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City probes excessive tree pruning on Cal Ave

Original post made on Nov 26, 2010

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.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 26, 2010, 12:04 PM

Comments (54)

Posted by Bill, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Yawn ..

Posted by CHinCider, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Only in Palo Alto...............

............would this be described as having been "harshly trimmed"!

Did the contractor verbally abuse the trees while working on them? How "harsh" was it? Maybe something like "Bad little replacement tree - you'll never be as good as the ones that were cut down!" ?

Or maybe they were just severely pruned?

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 26, 2010 at 1:50 pm

The horror,..... the horror,....the horror.

Posted by City walker, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Meanwhile, several of the new trees planted a couple of weeks ago on the newly landscaped area of Greer Park have been dug up and removed. Removed, where to? The holes have been left with no trees.

What is happening to our city's newly planted trees? Perhaps residents should take over caring for them. We'd certainly do a cheaper and better job than the contractors who are paid thousands to do the job.

Trees disappearing, limbs removed, what's next?

Posted by Fed Up, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 26, 2010 at 6:22 pm

These City of Palo Alto scandals, trees and otherwise, must stop!

Note to City Council and the City Manager: Time to finish the clean out of the top ranks of the Public Works Department. Bring in all new leadership that is competent and also has integrity.

And no more phony investigations by the Human Resources Department either that are only meant to whitewash the top brass in order to pin the blame on the lower ranks for any scandals or foul-ups.

Get to the truth for a change, then let the chips fall where they will!

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Headline: Nothing much happens in Palo Alto

Discuss amongst yourselves

Posted by JT, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 27, 2010 at 4:09 am

This is news?!

The next headline in the Weekly: "PAINT DRIES ... The Weekly is first with Team Coverage."

Posted by DMW, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 27, 2010 at 10:48 am

The City of Palo Alto fouls up a huge removal of trees however long ago that was. THE CITY MESSED IT UP. and now they want to attempt to rectify their blunder.

I have a hunch this a publicity piece to say "hey look, we're monitoring the trees properly now, and if anything is wrong with them, dont blame us, blame this menlo-park landscaping contractor".

Posted by DMW, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 27, 2010 at 10:51 am

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

Posted by Bill Moisten, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 27, 2010 at 11:44 am

For those who think this is trivial story, imagine this - the city arbitrarily approves the removal of ALL of the trees in your yard and all of the trees in your neighborhood. You come home to find your neighborhood with no trees.

This is a big deal. First, an incompetent city planner allows a neighborhood group to unilaterally decide to cut down all of the trees without public input. Ironically there was nothing wrong with the trees. Clearly all of the neighbors here were quite upset. They then spend a lot of time correcting the problem only to have another contractor nearly ruin all of the new trees.

If you can't protect your environment, what can you protect?

Posted by Bill Moisten, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 27, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Gachina needs to replace the trees at their expense. Otherwise they'll lose a MASSIVE amount of business in this area given the level of outrage on this.

Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 27, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Please do not disparage Gennedy Sheyner. He is one of the best reporters on the Peninsula!!!

Posted by Tree Hugger, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 27, 2010 at 12:49 pm


"First, an incompetent city planner allows a neighborhood group to unilaterally decide to cut down all of the trees without public input."

"Ironically there was nothing wrong with the trees."

"Clearly all of the neighbors here were quite upset."

"They then spend a lot of time correcting the problem only to have another contractor nearly ruin all of the new trees."

"Gachina needs to replace the trees at their expense."

"Otherwise they'll lose a MASSIVE amount of business in this area given the level of outrage on this."
WRONG! In fact, my facilities manager is hiring them to do a major cut and landscape project out near the old Xerox facility; they do great work!

It's amazing, really amazing to see what people can find "outrage" about when there's nothing else going on. How about going over to EPA and reading to a little kid, or being a Big Brother?

How about some GRATITUDE on this Thanksgiving weekend, for all the obvious riches you have, compared to most on earth - instead of whining about something as inconsequential as a few branches being trimmed for the health of the trees?!?

