Latest allergy-based redwood removal denied

City dodges critical question: Is it OK to cut down an allergy-causing tree?

Without ruling on the validity of allergy-based tree removals, Planning and Community Environment Director Steve Emslie denied an application to remove two redwoods on Byron Street last week.

Property owners Lauren Janov and Mark Grossman have 14 business days, beginning Monday, to appeal the decision, City Arborist Dave Dockter said.

Janov refused to comment Tuesday.

The couple had applied to cut down two healthy redwood trees on Oct. 9. One tree is partially located on city land between the sidewalk and the street, qualifying it as a city street tree, Emslie noted earlier.

Janov and Grossman cited allergies as the reason for the removals, the same justification that had allowed them to cut down four other redwood trees at their 2063 Byron Street home this summer.

But this time Emslie said no.

To remove the jointly owned 90-foot-tall tree both parties would have to agree, Dockter wrote.

"The city does not wish to remove this tree; therefore, the application to permit removal of the ... redwood tree must be denied," the letter states.

The other, 70-foot-tall tree's fate is linked to the taller tree.

"Given that the larger (90-foot-tall) redwood tree in the front yard will remain, it is reasonable to assume that removal of the (smaller) tree will not eliminate the allergy concern in the front yard," Dockter wrote.

The letter does not mention the receipt of a petition from more than seven neighbors opposing the removals, or other correspondence and calls advocating saving the trees.

Despite the potential of an appeal, neighbor Bob Herriot said Tuesday he was pleased with the decision.

"I think (Emslie) listened to the community and it appears he decided to place the wants of the community above the wants of an individual," Herriot said.

Emslie was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The issue of allergy-based tree removals aroused tree-lovers' ire this summer when the Bonomi family of Lowell Avenue received permission to cut down two redwoods by providing a doctor's note.

Lauren and Flavio Bonomi had tried for months to win approval to have the trees removed. They , produced voluminous reports, citing the trees' threat to their children and they even brought their priest to testify before the City Council shortly before midnight one night in May.

But a month later they quietly submitted a doctor's note (Grossman visited the same doctor) wioth a bare-bones application and the Bonomis had their long-sought-after removal permit.

At the time, Emslie said the city had to respect the medical need for the trees' removal, basing his decision on a 2005 case where a Kenneth Drive resident received a permit to cut down a redwood tree after submitting a doctor's note citing allergies.

Mature, healthy redwood trees are classified as "protected" in Palo Alto and property owners must apply to remove them.

The city's Oct. 31 ruling leaves open the larger question ofwhether protected trees should be removed based on medical claims.

Seven Palo Alto redwoods have been removed since 2005 based on allergy complaints.

Catherine Martineau, executive diretor of the tree-advocate group, Canopy, has pointed out that tree pollen, which causes allergies, flows freely across property lines.

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1 person likes this
Posted by Treehugger
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:51 am

It seems wrong to cut down redwood trees. And I think that the medical excuse is just that, an excuse. It is pretty likely that the trees were in place before these people bought their homes, and now they've decided, for one reason or another, they want more lawn, more space to expand their houses, or whatever, so the trees have to go. These trees should not be just a convenience for homeowners' whims.

It's as ridiculous as someone moving into a home by the railroad tracks and then complaining about the noise from the trains (although that happens too).

The redwoods were there first. If you didn't like them, you shouldn't have bought the house. If you planted them, well, live with your decision.

Kudos to Palo Alto's Emslie and Doktor for holding firm to keep redwood trees. They will be here long after we are gone. As it should be.

1 person likes this
Posted by El Palo Alto
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:39 pm

Hooray. City Hall got it right this time.

The allergies loophole has to go. It doesn't hold water. If pollen is the motivation for taking down a tree, then all the other redwood trees in the neighborhood would need to come down, too, in order for it to be an effective solution. And since that won't/can't happen, the city should not validate allergy-based petitions for tree removal.

1 person likes this
Posted by Swami Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Hear! Hear!

1 person likes this
Posted by Logical
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:40 pm

All I can say is... where is people's logic? The tree restrictions only started a few years ago. How would these people have known when they moved in that they would have no control over trees on their property if they ever became a problem?

Also, it is amazing how many people are claiming to be experts on the Grossman allergies (including the city). The ones who aren't dismissing them as a non health concern, or assuming the Dr's note is bogus, are certain that pollen from everywhere else overwhelms the pollen from the tree immediately overhead.

2 people like this
Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:43 pm

Guess you're all OK with having your neighbors control what color you paint your house, too (hey, it was taupe when you bought it!). Redwoods are non-native to the valley floor and inefficient trees. The roots trash sewers, driveways and sidewalks.

I'd like a full inventory of the trees in all of your front yards!

1 person likes this
Posted by Cut down trees
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:50 pm

Clearly Emslie did not want to incur the wrath of Canopy again.
Also one has to wonder how unbiased Dave Docktor is, since he is a member of Canopy and apparently the city lets him provide information on tree removal requests to Canopy so that they can marshal their forces (there is no such thing as a tree that should be cut down according to Canopy)
This is another example of a vocal group getting their way with the city by yelling and screaming loudly.

