Palo Alto's tree stewards, Canopy, the nonprofit that has worked to maintain and expand the city's urban forest by planting thousands of trees, said they were stunned by the cutting down of 50 mature trees on California Avenue this week.
The 50-year-old holly oaks were to be replaced over time, not all at once, according to Catherine Martineau, the organization's executive director.
"I have vintage photos of California Avenue when it was built, and we are back there," she said of the treeless avenue.
Martineau's group is informed about tree matters, and Canopy makes suggestions and offer expertise on redevelopment projects such as updating California Avenue.
The group was engaged with city staff early on in planning the current project, which includes street resurfacing, safer crosswalks, a new fountain and new benches and trash receptacles.
Four years ago, the city and the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA) worked on the plan and Canopy approved of replacing the holly oaks with "urban canopy" trees she said.
The holly oaks "weren't performing the function of big, canopy trees in a shopping district," which provide the kind of attractiveness and shade to lure customers and visibility for businesses, she said.
"We thought it was wonderful to create a much better treescape," she said Friday.
But "we were very, very shocked, especially at the sudden occurrence of these tree removals. We were not aware this was going forward," Martineau said.
The tree removals have been so upsetting in part because what Martineau characterized as poor communication between the city's Public Works department and the community, she said. Few people, official or otherwise, were notified about the impending tree removals, she said.
"Something fell through the cracks. To me, this is not typical," she said, indicating that Canopy has worked closely with the city before on projects. Several city staff members also agreed with her assessment, on condition of anonymity.
But Martineau said the current problem is not the only one she's had regarding city trees. Canopy has been working with the city on the creation of an urban-forest master plan, but that plan hasn't been moving forward either, she said.
She blamed part of the problem on many recent turnovers of city staff.
"It has not evolved as fast as we have wished. There is no clear leadership in the city now" about tree issues, she said.
Glenn Roberts, the city's director of public works, and Eric Krebs, managing arborist for the public-works department, did not return calls for comment Friday. The city staff take a furlough day every other Friday.
In some ways, Martineau isn't surprised that officials weren't aware of the tree removals. Martineau said she has found a disconnection in communication between departments in the past.
"It was a process by which each time some project was going to affect trees the avenues of communication between departments was very compartmentalized. There is no real forum to bring up those issues," she said.
Martineau said she is surprised and gratified by the clamor over the tree removals.
"It's because people are very aware of their trees and their importance," she said.