Some people just won't let go. Breathe, Bill.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 27, 2010 at 4:00 pm

As I understand it, the reason that cutting off the low branches of these young trees was bad is that it can slow the growth of the trees and cause weak trunks.

For anyone interested, go to

Web Link

or google: "University of Florida trunk and caliper development" and then check out the section entitled "low branch management".

Click the small photos to move through the slide show.

There are some pictures of what can happen, including one of a tree bent over by the weight of its upper leaves and branches.

Posted by Amused, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 27, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Were the CITY ARBORIST and the folks from CANOPY contacted first? The last time Public Works handled Cal Ave trees, both were ignored. So were they involved THIS time, or was it a surprise?

If they were not, and IF the trees were compromised by the prunning, then give everyone involved in Public Works another bonus! $150K each should do it! Also hand out promotions! Rewarding incompetence is a nice tradition in Palo Alto!

The City Manager's office has another sucker to take the blame for this already in place, and they're so good at passing the buck.


If there's NO harm to these trees, then City Council can draw straws at which one of them takes CREDIT for this!

The Weekly can take photographs of the lucky council person in front of the trees. Either way, it's a win for Palo Alto! Well, sort of...

Good thing or bad, let's leave the nice reporter alone. He's only REPORTING this and it IS news.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 27, 2010 at 5:04 pm

As I understand, neither the city arborist nor Canopy were informed in advance.

Posted by Passer-by, a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2010 at 5:59 pm

What if a limb comes down during a storm and breaks a bunch of limbs on the way down? Should we fine mother nature????

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Bill Moisten,

Amen! It sickens me to see the ugliness that is now California Ave. I don't know why so many have a grudge against trees--perhaps they should all move to the desert.

Posted by Roger, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 28, 2010 at 8:17 am

Who is in charge over at the Palo Alto Department of Public Works? How can a foul-up like this happen again on California Avenue?

Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2010 at 1:26 pm

What is the date that the trees were pruned? What is the date that Eric Krebs initiated his retirement from the City of Palo Alto?

Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2010 at 7:18 pm

THIS IS NOT NEWS! Look at the pictures of the trees in this article. There is no "excessive" pruning. This is the best time of year to prune trees and train their growth to the upper branches. The alarmists in this city have a direct line to the press for anything they don't like, and it gets published.

Posted by Eric, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2010 at 8:10 pm

David read Alan's weblink.

Posted by Tree Hugger, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 29, 2010 at 2:18 am

These trees are NOT saplings; they were planted as larger-than-saplings. Take a look at the pics in the U. Florida link and compare the size of the trees - including trunk diameter - with the trees on California. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the trees in the U FL. pics are oaks. I don't think the trees on Cal Ave are oaks, right? Why don't you let the landscape experts do their work? ALSO, note that the CA Ave trees already have support/guide posts. The idea is to *control* their growth. Again, Bill, breathe!

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2010 at 7:48 am

Read the city's report: "City Staff Investigates Tree Trimming by Contractor on California Avenue"

Posted by kokopelli, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2010 at 8:03 am

Get rid of the contractors and let the City tree crew take care of the trees. They have the skill and experience.

Posted by Tree Hugger, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 29, 2010 at 10:40 am

from: Web Link

"The city determined one of its contractors trimmed the trees to remove potentially hazardous eye-level branches. The contractor had discussed the project with his own staff, but didn't notify Palo Alto's parks or tree divisions."


"Though trimming trees in their first season is potentially harmful, Krebs inspected the trees and determined *****"damage from the pruning will be minimal,"**** according to the statement.

Now, why is it so unusual for a company that has been *contracted* to take care of trees should be reporting-in about a simple tree maintenance routine? Note that the contractor asked his own *expert* staff about this? This is City micromanagement and weak story press gone wild!

Note that *eye level* branches were removed ***for safety***. I wonder what the outcry would have been if a senior citizen or a little kid had been seriously injured by getting poked in the eye with a branch while shopping on Cal Ave.? Talk about "Catch 22"; then we would have seen the headline: "Contractor Fails to Safely Trim Trees, Causing Injury" - followed by a "probe" into who is at fault! What a *circus*, seriously! If you work for or in the City, and mid-level or lower, you're screwed. If you're a contractor, you're screwed. The irony here is that the people who are in positions of real authority, and have power to right the boat, are either disconnected, operating from an outmoded 1950's style governance structure, or fearing for their jobs every living minute, causing all kinds of elaborate labyrinthian excuses and fixes, to satisfy all the wannabe "mayors" in our "watchdog" citizenry.