1 person likes this
Posted by janette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2007 at 4:01 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Pro-Redwood
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2007 at 10:41 pm

according to my girlfriend, the "redwoods-are-not-native-to-palo-alto" claim is bogus. she says redwoods used to commonly follow water courses all the way down from the hills, and the reason we don't see them today is that they were cut down and never replanted, unlike the forests up in the hills, which were also largely cut down but allowed to regrow. i believe her until someone offers good evidence to the contrary.

1 person likes this
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 10:58 pm

So El Palo Alto isn't native? . . .

2 people like this
Posted by BJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:04 pm

I do support Janov/Grossman's application for removal of these trees. Canopy has no right to interfere with an individuals property rights.

I wonder when this couple bought the house their real estate agent warned them about the "Tree Ordinance" and that they may not be given permission to remove the redwood trees?

I'm just glad I don't have either redwood trees or live oaks on my property. I certainly will never plant them.

1 person likes this
Posted by History buff
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:23 pm

Hi Pro-Redwood and girlfriend,

Take a look at the historical photo archives in the library.. Palo Alto was oaks and grasses. You don't see any redwood stumps in this photo, but the oaks are all over the place.

Web Link

The San Fransiquito Creek is along the border with Menlo Park and many years ago had more water... hence lucky El Palo Alto, but this area was not known for logging. The redwoods had already declined in this area long before it was settled.

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Free thinker
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:43 pm

"The redwoods were there first. If you didn't like them, you shouldn't have bought the house. If you planted them, well, live with your decision." - Treehugger

Yikes, so what if the person you marry happens to be an ax-murderer? Most people put a lot of thought into who they marry, and yet, mistakes are made and divorces happen.... a lot. Most people put very *little* thought into what they plant in the garden, and yet, mistakes are made... sooooo, tough luck??? hmmm... fuzzy logic here.

what's next? telling them to uproot their family, to move somewhere else, and to give up all the bennies of Prop 13? they have to turn their lives upside down for a couple of renewable resources that grow like weeds? sorry, i stopped drinking canopy's kool-aid looonnnnnnggggg ago.

1 person likes this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2007 at 12:51 am

This native vs. non-native things confuse me. "Native" trees we shouldn't cut down, but "non-native" we can? How come? I can denude my lot of birch, maple, and dogwood, but the misshapen oak and over-sized redwood must stay? Sure, there may be reasons to encourage "native" trees (maybe they grow better) - but why should we forbid cutting them down?

And why do these trees need "protection" anyway - because people want to cut them down? Maybe if people want to cut them down - there's a message there!

That said, it seems clear that redwoods aren't native to suburban back yards, especially Palo Alto postage stamps. They don't even fit! And it seems obvious that the valley floor (ex creeksides) doesn't have the water.

My poor new neighbors - just moving in, three "young" redwoods (~20 years) planted too close to the house. In 10-20 years, they will TOWER over the house, drop limbs on it, dig into their foundation - and what can they do? We have tens of thousands of trees, folks - we need laws to protect them?

I hope the new council see this regulation for what it is - a well-intended but misguided regulation of something that should be left to homeowners to decide. Take back the yard!

1 person likes this
Posted by Who's watching City Hall?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2007 at 8:03 am

I guess I am one of the lucky ones since the city allowed me to remove a protected tree awhile back. It was no easy task having to convince the city arborist of the merits of my case between his waxing poetic about God’s trees and his sophistical reasoning.

Having gone through the process I cannot resist sharing some observations on disturbing trends I see here, with my case and the case reported in this article.

I know the tree ordinance. The city’s Planning Department is making it up as it goes since nowhere does the ordinance mention that:

- The city’s “wishes” are a factor,
- That the city can refute a medical opinion from a licensed doctor, mind you that it accepted as valid few month’s earlier, based on its conjecture of what is “reasonable to assume” about someone’s medical condition without a medical license and exam or doctor’s letter specific to the homeowner to back it,
- Neighbor input can be taken into consideration, whether you like it or not.

It’s about following the law, folks. Read it yourself. Search for Palo Alto Municipal Code and find Section 8.10.

So, whether you like protected trees or not, everyone in town should be concerned that someone over on Hamilton Avenue is allowing city employees to ignore our city ordinances and write their own.

Also disturbing is what others have hinted about above. One quick visit to the Planning Department’s webpage and it is crystal clear that Canopy isn’t just your mother’s nonprofit. It sure seems to have an influence over and say in what happens in that Planning Department like no other nonprofit I know and perhaps more than other traditional special interest groups that the papers always complain about.

Most of what the City Arborist reported to the public about his work in October was about Canopy:

“Dave Dockter, Managing Arborist in the Planning Department . . . will speak [about] the City of Palo Alto’s . . . cooperative relationship with Canopy, a nonprofit. Dave will also be the featured speaker at the annual Canopy Tree Steward Certificate Workshop Series, discussing "The Miracle of Community Trees"

I bet there is more of the same if you Google it.

God? Miracles? Wishes? Practicing medicine without a license? Celebrity speaker? Cooperative relationships?

Shame on the city for not being more ethical, fair, empathetic and grounded on earth and in law with the residents it is supposed to be governing.

