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Trees: City acknowledges communication error

City manager to discuss issue at City Council meeting tonight

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.

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"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.

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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.

Related stories:

California Avenue trees get the axe

Canopy 'shocked' at Cal Ave tree removal

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Trees: City acknowledges communication error

City manager to discuss issue at City Council meeting tonight

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Mon, Sep 21, 2009, 4:44 pm

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.

Related stories:

California Avenue trees get the axe

Canopy 'shocked' at Cal Ave tree removal

Comments

Buck Doesn't Stop
College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm
Buck Doesn't Stop, College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Subtext: Public Works Director Glenn Roberts and Assistant Public Works Mike Sartor are not at fault. City Manager And Jim Keene had no clue what was going on. One of their subordinants is at fault.

Very convenient!

Whatever happened to Harry Truman's "The buck Stops Here!"? When those in authority actually did "man up" whne the s*** hiut the fan instead of pointing at someone else to blame.

This statement by Roberts and the City lacks any moral compass. It is easy to blame those below you for what in fact you have failed to do: properly manage, properly supervise.

Roberts' stateement is typical of the Benest era Directors who were all the first to point the finger at someone else down the totem pole and the first to make sure that their backsides were fully covered while they did so.


Kevin
Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 5:16 pm
Kevin, Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 5:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Buck Doesn't Stop
College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2009 at 5:23 pm
Buck Doesn't Stop, College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Why didn't Robert and Sartor follow up to make sure that an apporpriately extensive public outreach was made? Why didn't Roberts and Sartor inform Keene and the City Council that the trees were going to be cut down and when? Exactly who in City Government decided or agreed that all 50 trees were going to be chopped down all at once. Was it Roberts and Sartor? If they did, on what authority? If it was a subordinate why was this authority delegated down the chain?

No answer to any of these questions in the City's CYA, self-serving statement. This City statement scripted to do damage control and to cover backsides that need covering at City Hall. It is not real communications.

Can't they ever get a clue?


bike commuter
Ventura
on Sep 21, 2009 at 5:29 pm
bike commuter, Ventura
on Sep 21, 2009 at 5:29 pm

What percent were actually diseased and needed to come down now?


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2009 at 5:51 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2009 at 5:51 pm

They seem to be saying that cutting down 50 mature trees wasn't an error; rather, the error was that they forgot to tell us they were going to do such a ridiculous thing. Your tax dollars at work.


Oldtimer
another community
on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:11 pm
Oldtimer, another community
on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Why are we so surprised?


BobbyHill
College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:31 pm
BobbyHill, College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Maybe these poor individuals. Need a bigger salary to help them do a better job.
They are overworked and underpaid.
OR
Their paid too much and have no responsibilities. Or any one they care about who they have to answer to.


Sharon
Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:45 pm
Sharon, Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:45 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


rhody
Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2009 at 7:24 pm
rhody, Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2009 at 7:24 pm

To the editors of the PAWeekly - this is a story that seems to me to demand pictures. I would love to see what it looks like now and if you could find a picture in the files, what it looked like before.
I don't get out much.


Wilbur
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm
Wilbur, Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Slaughter of innocent trees? Please get over it. These tree were all planted in mass some forty years ago by the last redevelopment. Time for a change... it had to happen some time.


Sharon
Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 8:07 pm
Sharon, Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 8:07 pm


If we followed the policy of 40yrs ago 50+% of the population would be smoking everywhere, the rivers would be toxic, we would have above ground nuclear weapons testing,and all produce and towns would be toxic from lead in gas and other sources.
A lot has changed in 40yrs some of it good for the planet and our quality of life.








John
Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm
John, Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm

A reply to Sharon (above):

Frivolously cutting down trees is NEVER a go idea. If you believe what you wrote you haven't had much contact with the folks in Brazil and the Amazon Forests... All in the name of progress.


Barry
Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:39 pm
Barry, Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:39 pm

The other thing that wasn't addressed in the article is that the rest of the plan for California Avenue also has to receive input from its citizens .. not just about the trees. If we continue according to plan there will be traffic congestion and other consequences because of narrowing the boulevard.
I wonder how the merchants of California Avenue will feel when people feel that it is just too congested (as well as barren) to bother shopping there.


Roxy
Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:43 pm
Roxy, Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:43 pm

"City acknowledges communication error". "Communication error"?
There was no communication. I hope that that "error" is corrected by getting input on the rest of the California Avenue project by the voters and not rush into the rest of the plan before the residents of Palo Alto have their say!


Don
Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:56 pm
Don, Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:56 pm

If it was an "unacceptable mistake," Glenn Roberts, the City of Palo Alto's public works director, really needs to do MORE than adequate outreach to the public at large about the ENTIRE California Avenue project. They need to make sure that people are on board with the entire proposed Streetscape "improvements" and are TOTALLY TRANSPARENT about what and when things will take place. To not do this will certainly assure a new regime in Palo Alto government and may well instigate consumer boycott of the merchants on California Avenue. Perhaps next time the CAADA will be more tuned in to what its customers want and how they wish to be treated.


Donald
South of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2009 at 6:02 am
Donald, South of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2009 at 6:02 am

I just read the article in the other Palo Alto newspaper, and they quote Roberts as taking responsibility, so some of the criticisms above are unfounded. Incomplete reporting is the problem, and this happens so often that people should not be so quick to assign blame based on one article.