Note that Eric Krebs is quoted: "damage" will be "minimal". (and my guess is that the only reason he said even that is that he has to make it look like there *might* be damage because most of the people who are "outraged" about this are calling all over City Hall, and the City Chief just wants problems to go away - so they conveniently blame the contractor, or some low lying city staffer - what's new?

This entire charade continues is because some "concerned" Palo Altan" panicked when s/he saw the trees being trimmed, and called the paper). This is a perfect example of overt micromanaging and panicked reaction by staff, the press, and meddling by well-meaning but clueless citizens that makes work in City Hall by mid-level staff a living nightmare. The latter operate from fear because their higher ups are not accountable (they slough off responsibility for mistakes to mid-level, or to especially vulnerable senior staff). You've got a City Council that is disconnected and gets played by City Managers who are more politician than manager (they have to be, because there are about 50 wannabe mayors in Palo Alto, who know City Code backwards and forwards and want to be in on every decision).

Last, you've got the occasional Council member, like our present Mayor Pat Burt, who could have prevented the whole thing if he had only done his job and showed up at local business association and Parks and Rec meetings where Parks and Recreation and many staffers - including Canopy and other groups weighed in on and discussed their ideas and opinions about the Cal Ave trees. What galls me is that Mr. Mayor then acted "surprised" about all this, and then came out as someone who got points for helping to "fix" this fiasco. What a joke! And, of course, all the wrong people got blamed, with reputations hurt because a City Council member didn't do his darned job!! How about some reporting about THAT, Weekly?

Weekly, Gennedy may be a great reporter; how about putting him on a story that looks into the deep structural flaws of governance here - like how the City Manager is essentially a 10th politician - instead of junk stories like this one, designed to generate page views, and that in the end do nothing more than generate community dissension and get fingers pointed at the wrong people?

The trees on Cal Ave are going to be *fine*! We're going to see nice, healthy canopy that doesn't shed and lean and cause a mess, while providing pleasure and oxygen for all. Breathe, just like the trees are doing. Use the trees as a personal example.

Posted by Chainsaw Momma, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 29, 2010 at 11:13 am

I remember a similar misplaced outrage over the removal of an invasive non-native species in Arastradero Preserve--the craggy old lone eucalyptus tree. Any naturalist or ecologist can tell you what a problem these trees can be.

People, get a GRIP. Pruning a tree is *not* a death sentence. And, removal of a dying or diseased tree that can be a hazard is a good thing.

We should seriously consider pruning some useless city staff and politicians, however. :)

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 29, 2010 at 11:22 am

What really needs pruning are some of the NUTS at City Hall.......

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

Posted by Downtown, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Does this ever end????? I'm sure there are better things to focus on in PA then the trees on N. Cal.

Posted by JO, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I found the story quite interesting and I think that it points out one of the ongoing problems I see with City staff, especially Public Works staff. That problem is inadequate supervision and oversight of contractors and other staff. This is a costly problem because so much of Public Works' budget is spent hiring contractors to do the hands-on work, be it paving streets or trimming trees.

In College Terrace, there were many poorly installed traffic-calming devices. At one intersection near me, a traffic circle is poorly situated because drivers of vehicles stopped at the stop sign cannot see oncoming traffic without nosing directly into the pathway of oncoming traffic. This same traffic circle was initially installed with signs atop 8-foot tall poles inside the circle. These signs were located well above the line-of-sight of drivers entering the traffic circle, so it made the traffic circle invisible to some drivers encountering the traffic circle for the first time. We later learned that the signs were not properly installed. It is unclear whether the contractor failed to follow instructions or whether Public Works failed to provide proper instructions. In any case, there was lack of supervision by Public Works, and the problem was only later fixed (probably at additional City expense) after a driver plowed his car into the middle of the traffic circle, knocking down one of the signs.

