored using the revenues from the new and improved golf course to pay for maintenance. Commissioners advocated finding a revenue stream that is not tied to the golf course's performance.
"We're trying the best we can to tie a secure funding source to maintenance so that we can have the best possible chance of success," Passmore said in explaining staff's proposed funding strategy.
Ultimately, the commission voted 6-1, with Pat Markevitch dissenting, to adopt the commission subcommittee's approach. Markevitch voted against the proposal because of her uncertainty over funding sources.
In approving a "hybrid" approach mitigating the loss of 538 trees at the golf course and another 81 trees at a nearby site that the city is considering for a possible Athletic Center, commissioners agreed to give the community's values over pure mathematics. It makes no sense, the commission reasoned, to simply replace the number of felled trees at the course with the same number of new trees, particularly given the city's mission to emphasize the golf course's Baylands theme during the redesign. The 300 trees that would be planted at the golf course would be significantly smaller than the ones chopped down.
In pursuing the other components of the mitigation, the city emphasizes the projects' "qualitative attributes," namely their ability to enhance the recreation experience and support the native habitat that was heavily impacted by the golf course's construction half a century ago.
Commissioner Deirdre Crommie, a member of the three-member subcommittee, spoke highly of the mitigation proposal and supported a strategy that does not require a new tree to be planted for each tree lost. Rather, they agreed that the city should plant as many smaller trees as the golf course's new design can comfortably accommodate and then look elsewhere for further mitigations. The idea was to make these improvements as close to the golf course as possible, Crommie said.
"We came up with a hybrid model where we'd bring in as many trees as we can on site," Crommie said. "When we reach that capacity, we'd move into a different type of habitat."
She noted that the approach would help to restore the Baylands and "produce a more native Baylands habitat."
But both she and commission Vice Chair Ed Lauing argued that the success of the this mitigation strategy should not depend on the success of the golf course. Staff estimates that it would cost about $200,000 to implement the mitigation strategy and another $20,000 in annual maintenance fees. Lauing suggested that the city should designate a specific budget item for the maintenance and said the commission would be willing to help the council come up with a revenue source.
"We're saying it can't depend of the golf course performing," Lauing said of the mitigation strategy. "Because if the golf course doesn't perform, we can't let the trees die."
Ultimately, it will be up to the City Council to decide which funding plan to pursue. Staff plans to present both alternatives to the council for possible approval on Feb. 3.