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Posted by And a word about tree allergies
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2007 at 9:11 am

Treehugger, El Palo Alto and Swami Alto consider this:

From the Asthma and Allergy Foundation:

Allergy is the 5th leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all ages, and the 3rd most common chronic disease among children under 18 years old (allergies are the most frequently reported chronic condition in children, limiting activities for more than 40% of them)

The most common indoor/outdoor allergy triggers are tree.

From the National Ag Safety Database:

To avoid acute allergy problems in the home landscape, several steps can be taken. Individuals suffering from allergies can make informed decisions about plant materials least likely to cause attack, choosing "safe" plants.

From Marianne C. Ophardt, Washington State University Cooperative Extension

two-thirds of the pollen from wind pollinated trees and shrubs is distributed within 60 feet of the source and 90 per cent of the pollen within 90 feet.

That means that for most of us the pollen that aggravates our allergies is in the landscape at home, school, or work.

That means we can have partial control over the situation by selecting and planting trees, shrubs, and flowers that won’t cause as many allergy problems caused by plant pollens.

Some communities have already come to the realization that certain pollen producing plants are causing a problem. Tempe, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada have outlawed the planting of olive and mulberry trees because of they’re extremely allergenic.

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Posted by thanks for sharing
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 8, 2007 at 10:23 am

Canopy’s exec director must not have been aware of the info on tree allergies and the limited range of tree pollens having been quoted several times in the Weekly for saying that tree pollen “which causes allergies, flows freely across property lines.”

Canopy’s website shows Coast Redwoods as native to Palo Alto , something that appears to be wrong too according to all the links and authority posted on other similar Town Square threads.

I wonder if Canopy would take a different position on saving redwoods if it better understood them, especially if they talked to Gamble Gardens and UC Ag division’s experts who say that redwoods belong in the forest and not on small residential lots like we have here in Palo Alto (discussed in another TS thread too).

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Posted by Swami Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2007 at 1:06 pm

And a word..."To avoid acute allergy problems in the home landscape, several steps can be taken. Individuals suffering from allergies can make informed decisions about plant materials least likely to cause attack, choosing "safe" plants."

Good neighbor. We are, in this life, gifted with the wisodm of foresight. But alas, some of us are not as gifted as others.

When one plops down the many rupees necessary for one's dwelling, one would be wise to take note of the problems that close and nearby trees will cause to one's allergies.

So it is written, so it is said: those who have allergies should live far from the cover of trees, for the least of them will profit from the warmth of the sun on their inflamed sinuses.

Be well.


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Posted by Free thinker
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Hmmmm. There are assumptions that people who suffer from allergies know their triggers from birth, as though they were born with an instruction manual. In our house, most instruction manuals get tossed out with the packaging.

A lot of allergy sufferers learn about their sensitivities the hard way, *after* being exposed and then developing the hyper-sensitivity. Even people with allergies to bees may be fine if stung once, but stung twice, not good.

"Live far from the cover of trees?" like the folks who move to the desert only to find that the residents planted loads of trees, plants, golf-courses, etc... and re-created the very environment they sought to escape. While it sounds easy, what about their jobs? Shall we just ship all these allergy suffers to the moon? (Gosh, how could we even let these folks buy a property here and dare to want to change it? Who let them in?)

"When one plops down the many rupees necessary for one's dwelling," one should be free to make use of it in the way one sees fit.

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Posted by Isabelle
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Can someone please explain why they think there is no compromise here. Why not allow to replace the tree causing trouble to owners with another tree that does not?

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Posted by Gene
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I like trees. I like private property rights. I have planted, and will continue to plant, trees, IF THEY ARE NOT PROTECTED!

At this point, I will not plant oaks and redwoods. In fact, I just cut down a young oak, before it grew to a size that would prevent me from doing so.

Canopy is a disaster for trees in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 8, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Right on Isabelle--that would be the way to go in any normal city--but this is Palo Alto. Soooooooo, with Canopy being anti-tree removal for any reason and their shill is the cities chief arborist, I doubt if there will be any compromise.
This is another example of the kind of shenanigans that go on in city hall and are not monitored by the city manager and/or city council

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Posted by Disguised
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2007 at 7:57 pm

The city is micro-managing its' residents again. Let them cut down the trees. What people want to do on their property (as long as it is legal) is up to them.

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Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2007 at 11:42 am

I agree with Free Thinker that someone with no previous allergies can later develop them. Maybe the Grossmans did not have allergies to the trees when they moved into their home and later developed them. As for myself, living in Palo Alto has been quite a challenge for my allergies and asthma. I feel sick almost everyday of the year. My allergist said that Palo Alto is one of the worst places to live in terms of allergies. I do have a choice to move but I love it here and I do believe that the trees in Palo Alto make this place what it is.

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Posted by Disgusted with Docktor and Canopy
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Nov 9, 2007 at 11:47 am

Maybe it will take some kind of unfortunate incident followed by a hefty lawsuit against the city before the city reigns in Canopy and it's excess' and disregard for the health of others.