The rest of the project plan has been in the works for years, and many people have seen the plans, including me. They were scaled back a bit this year to save money, so the sidewalks will not be widened. Road width will remain as it is now, and the diagonal parking will stay, much to the dismay of bicyclists. It will be one lane each direction instead of two, though, which should improve safety.


pat
Midtown
on Sep 22, 2009 at 10:46 am
pat, Midtown
on Sep 22, 2009 at 10:46 am

There’s a bigger issue lurking in Roberts’ comments: "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."

The “New Urbanists” are driving development in the city. Think JCC and Ricky’s town homes. There will be more surprises in the future if you’re not paying attention to the Comprehensive Plan Amendment that’s currently in the works.

Groups like CAADA are obviously on board. “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.”

Is a “uniform appearance” – like a sterile shopping mall – what Palo Altans want?


I protest
Green Acres
on Sep 22, 2009 at 2:00 pm
I protest, Green Acres
on Sep 22, 2009 at 2:00 pm

"They seem to be saying that cutting down 50 mature trees wasn't an error, the error was that they forgot to tell us they were going to do such a ridiculous thing." If they had told us there would have been such a protest they could never have cut the trees down.

The Public Works Department were obviously going to comply with the wishes of the California Avenue Merchants and not the residents. Such is the power of the retail tax dollar.


David
Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2009 at 3:55 pm
David, Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I think the above post has it correct (and even more heinous): Cutting down 50 mature trees wasn't an error, it was planned so that after the "shock" response dissipated people would just continue going on with their lives. If we were told about the project in advance there would have been enormous protest such that they could never have removed the trees.
Let's prove that strategy wrong. Protest NOW!!


stretch
another community
on Sep 22, 2009 at 4:17 pm
stretch, another community
on Sep 22, 2009 at 4:17 pm

It was 63 trees, and it's too late to do anything. Glen Roberts says it's "unacceptable", which I thought meant that something would happen to the offenders. Hand slap?


Your tax dollars as work
Meadow Park
on Sep 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm
Your tax dollars as work, Meadow Park
on Sep 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm

And now all the trees have been chopped down in Lytton Plaza. Our Public Works Department is out of control.


John
Meadow Park
on Sep 22, 2009 at 10:00 pm
John, Meadow Park
on Sep 22, 2009 at 10:00 pm

I agree with Pat from Midtown: "The “New Urbanists” are driving development in the city."

Say good-bye to our beautiful city. It was nice to have knwon you.


Andrew
College Terrace
on Sep 23, 2009 at 12:14 pm
Andrew, College Terrace
on Sep 23, 2009 at 12:14 pm

This is a copy of an e-mail sent to the Palo Alto City Council:

I am horrified at the poor judgment and complete lack of forethought that went into the recent "clear cutting" of California Avenue, where I have my office. Most of what went into your Project Notification Update seems outright deceitful and incorrect. I have had an office in the neighborhood for 15 years, and not once have I noticed "sooty mold" or had issues with clients "tripping over acorns". What is actually true is that you chose to take down 50 trees which provided shade and beauty to the neighborhood, and the replacement trees will not provide the same level of shade and beauty for decades! Shame on you and your team.

You also lie when you state "The Streetscape Improvement Project was vetted with the community and business district, and the consensus was to have all the trees replaced at one time..." This is not true, and had you actually informed local businesses that you planned to desecrate the neighborhood by clear cutting it, you would have received a resounding "No!" But instead you chose to do the project quickly and without adequate notifications, including a failure to notify the City Council.

In terms of the rest of the project, I have no more confidence that you and your team will make good judgments. I would suggest that the project be put on hold for now, and that the Council and citizens be consulted on all of the proposed changes. As such, I am forwarding this email to them. It sounds like the project will greatly impair commerce in the neighborhood, and we have had enough of this over the past few months. You may not realize it, since your department seems to have a overly large budget to waste, but we are in a recession, and ripping up the neighborhood repeatedly and interfering with traffic and parking hardly helps local businesses.

I would make one suggestion. I would suggest you spend considerable extra money, and allocate that money to replanting larger trees, as large as is practical, to replace the trees that were destroyed. This would begin to restore the neighborhood to what it was, much more than replacing benches and trash cans, none of which is meaningful or even necessary. And I would suggest that if 50 trees were removed, that you plant 75 trees to replace them. This is not only important for beauty and comfort, but also for green issues and to address global warming.


Fred Balin
College Terrace
on Sep 26, 2009 at 9:57 am
Fred Balin, College Terrace
on Sep 26, 2009 at 9:57 am

FYI

Renowned arborist Barrie D. Coate will speak on tree selection for the replanting of California Avenue at noon, Sunday (tomorrow), September 27 at the California Avenue Farmer's Market in an area next to Paul's European Cobblery at Ash Street. His remarks will be followed by a question period from attendees.

Mr. Coate is a registered consulting arborist with more than 50 years of horticultural experience. He is Director of the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation, current arboricultural consultant to the J. Paul Getty Museum, author of numerous books, and regular contributor to Western Arborist Magazine.

This event is organized by citizens addressing the need for direct access to expert tree replacement information.

Please download and help disseminate the flyer at the following web link
Web Link

Thank you.


CHinCider
Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2009 at 9:45 am
CHinCider, Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2009 at 9:45 am

To "your tax dollars at work" -

You might (or might not, obviously in your case) want to check your facts before you make unfounded and incorrect accusations. The Lytton Plaza project was not a Public Works project. It was designed by a "Friends" group using private funding and matching funds from the City. The contractor - Devcon Construction - was hired by the "Friends" group, not by the City, let alone Public Works.

Who is "out of control" - sounds like you are!


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