My neighbor called Public Works when a contractor did a sloppy and unsafe job of installing a bulbout near her driveway. The Public Works staff person who was in charge of supervising the project responded that he was not even aware that the installation was taking place on that day. When he came out to inspect, bringing the necessary safety equipment with him, he agreed that the installed bulbout also improperly lacked a drainage hole, and said that he would have to have a drainage hole installed. That was over a year ago, and still no drainage hole.

It shouldn't have to take an auditor's report to get Public Works to improve oversight and supervision of contractors. Contracts should be written to include detailed requirements and specifications, and penalties or other consequences for failure to perform as specified. One of those requirements should be advance notification to the supervising staff person of when certain actions are being carried out. And the supervising staff person needs to keep on top of things, prevent damage before it happens, make sure things are done correctly, and take appropriate action right away when they are not.

If contractors are not doing a good job, that means that staff is not doing a good job.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2010 at 4:01 pm

The following staff report has been removed from the City's website - I wonder why?

"City Staff Investigates Tree Trimming by Contractor on California Avenue"

Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm

The contract for Landscape Maintenance Services is for work supervised by two City departments: Community Services and Public Works, but the only Project Manager is from Community Services, while the California Avenue tree wells maintenance was supervised by Public Works.

The Project Manager is listed on the Request for Proposals as Don Piana, with a mandatory pre-proposal conference in March 2010 and a bid deadline in April 2010, but Piana received his retirement resolution from the City Council on September 21, 2009.

Staff in both departments can plausibly deny that they had anything to do with what the contractor was doing.

Gachina's total three year contract is for $1,792,950 .

PRE-PROPOSAL CONFERENCE: 10:00 AM, Thursday, March 18, 2010
(Attendance is MANDATORY)
RFP SUBMITTAL DEADLINE: 3:00 PM, Thursday, April 8, 2010

Web Link

3 Year Contract with
Gachina Landscape Management Inc. in the Amount of $1,792,950 for
Landscape Maintenance Services. Web Link

September 21, 2009, Resolution on Don Piana retirement: Web Link

Posted by Dreamer, a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I have a dream that one day, in the great flatlands, hills and valleys of Palo Alto, there will be no more City department screw-ups, scandals, or scripted investigations of same. No more cover-ups, no more blame shifting downhill on the pecking order, no more crafty public relations to whitewash the top echelon.

"Some say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one ..."

Posted by CHinCider, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2010 at 6:06 pm

To "JO" -

Traffic calming device contracts are not managed by the Public Works Department. They are handled by the Transportation Division of the Planning and Community Environment Department.

Public Works often gets wrongly blamed for everything that happens in the street right of way, when other Departments such as Planning and Utilities have independent authority to act therein. Perhaps more authority should be given to Public Works to manage all activities within the street right of way in a coordinated fashion?

Posted by Tree Hugger, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 30, 2010 at 12:49 am

CHinCider: "Perhaps more authority should be given to Public Works to manage all activities within the street right of way in a coordinated fashion?"

This is a great idea, until one realizes that there is not accountability at the *top* in Palo Alto. Who is in charge? Is it the City Manager? No. Mayor? No. City Council? Kind of, until one considers that there are nine voices on the Council and they operate by majority decision, ***one item at a time***. Does that sound like a formula for chaos and inefficiency? You bet!

How on god's little acre does any political or administrative body *ever* get a defined vision going - with someone accountable for that vision, with a governance structure like the one we have? It's antiquated, slow to move, slow to react, no one at the top (appointed Mayors are essentially ribbon cutters and meeting facilitators - looks nice on the resume, but it's an empty gig in terms of real power). City Manager Kowtows to Council (who wouldn't, for $250K and all the perks, in an economy like this one). City Manager can hide all kinds of inefficiencies by steering trouble to mid- and low-level staff, and vulnerable senior staffers who are taking public flak from the 25-30 or so wannabe "mayors" in Palo Alto (they're there, at City Hall, every Monday, weighing in on most items, quoting city code, threatening lawsuits, etc.; you want a show - come on down!