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Posted by Trees are alive.
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2007 at 11:02 pm

Lawns and house colors can be changed and changed again with each new homeowner, or even with the seasons. People should be free to experiment with even bad ideas... But a mature tree is very likely older than most of us. It can be killed in an afternoon, but take a lifetime to replace.

That, to me, is the real reason why the city should protect trees from idle whims and overly ambituious plans.

It's a fine and reasonable thing to require permits to take trees out, and to grant them sparingly, considering the totality of the circumstances before making each decision.

Mature trees in a neighborhood definitely improve the property values. Perhaps as a tree gets larger, it becomes more of an asset to the neighborhood in general and less to the nearest house. In that case, it becomes a "common good" like fresh air or clean water.

Such trees deserve additional protection from the cynical homowner/speculator who would build a lot-busting tract mansion, which still enjoys the shade of the neighbor's trees....

The alergy argument sounds like a lame excuse to me. I'd want to see a lot of supporting evidence before accepting it. We should reject on principal any alergy claims which are acompanied by building plans that increase square footage!

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2007 at 1:00 am

Trees are alive - your philosophy scares me on a couple of counts.

First, it is a regulatory solution looking for a problem. Look around you - we are a city of thousands upon thousands of mature trees, with a tiny percent of them covered by current regs. The vast majority stay up, and more are always planted - why? Because we generally like trees, though we our interests in the types and placements change over time. Do we need restrictive regs to protect our "assets" - apparently not. Some trees we like come down; more are planted; life goes one and the community adapts.

You propose that we freeze this process by saying homeowners can no longer choose, that the city chooses which trees come and go. So now, my tree, planted on my land, either planted or purchased by me alone, somehow becomes a community asset - it is no longer mine. Gosh, I hate that thought. As others have pointed out, a very rational approach for homeowners in such a regime - cut down trees while they are still young! Let others grow them and bear the restrictive burden of not being able to use their property as they see fit, or to allow others to later. Just like with rent control, you stifle the good you seek to protect.

We could extend this notion of course - regulating housing designs, for instance. These too are long-lived. Should we tell our neighbors what their houses should look like as well as their trees? After all, the McMansions and Modern Houses are ruining the town! They have 2 stories! And Doric columns! It must be stopped! But now we are a planned community - is that really what we want?

You seem to have a dim view of your neighbors - "cynical homeowners/speculators who would build a lot-busting tract mansion." Of course, they may have a dim view of others neighbors - "overaged hippies with their overgrown lots and dilapidated shacks" perhaps. But we are all citizens and homeowners in Palo Alto, which in my mind is what really counts, and we should respect each other and each other's rights.

So rather than hand our own and our neighbor's rights to a city bureaucrat to address a non-existent problem, I'd would much rather we live and let live, planting and cutting trees as we choose. If evidence of serious neighborhood-wide denuding comes to light, with speculative interests laying waste to sections of town - well, let's talk then. In the meantime, we can all just mind our own business and keep the city out of it.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2007 at 1:05 am

BTW, my mom was visiting from back east (reasonably tony town) and I mentioned the tree protections here. She got a good guffaw out of it. The idea that a town would tell its citizens that certain trees, on private property, of no special importance, no matter how ugly or misplaced, could not come down - well, it will be a good story for her to tell when she gets home.

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Posted by Plain and Simple
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2007 at 10:45 am

To Trees Are -

Did you know that cedar trees around town, foot for foot, are lots older than redwoods? Cedars are not protected yet they can live up to 1,000 years. Same too for many tree types that Palo Alto doesn't protect.

So what's so special about redwoods? Those big redwoods you think are older than mankind are not. They grow up to 4 feet a year. The 100 footer on your block is a mere 25 years old. Plant one and you will see in 10 years that it has soared over all the tree tops in your neighborhood. Others will think it's been there forever, just like you do now. And redwoods are not native to Palo Alto on top of that. Hmmm, makes you wonder who thought redwoods should be protected in the first place and why, and what was it about other trees that makes them unworthy of protection.

I didn't read about a developer in the story. No monster home either. No idle whims or overly ambitious plans as you say. Re-read the story.

When you understand that the redwood trees are not that old, not that hard to grow, and the family won't get any richer by taking these trees down, this comes down simply to a tale about:

a family who turns out to be allergic to a tree in their yard,

neighbors who value the view outside their window and fear the impact a tree removal could have on their home values more than they care for the families who live next to them, and

a City looking for any excuse to save a tree.

Plain and simple.

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Posted by El Palo Alto
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 11, 2007 at 6:57 am

We live in a city which is most likely named for a particularly notable redwood tree, and there are folks are arguing over whether redwoods are native to Palo Alto? Embarrassing.

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Posted by Cut down all the trees !
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 11, 2007 at 11:57 am

Given that Palo Alto is home to thousands of trees...

Given that people with allergies moved to this cities knowing it was full of trees...

Given that if there are no plants around there will be no plant allergies around...

I propose a simple solution:

We should cut down all the trees in Palo Alto to relieve the suffering of all our " poor" allergy sufferers...

Let's not leave anything taller than 2-3 feet high...

Then in a few years let's consider banning ALL plants altogether including grasses, which also give terrible allergies.


