Calling it an "unacceptable mistake," Glenn Roberts, the City of Palo Alto's public works director, acknowledged Monday his department "failed to do adequate outreach to the public at large" before 50 mature trees were cut down on California Avenue last week.
The tree chopping created a public outcry, with some people demanding those responsible resign or be fired.
City Manager James Keene is expected to discuss with the City Council this evening potential new policies to prevent a similar incident from happening again without public notification.
Roberts said the project had been approved by the council in 2005, but the tree-removal plan was only recently decided by staff. The communication failure was "the responsibility of Public Works," he said.
Both Roberts and Mike Sartor, assistant director of public works, had directed staff to do public outreach and notification about the impending tree removal, he said. But staff did not carry out their direction. He declined to name the person or persons involved in the snafu.
"I believe it's a one-time occurrence, and it's very a unfortunate and unacceptable mistake that shouldn't have occurred.
"The city manager will speak to that and will have an administrative policy put in place to require staff to put in writing about any project with a significant impact. It would be thoroughly noticed to the council and city manager," he said.
The department is taking a momentary "time out" to regroup and get the public involved in further decisions regarding the trees, such as selection of species, he said.
Roberts said the decision to cut all of the trees at once was driven more by urban-design considerations than the health of the trees, although some were diseased, he said.
The idea was to have a more uniform appearance -- an effect also supported by the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA), a merchants' group -- and was "considered the lesser of two evils" toward the overall goal of a cohesive appearance, he said.
The city's Architectural Review Board (ARB) did not review the plan, according to Roberts.
Department staff and management approved a staff-level review about a month ago rather than sending it to the commission, he said.
However, a check by the Weekly of staff-level reviews that were reported to the Architectural Review Board did not reveal any notification of the decision.
Thirty years ago, all of the trees on University Avenue were cut down in downtown for the same purpose, before Roberts came on board. It was also controversial, he said.
But when the Italian stone pines were removed along San Antonio Road within the last year, the project went smoothly because the public was notified in advance, he said.
Tonight's council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Palo Alto City Hall, Council Chambers, first floor, 250 Hamilton Ave.