The funny thing is, that most in positions of power here are happy with the way things are, and so are most Palo Altans. I get that. What I don't get are the lost opportunities to make this a really cool place to live; the political and administrative structure in this town simply waste most of the rich vein of political and social capital available to it. No point in going on about this, because comfortable people often very easily get used to their chains.

One thing I've never understood, with all the commissions in this town, why one already-existing commission, or a new commission (god forbid!) doesn't monitor public works. That may be a bad idea, because the local gadfly "mayors" are all over the commission meetings, too. They live for spreading their self-satisfied "wisdom". It's really quite the show! Who needs Commcast. Get yourself a ringside seat, next week!

Posted by Dreamer, a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2010 at 8:10 am

Palo Alto's dysfunctional city government needs true accountability, integrity, and transparency. The only way to get these is to continue cleaning house beginning at the top rungs until the bureaucratic culture of city government changes for the better.

Bring in competent, ethical people for real change.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2010 at 9:11 am

To "Dreamer" and some discussants who are so misguided and just plain weird.

Street trees need maintenance and pruning, it helps them grow strong and makes them safer for citizens who use the adjacent streets and sidewalks.

Your tree people are "competent and ethical." You have a lot of nerve to suggest otherwise. NOTE: They also have LIVES and do not exist to sabotage street trees (or the city as a whole), and city employees get no pleasure from sparring with you.

But then, this is Palo Alto -- so the irrationality of a few citizens reigns. OMG if the discussion on this site could only be rational ...."Some say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one ..."

Posted by Jaco P, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

Tree Hugger,

You are the only one that put together any sort of competent argument. Everyone else is just participating in the witch hunt. Thank you for laying down some good arguments even though I doubt anyone here (besides me) took any time to listen to them.

Once again this story is not a big deal and the trees will be fine. What happened on Cal Ave in the long run is an excellent thing.

Funny thing was that the trees were pruned weeks ago and nobody noticed until the report was released. I guess it's so obvious right?


Posted by mark, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm

people of palo alto panic over any thing spoiled grown up children that look like adults.

Posted by Ronna Devincenzi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm


I enjoyed reading your comment, and I too, took the time to read all these posts. That leaked "Executive Summary" of information supplied by exclusively *internal* sources, was incorrect in SO many important areas, news of Cal Ave and its trees draws my attention.

"Neighbor" - I wasn't able to read the link you supplied; now I see you pointed out it was removed from the city web site. Thanks for the heads up that the page even existed. It's good to know.

"Deep Throat" - on Nov. 28 at 1:26, you mentioned Eric Kreb's retirement. Krebs is not retiring, last I heard; if he is, it's news to me. Perhaps you meant Glenn Roberts?

Also you mentioned Don Piana's name in a post 22 hours ago = Don Piana was one of Palo Alto's finest employees and managers. He deserved his proclamation from City Council when he retired, LONG ago.

Don had nothing at all to do with trees, ever. The public should thank Don for all the improvements he and his stellar Parks staff made to Cal Ave: including helping me with -

1) the installation of 12 window boxes containing floral color spots on the brick wall dividers all along Cal Ave, and the planters w/roses
2) the installation of the plaque commemorating the Founding Fathers of CAADA & in time to honor Mike Golick, only months before his death.
3) the masses of seasonal flowers on El Camino Real by the California Native art project in the Gateway area.
4) Being enthusiastic about landscaping the new patio/brick wall area by the former Bistro Basia on Cal Ave at Park Blvd., after I got it created and installed.
5) Moving the concrete planters around to different stores where they would make the best impact for pedestrians to enjoy the flowers.
6) almost miraculously getting the fountain pump to work, year after year, for almost 10 years, when each year he told me it was going to die "soon". It finally did.
7) Answering e-mail and phone messages immediately, and for caring about Palo Alto. If none of the above happened, Don would be terrific, if just for this!

Don was such a great manager that his whole staff was like him: happy, friendly, outgoing, enthusiastic, profesional, and having the ability to lead as well as be a team-player. Don knew the meaning of
"Community Engagement for the Common Good" & he knew his role in it.