An allergy sufferer who gets allergy shots and leaves her trees alone.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2007 at 1:09 pm

El Palo - you are a little quick to judge (or be embarrassed). As posters above (and elsewhere) have pointed out, El Palo Alto was unusual enough that it was a landmark in our valley. It sits right on top of a major creek, which is why it was able to exist. Today it is kept alive only with artificial irrigation, like most of the other redwoods in PA. Look in places where there isn't irrigation (the foothills, for instance) - no redwoods there, till you get up to the fog line. So "native" is probably the wrong term - there was a "specimen" but it was not "common."

In addition, the redwoods for sure aren't a great tree for our current suburban set up - they need space and water, both of which are in short supply. A 100 foot tall tree next to 15 foot high houses is generally not a good idea - which is why places like Tiburon list redwoods as"undesirable" trees - they actually require you to get a permit to plant one!

Personally I believe we should all plant (or cut) the trees we like and enjoy the diversity of our community.

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Posted by Free thinker
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2007 at 2:03 pm

Cut down all.... gee, it's great that allergy shots work for you. The last time I had a shot, I had a bad reaction, so I can't do that anymore. A friend of mine who had done shots for years, ended up in a coma after a brief hiatus when restarting the monthly booster shot. (has since recovered.) Unfortunately, allergy shots don't work for eveyone, and even those who have had success, sometimes have problems later.

It seems that the posts arguing against tree removals have a black and white approach, either no trees should be removed or all plant life should go. They further show how little of the previous information they have read or digested. I fail to see why anyone would subscribe to such extreme measures when it was never suggested in the first place. I still think the fundamental issue is about property rights.

As often happens with poorly thought out regulations, the city and Canopy is driving the exact opposite sort of behavior than they intended. The only message I take away from all this is that it's better to plant unregulated species, so that I can change them out without anyone getting upset.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 11, 2007 at 5:22 pm

Just because there weren't abundant redwood trees in Palo Alto doesn't make them non-native. Clearly, some redwoods were native. Also, of course, redwoods create their own eco-system, even climates, so if you remove large numbers of redwoods, you actually remove the climate conditions that they favor. Redwoods once had a much larger native range than they do now.

The native/non-native thing becomes specious.

I'm always a little skeptical, I admit, of people who buy houses with protected trees and then try to get rid of them. When we househunted, whether there was a heritage tree was part of the calculation--if there wasn't ample distance from the house, we didn't bid on the house.

Palo Alto's big on its trees, it's been like that for ages. Don't like it, move to one of the many, many cheaper places with good schools and fewer ordinances.

Excuse me while I go rake up the leaves from that overgrown city tree in my front yard . . .

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Posted by Free thinker
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Redwoods became protected in 2001; oaks in 1996. The homeowners bought their house long before the regulations came into place; so the argument that the people shouldn't have bought their house is flawed. The laws didn't exist so how could they have such foresight? esp. given the history of how the ordinances were passed in the first place... a complete moratorium on removals was enacted overnight.

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Posted by Cut down all the trees !
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 11, 2007 at 9:37 pm

Free thinker

If your allergies are so bad that shots won't even help you any more, you should not even be living in Palo Alto, one of the worst places there are for allergies. Cutting all the trees on your property won't help much... (BTW you can live with a/c, air filter, and all your windows closed)...

I know that if one day shots start failing me, I'll move away.

Palo Alto's special character is largely due to its urban forest, and I can't believe all the tree haters that gather on this forum. They should simply move to a town with less trees.

PS: a tree takes many years to grow to its mature size. Replacing a mature tree with a new tree is not an even exchange.

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Posted by Free thinker
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2007 at 9:47 pm

It seems that I missed one of the black and white solutions... that the people should go... as I've just been told that I, too, should get outta town. With neighbors like this, it's probably a good idea, though I might just prefer to stay right where I am and be a thorn instead.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 12, 2007 at 12:13 am

The argument for protecting a tiny % of trees, in the face of a thriving "urban forest" in PA, seems to be "we like trees." If you criticize this thinking has perhaps not compelling enough to justify taking away of people's rights to enjoy their property, the response often seems to be "you must be a tree-hater" or "you should move"! Nice!

We got to where we were as of 10 years ago with no regs; redwoods were only protected 6 years ago! Yes, people are constantly cutting down trees, but they are also constantly planting them (even redwoods). The city also plants many many trees on its properties.

It is interesting that those who oppose cutting down trees often see the property owners as selfish or doing something unfair. In fact I think it is the opposite - as one poster wrote above, those who would regulate put their window view and the value of their home (adjacent to such tall trees!) above their neighbor's legitimate interest in doing something with his property. It is the tyranny of the majority, taxing the minority for their benefit.

And, sadly, many rational people will absolutely not plant oaks and redwoods now, since they pose such a potential future burden.

Of course, this issue in the bigger scheme of things is almost laughably trivial - it's a few trees either left standing or taken down. But the principal of regulating perfectly reasonable activities seems terrible. I put it in the same category of those who rail against "McMansions" - basically trying to impose their view of what the community should look like on their neighbors in the name of, well, "we like it that way." I hope we don't continue down this road - it seems narrow-minded and static, quite the opposite of the open-minded, imaginative, and innovative culture that should inhabit Palo Alto.

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Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 12, 2007 at 10:17 am

I’m an old-timer in town and know that part of Byron Street well.

The man who passed around the petition on Byron Street to save the trees has no tree over 5 feet tall in his front yard because he cut them all down. One was a majestic huge cedar which had been on that block long before he or his neighbor’s redwoods were. He planted a tree recently. It wasn’t an oak or a redwood.

It is his right to do what he wants on his property, but how does that saying go? Don’t throw stones. . .

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 12, 2007 at 10:11 pm

Redwood trees are grand and inspiring in forests, groves and open spaces such as parks, where they have room to breathe. There are some lots that can take a couple of redwoods, but many lots in Palo Alto are small and like the Grossman's, would be engulfed by a couple of mature redwood trees. I'm wondering why the man who passed the petition removed the cedar from his front yard, and why he doesn't plant a couple of redwoods in his own front yard.

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Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 13, 2007 at 7:17 am

Pete, there is a swimming pool in his front yard now so he must have cut the cedar down to make room for it.

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Posted by Not native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2007 at 8:18 am

Seems a sticking point for some is whether redwoods are native.

I remember Dave Dockter opining in a thread a week or so ago. Perhaps he can pipe in on this one too on whether redwoods are native to the parts of the Palo Alto flatlands which don't have creeks running through them and give a link to where he read that.

The detailed posting from someone in another thread below seems reliable and dispositive. It refers to a Dr, Baker, a botanist specializing in redwood trees who was a distinguished teacher from UC Berkeley's Botany Department per Google.

"It is well established and unrefuted -- Coast Redwood trees are NOT native to Palo Alto. They are called Coast Redwoods because they are native to coastal regions where they pick up much of the water they need from fog. The climate in our Valley doesn’t do it for them.

Web Link (Dr. Baker’s Redwood Botany link)

Web Link"

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2007 at 8:45 pm

Thank you NN. I encourage the curious to check out the link, which has a whole series of cool Redwood essays, "transcripts of talks given in Humboldt County in 1965 by professors of the U.C. Berkeley School of Forestry." Very interesting.

Right on point in Baker essay mentioned above (about half-way down):

"Now the Stanford campus area is inadequately supplied with rain for the growth of redwoods. But, of course, there is the Palo Alto tree growing by San Francisquito Creek in the Stanford area well away from the outer coast range. But it is by the side of the creek. And in the days when San Francisquito Creek carried more water than it does now, that might have been a significant aid to those trees in their growth."


It is an interesting example of what we come to regard as "natural" vs. "articifial." Redwoods, planted by suburbanites and nurtured by sprinkler systems, take on the status of native icons. We all fall prey to this, all the more reason to tread with care on the choices of others.

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Posted by Who knew?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2007 at 7:31 am

How did we get that redwood tree ordinance anyway? Seems one night redwoods were just like any other tree and then overnight they became something special. Who knew?

Canopy did apparently. It put out a call to all its members to lobby the city to pass the ordinance. Just look at Canopy’s August 2000 newsletter that it sent out to all its members.

But as Free Thinker points out, somehow homeowners with redwood trees were not tipped off about the pending law change, let alone asked for their opinion about it.

If tomorrow city council passed a law that protected all trees and you weren’t given an opportunity to pipe in, how would you feel?

So Council did not get the benefit of first hand experience from those growing old along side their redwoods. I imagine that the city didn't share with council that redwoods are not native or that experts don’t recommend them for small lots either. Unlikely too that the city placed a call to the communities near here which ban or discourage residents from planting redwoods to see why. If Town Square posters, a resourceful group it appears by their postings but not experts, could find these things out, certainly the city could have too.

Someone had an agenda and all Palo Alto homeowners concerned about process, no matter how they feel about trees, got the short end of the stick.

And now we see what snow jobs can do to a community. Neighbors fighting neighbors, a city ignoring residents’ health concerns, a jobs protection act for a city arborist who has to be kept on payroll full time to process the increased tree removal application load, and newspaper articles turning private residents into a public spectacle. All because the city took advantage of its position of trust and got a law passed that did not go through a sound vetting process.

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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 14, 2007 at 10:51 am

Alright, I'll bite with a naive but obvious it possible to reverse bad decisions like this redwood tree ordinance?

If Canopy can spur its members to action, can't neighbors & citizens who would like to reclaim their own property rights do the same? What's stopping them?

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Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 14, 2007 at 11:09 am

The street tree belongs to the city - it is up to them to allow it to be removed or not. We moved/removed a street tree 5-6 years ago and had to replace it. The city arborist chose the type of tree which could replace it, not us.

The tree which is on their property should receive different consideration. It is their tree, their property, whether the neighbors object or not. If I want to paint my house an ugly color - my neighbors can protest, but can't and shouldn't have the right to prevent me. Although there are many things neighbors have done which I would LOVE to be able to protest, it is their property.

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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 14, 2007 at 11:25 am

Check out this letter in today's PA Weekly regarding this issue:

(link to letter section:
Web Link)

Move the people


I moved to Palo Alto specifically for the trees. If I became allergic to these trees I would move to one of the many towns that do not have the large trees that canopy Palo Alto and keep it cool and beautiful.