Don and [those few] city staff that are LIKE him, be they upper level management or lower level, need to be THANKED AND SUPPORTED by everyone, that is, if Palo Alto EVER sees itself as being functional.

Thanks for reading this, Jaco, and for making an effort to know facts.

Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Nov 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Had to laugh at poster "fed up" who pleads to the city manager and city council to bring competent leadership that has integrity to city staff to end city scandals. Too Funny! Heres a better idea, bring a competent city manager and city council with leadership and integrity and the scandals will end. I'm sure Keene will hire a private consultant to head a Blue Ribbon Committee to get to the bottom of this new scandal. Only the Weekly could find wrong doing in pruning trees that leads to multiple postings about nothing.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I feel sorry for the PA Weekly; all they did was take the details from the City of Palo Alto website article "City Staff Investigates Tree Trimming by Contractor on California Avenue".

Unfortunately, that article has been conveniently removed from the city's website. Such phrases as "harshly pruned" and "Hazardous eye-level branches" were direct quotes from the City's article.

Posted by JO, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 30, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Regarding traffic calming devices. It was a Public Works employee who was overseeing the bulbout construction and who came out to deal with my neighbor's complaint. I confirmed this with my neighbor. I won't spell out the employee's name, though my neighbor says he is a standout good person to deal with in Public Works. So, while the Planning Department may be in charge of designing the traffic-calming devices, at some point Planning hands it over to Public Works to handle the actual construction. Maybe this hand-over is part of the problem. (Communication problems & passing the buck problems).

As to over-pruning of young trees, the following is a true story that I think speaks both to the tree pruning and to Public Works dysfunction.

When I volunteered for Canopy about ten years ago to survey young neighborhood street trees, the volunteers were given hands-on instruction from Dave Sandage, then Public Works managing arborist, since retired. He emphasized to us that it is important to keep all the lower branches uncut on newly-planted street trees for a few years until the trees are well-established. As I recall, he pointed to the added protection the lower branches provided against sun and other weather damage to the lower trunk, and also the protection against mechanical damage caused by opening car doors, etc. The lower branches also contribute to the overall energy-production from photosynthesis and results in a healthier tree.

So I was upset and concerned when I got home one day, soon after Dave Sandage's instruction, to find that a newly-planted street tree in front of my home had been stripped bare of its lower limbs, as had other slightly older trees on my street. I phoned Dave Sandage, and eventually learned that the mistake had come about due to poor communication in instructions given to the street tree-trimming crew. (The crew had finished a job earlier than expected so were told to go over to College Terrace and trim some trees there. Dave Sandage told me that he had not meant for them to prune the young trees, just the mature trees). I never did get an explanation of why the street tree-trimming crew (at that time city employees, not contractors) hadn't been trained not to remove lower limbs from young street trees. At my request, Dave Sandage came over and wrapped protective tree wrap around the lower trunk of the de-limbed young street tree.

I would think that maintaining lower limbs on young trees is current standard practice for professional arborists, but, if it is not, then the City should have specifically required that all tree-trimming contractors follow this practice. I refer back to my previous comment about inadequate instruction, supervision and oversight.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 1, 2010 at 9:01 am

I called city about a heavy branch on a street tree 10 days ago. They sent 2 people with a cherry picker and proceeded to do a great job removing the branch and pruning the entire tree. They were very pleasant people who seemed to bear no malice against the tree, simply enjoyed doing a good job.

I assume the california ave trees were pruned in a way to encourage them to grow to be street canopy trees.

Posted by PA, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm

This mistake (excessive pruning of young trees) was made by Gachina Landscaping staff- the City's contractor.

This is exactly what you get when you use contract labor. You cannot possibly expect the same level of service you had when you had permanent City employees caring for our Park areas

I understand that Gachina staff recently destroyed a native plant at Bol Park. They appearantly didn't know the plants were native.

We need to decide if this is the level of service we want. Personally, I think we should either get a different contractor or hire professional permanent staff to do the job correctly.

You get what you pay for.

Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm

You are absolutely correct in saying that you get what you pay for. Remember back during the labor negotiations? People were up in arms about labor costs and wanted the city to contract out services. Well, you got it.

Posted by Alex, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 2, 2010 at 12:42 am

Am I the only person who prefers no trees on Cal Avenue?

Posted by Resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2010 at 8:46 am

Has anyone, noticed the pruning job to the Pistache trees on Cambridge east of ECR?
They were pruned at about the same time as the new trees on CAl Ave., maybe by the same contractor? They look very over pruned to me i wonder if an arborist could comment on this?
I think the important lessons here are: better staff oversight and supervision of outside contractors and appropriate responses by supervising staff to jobs done incorrectly.
Contractors who do not perform their jobs correctly should be asked to fix the problem, have their pay reduced and/or be dropped from a list of approved companies the city contracts with. It is simply a waste of money to hire inferior companies and problematic when the poorly done work effects the health of our trees.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm

What is more effective..An inferior contractor who does a mediocre job,
or city crews who do a decent job, but have a large price tag in regards to their retirement and benefits. We can't have both. I don't know the answer, but I'd like to take a survey with the PA online folks and see how they feel. Survey says: contractors who do a marginal job, or city staff with large overhead.

Posted by CHinCider, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Sonny -

Good point.

Remember that the City process and State law require that when bid out to contractors the project must go to the low bidder. You DO get what you pay for, and especially in the current economic climate contractors bid artificially low just to get the jobs and stay in business, and then cut corners to make a profit.

The private sector is not so constrained in hiring contractors; they do not have to take the low bidder and can negotiate the price and quality of service.

Posted by Ronna Devincenzi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2010 at 4:02 pm

The trees on Cambridge are all Pistache. The city had said this particular species has issues with branches needing a lot of pruning.

Last Fall, a huge limb fell at the corner of Cambridge and Birch Street, looking to have just missed hitting a car by the hair salon.

It was so big, the fallen branch took over an entire street parking space and much of the sidewalk. It would have been dangerous, had someone been walking under it, or parked under it.

While those trees may look over-pruned, it must have been done for safety purposes, due to that variety.

At some point, City professionals have to be allowed to do their work. The public should be notified of what's happening, but it's not a healthy way to run a city to have the professional's opinions second-guessed so much.

Cities are responsible for creating a functioning environment.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Below is a report from Canopy:-
Inappropriate Tree Trimming Threatens Newly Planted Trees.
Dozens of newly planted trees on California Avenue were improperly pruned last week by a City of Palo Alto contractor. Large percentages of the lower branches were removed without approval.

Removing the lower limbs of young trees, sometimes called "lollipopping," is a poor practice because it limits the amount of photosynthesis a tree can do to produce needed sugars. Much like "tree-topping," these acts of pruning might take minutes to do, and may be perceived as attractive, but can seriously impact the survival of young trees. For more information, please see Canopy's webpage on Tree Mistakes to Avoid.

Temporarily leaving lower branches on young trees is critical to building strong trunks and enabling early growth. "The last thing we want to see is the growth of these trees stalled by improper care," says Canopy's Program Director Michael Hawkins.

The contractor involved has been reprimanded. It is unclear what other actions the City should take to ensure proper young tree care. However, the situation demonstrates the importance and need for an Urban Forest Master Plan in Palo Alto. We need this plan to spell-out clear protocols and processes to keep our urban trees protected, and to safeguard the young trees in our parks, on our streets, and at our schools.

Posted by stevenrogers, a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Thanks for the info. My son used to help run a tree service in calgary. They would plant them and water them twice a week for a month for $20. He was about 15 back then so it was a lot of money to him. Oh, the good old days. I have no idea why I just told complete strangers that story.

Posted by Realist, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 8, 2013 at 8:42 am

Let's see.. City hires contractor to prune trees. Contractor hires a bunch of unskilled labor, perhaps even illegal labor to prune the trees by rule of thumb while contractor pockets large profit. City arborist comes along and provides a technical explanation to justify his salary and position. Only in Palo Alto. Err. Well maybe it's actually happening everywhere if it's anything like my hardwood floor contractor.

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