Trees are a precious resource and they give Palo Alto its distinctive character. Do not cut down the trees to cater to self-centered people who should simply relocate.

I feel empathy for those who are not well and suffering but I do not believe that those who are disabled should demand changes that affect so many others in a negative way.

Why have we become so selfish and inconsiderate of the environment and its beauty that we sacrifice its resources when we could simply relocate? I am for the rights of the community to determine this matter by a vote.

I support Bob Herriot and his position to save the trees and I would add to that "move the people."

Linda Grace Stone

Ross Road

Palo Alto

Is it a wonder that Canopy has so much influence? People place tress above health concerns and then people are told to move!!!

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Posted by Who Should Move?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2007 at 2:35 pm

To Ross Road

Those trees are miles from your house, you can't even see them, and you think these people should move out of town?

A major flaw in your argument, apart from it being insensitive, is that the laws in Palo Alto allow people who are allergic to trees to remove them. So there is no need for them to move. Under your logic, you should be the one moving.

Law-abiding people asking for permission to change their front yard, when 99% of Palo Altans can take down whatever tree they want in their yard without having to ask anyone, are not self-centered. Self-centered people are ones who are intolerant of people who don't think like they do. Who's that sound like?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 14, 2007 at 9:07 pm

I think that most cities around here have tree ordinances for private property.

Believe it or not, Palo Alto's tree ordinances appear to be the least restrictive.

Take a look at the tree ordinances in a few of the surrounding cities.

Here is Redwood City's:

Web Link

Here is Menlo Park's:

Web Link

Here is Los Altos:

Web Link

Mountain View:

Web Link

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2007 at 9:37 pm

Good links, Resident! Interesting. By comparison, PA is practically libertarian (the other towns' policies basically require a permit to take down any large tree). I wonder how they are enforced - e.g., are permits readily issued or not?

Interesting that WITHOUT these restrictions, we seem to have as many trees or more as any of those towns. I wonder if the restrictions actually inhibit planting of trees, given that you are stuck with them where they are once they mature. Just as rent control reduces the inventory of apartments, does tree control cut down the number of trees?

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Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 14, 2007 at 9:49 pm

Funny Story: 10 years ago I planted a 10 gallon shade tree (Robinia) the same distance from the curb that the "city's tree" is planted. I placed it to block the windows that get too much direct sun on hot days. The lack of tree out front next to the "city's tree" caused the lawn to burn too. It's now 15+ foot tall now and I recently got a letter from the city informing me that they will be removing it. What's up with that?

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Posted by Some more info please
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 14, 2007 at 10:15 pm

"Least restrictive" depends on your point of view. The language in these ordinances takes into consideration many, many criteria, including the rights of the property owner to enjoy their property. This fundamental property right is what is so conspicuously absent from the Palo Alto ordinance.

The resident who started the recent petition exercised his right to cut down an even larger, and several times older, neighborhood-landmark cedar tree from his front yard in order to install a pool... in his front yard. Certainly, not the typical place to locate a pool, yet he has a right to the reasonable enjoyment of his property.

RC - "Necessity to remove trees in order to construct proposed improvements to allow reasonable economic enjoyment of the property upon which trees are located;"

MP "The number of trees the particular parcel can adequately support according to good
arboricultural practices;"

LA "The necessity to remove the tree for economic or other enjoyment of the property."

MV "The necessity of the removal of the heritage tree in order to construct improvements and/or allow reasonable and conforming use of the property when compared to other similarly situated properties."

Take a look at other cities. In this Bay Area town, only oaks are protected and, in that case, the following criteria are factored into the equation:

1. Impedes the use of solar energy for heat and light
2. Impacts food production in private gardens
3. Affects access to light

What town? Berkeley.

In its pamphlet it says not to plant redwoods too close to homes "Large trees growing too close to homes can cause considerable damage to foundations and sidewalks, block sunlight and eventually damage walls and roofs. For example, homeowners have planted Redwood trees in their yards. Twenty years later, that tree is 80 feet tall and will continue growing for another 1,000 years. Before planting, match the tree's mature size to the space available to see if the tree can grow to its mature size without damaging your house. . . "

Web Link.

I certainly find that interesting.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2007 at 12:02 am

Good point, Info - looking at the summary of the Tree Ordinance on the PA City web site, it lists only the following:

"Removal of the trees in the "protected trees" catagory would be prohibited unless one of the following circumstances exist:

* The tree is dead, hazardous, is a detriment to or crowding an adjacent protected tree, or constitutes a public nuisance under Section 8.04.050 (2).
* The tree trunk or basal flare is touching or within the existing building footprint or permitted building area if no structure exists (without variances) for single family home construction or expansion.

For projects other than single family residences, retention of the tree would reduce the otherwise allowed building area by more than 25%."

That said, I did read that 60 redwood removal applications were approved in PA last year. Not sure if that is because of the above criteria or others.

But it does seem like a regulatory solution in search of a problem; even without the regs, we have plenty of trees.

Does anyone know why we (and others) protect oaks? Sure, they are "native," but they are not a very good yard tree. If the danger is that everyone would cut them down - well, doesn't people wanting to cut them down tell us something?

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Posted by Researched it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 7:29 am

Terry –

I’ve followed this story all the way back to the Bonomi’s first round and have to say that if I didn’t have a protected tree on my lot the general confusion the city has around what it is doing with protected trees is almost comical.

In January the city arborist tried to convince the planning commission that he was reasonable and said he granted all 40 redwood tree applications he received in 2006. In May he told the City Council he granted all 14 that year. In July, some city employee published a compilation of the planning department’s tree permit database (to clear up the confusion?); the real number was just 9. In September, the arborist was back to 40 for the story in the Weekly.

He also said that he did not deny any redwood tree removal requests that year. That is not true because he denied the Bonomi’s. And what he didn’t mention was the number he probably doesn’t track or at least report -- those never filed or withdrawn after he came to the site and said he wouldn’t approve it. (Disclaimer: I got one of those pre-approval “nos”.)

Not sure what that all means. But it seems noteworthy.

If you have nothing better to do and are following this story, you might like to read through that web list. Many were approved for reasons not mentioned in the ordinance.

If the city arborist has to ignore the ordinance to have it make sense it seems he has joined others in town who think Palo Alto’s tree protection ordinance isn’t that good a law after all.

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Posted by Researched it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 7:34 am

A note to Not Native

In case Dave Dockter doesn’t pipe in, here’s what he had to say in January about redwoods being native to Palo Alto:

“They are associated with riparian areas and valleys, Santa Cruz Mountains, and however far down their genetic strain would allow them to go associated again with wetter areas than drier areas they would come down out of the foothills area. In Palo Alto virtually all of the plant material and trees we have in town with the exception of some of the ancient century old oaks are planted and brought in and introduced to the landscape yards around.”

Translated: Dave Dockter says that Palo Alto’s redwood trees are not native with perhaps one exception, El Palo Alto, which popped up along side a creek.

Other TSers have pointed out that now that that creek has run dry, Palo Alto's natural climate doesn't provide enough water for El Palo Alto to survive so it is being kept alive by an extensive and expensive watering system.

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Posted by Researched it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 7:36 am

And to Who Knew?

Here’s what Dave Dockter had to say in January about how we got that ordinance in the first place:

- Original Palo Alto Redwood served as a regional landmark, is on the City Seal and redwoods are the state tree of California
- Redwoods are among the tallest in the city
- Redwoods are planted widely in Palo Alto so that virtually every neighborhood has been and can be impacted by their removal. The preservation of trees will help neighborhoods retain historic and aesthetic environmental value.

Since many tree types are planted widely in town, and add aesthetic value so that a neighborhood would be impacted by their removal, none of these reasons point to a law that singles out non-historic redwoods for protection.

Unless you want to protect all tall trees, only El Palo Alto should be protected under this reasoning.

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Posted by Some more info please
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2007 at 11:55 am

yet another parent,

You posed an excellent question..... "is it possible to reverse bad decisions like this redwood tree ordinance? If Canopy can spur its members to action, can't neighbors & citizens who would like to reclaim their own property rights do the same? What's stopping them? "

I think what is stopping them is not enough people getting upset about the infringement on their property rights. (They probably also have better things to do than to deal with our comical city government, which most sane people avoid at all cost.)

If Canopy/the city (they seem to be interchangeable) decided to try and regulate all privately owned trees, then property owners might stand up and do something about it.... Property owners also might start cutting down all trees before they ever get big enough to fall under the regulations.... which is what many people are doing now with young oaks and redwoods. When a law is rushed into the books over a single case (like the oak and redwood ordinances), it drives behavior that they probably never could have imagined.

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Posted by Arborist
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2007 at 11:05 am

Interesting thread. I am all for saving trees but it is important to understand that some trees just are in the wrong place. The native redwood does not naturally grow in the lowlands. Without competition, they grow much too fast and are not the same tree as those in the hills. The wood decays rapidly and much of the time, the trunks are hollow! I know because I have milled thousands of redwood trees from the hills as well as the valley trees. Frankly, I am not interested in valley trees because they are so weak with such wide growth rings. The slow growing trees are completely different. Because of the extreemly fast growth and huge amount of weight associated with that height, redwood trees should be recognized for what they are and not what people believe them to be! Yes, a redwood tree in the wild can be thousands of years old but a lowland redwood is rarely a hundred years old-- but is often as large in diameter as a tree much, much older (in the wild). Because we only have the experience of about a hundred years of planted redwood trees, we might just see some major failures (if and when) we have a good wind storm. We needed to remove a redwood tree last year that was planted by the old man who lived in the same house his whole life. The tree was 61 years old and 6 feet in diameter! He needed to remove the tree because it was lifting his house and getting into the sewer lines. That tree was hollow for the first 8 feet! I milled it but the wood was garbage.

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Posted by Ed
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2008 at 2:25 pm

If your allergic to redwood and the area has so many trees it seems only clear you need to pick a state/city to live in that works with your allergies. Cutting down trees at a house or business you happen to live at today shows a lack of respect for nature. The tree took some 90 years to get that high. What right do you have to kill it. There are no redwood trees in many other states. Move.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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