News

Palo Alto probes Public Works over tree cutting

Internal investigation to examine failure of process, recommend outreach improvements

Palo Alto officials have launched an internal investigation into the Public Works Department to establish who was responsible for the hasty removal of 63 trees on California Avenue last month and how the embarrassing clearcutting operation was allowed to happen, City Manager James Keene said Monday night.

The investigation is part of the city's response to last month's clearcutting of holly oaks along California Avenue an operation that surprised the City Council and enraged many residents.

The council Monday night unanimously approved staff recommendations to increase public outreach for the streetscape plan; establish a review process for other aspects of the plan; and create policies to make sure future projects would have adequate public outreach and city approvals.

But several council members argued that the probe into what went wrong Sept. 14 should be turned into a full-scale examination of "Public Works Department culture."

Keene said the removal of the holly oaks on California Avenue was a major "breakdown" and said the staff has commenced an internal review to establish how the process failed and who was responsible. He also acknowledged, after questioning by Councilman Larry Klein, that the investigation will look at the role of both low- and high-level Public Works employees.

"It seems to me too often in organizations the lowest ranking person gets all the blame," Klein said. "Supervisors somehow escape.

"I'm concerned that your investigation takes into account people up the chain of command."

Klein also asked whether "there was something in the department's culture" that would allow one of more employees to be "so far out and violating our department policies."

Councilman Pat Burt also said he was concerned about the culture within the department, which he said was prone to supporting predetermined outcomes without soliciting adequate public input.

He cited as an example the department's resistance to having the Planning and Transportation Commission review the city's capital improvement program, as called for in the municipal code.

"There has seemed to be a pattern of the Public Works Department being less fully engaged and not embracing input from the community, or even the advisory commissions, to the degree we'd like to have in the city," Burt said.

But Councilman John Barton disagreed. He said the public and the council has "tremendously overreacted' to the tree removal. He denounced the public's hostile e-mails and some residents' calls for public humiliation of the workers responsible for the clearcutting.

Barton cautioned his colleagues against overreacting and argued that doing so would be a disservice to city workers.

"We want to be a city on the cutting edge of issues," Barton said, with no hint of irony. "We want to be a city that's efficient and has an entrepreneurial staff.

"We've cut off our nose to spite our face," he added.

Keene said the investigation would examine at all levels of the chain of command, but warned that reacting too harshly may hinder staff from exercising initiative in the future. He also cautioned that "the edict" or "the stick" might not accomplish the needed changes.

"We had some systemic process breakdowns, without question, or else this wouldn't have happened," Keene said. "I do worry about striking the right balance between establishing right standards and culture in an organization versus having a bunch of bureaucratic proscriptions to guard against someone coloring outside the lines.

"It could create a freezing or a chilling effect on how people respond to issues or take initiative."

Glenn Roberts, director of the Public Works Department, led off the Monday night discussion by publicly apologizing to the council and the public for the hasty clearcutting of the trees, which he called "unacceptable" and "wrong." He said the Sept. 14 tree removal was not indicative of how the department usually conducts business.

"I feel horrible about that," Roberts said. "I'm embarrassed about what happened.

"I'm not sure I have the words to describe exactly how I feel about that, but it was horrible to have that happen in a manner in which it did."

The new public-outreach plan includes a community meeting on the streetscape project Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Escondido School Auditorium, 890 Escondido Road. The Architectural Review Board is scheduled to hear a presentation on the project on Oct. 15, and the Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to review it on Oct. 28.

The plan would then come back to the council for review and possible approval on Nov. 16.

A handful of residents attended the meeting to voice their concerns over the tree removal. They urged the council to include the public in the process. Fred Balin, a resident in the nearby College Terrace neighborhood, recommended that all meetings related to the project be videotaped and suggested an election on California Avenue to determine what type of trees should be planted.

Other residents referred to the pain and trauma neighborhood residents have undergone since the city cut the trees. Councilman Sid Espinosa said the community's reaction to the tree removal has convinced him that this is an issue the council should carefully evaluate.

"When hundreds of people write in a state of rage and devastation and not because of a NIMBY issue it causes me to step back and think it is something that's worth the broad-based public conversation we have had here," Espinosa said.

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Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Jon Parsons
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 6, 2009 at 9:57 am

People make mistakes, but that does not mean that heads need to roll. Anonymous pot-shots from the Peanut Gallery calling for castigation are misplaced. These things are not as simple as they first seem to be, nor as black and white as we seem to need them to be. Let us all learn and move on - "sweet are the uses of adversity."


Like this comment
Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

Naturally the City Council is circling the wagons and denying any responsibility for the fiasco. They are pointing fingers and passing the buck. This is in line with their stance during the PACT scandal (and their lack of oversight beforehand) and the HSR issue.
Larry Klein will do and say anything to be re-elected.


Like this comment
Posted by Adrienne Mayor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:21 am

Why were the perfectly healthy old PINE trees cut, between the Caltrain Station and the pedestrian underpass? These were not
supposedly "diseased/messy" holly oaks, and the pines were not even on California Ave.


Like this comment
Posted by May be it's me
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:24 am

May be its me. But I like the new look. Sort of wide open. I think it's an improvement.


Like this comment
Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:41 am

Heads DO need to roll for this. If not for this, then for what? Why should we pay these morons a fortune forever for being so destructive??

On the Friday after the tree cutting, they had a truck out trimming a tree on Middlefield near Embarcadero at MIDNIGHT for about a half hour. They finally stopped just as I was about to call the police.

Who got the contract on the tree cutting? What type of incentives do they get? Do they get paid by the tree?


Like this comment
Posted by Frank Flynn
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:44 am

The plan was to replace all the trees along the street and that's why the trees near the caltrain station were removed. There is a desire among civic planers to plant the same tree (not just here) think of most tree lined streets - they almost always use the same tree.

I'm not sure why, can it more maintenance to deal with different trees? Or is it a desire to have all the trees look the same?



Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:49 am

I can't believe that Barton feels that we've over-reacted to this action.

I had to go to California Ave. to deposit a check at my bank yesterday and after looking at the ugly expanse of the commercial area again, I've made a mental commitment to avoid the street except on Sunday when the Farmers' Market booths and activities mask the mud-ugly looks of the place.

I don't imagine I'm the only one that feels this way, and I suspect that retailers are going to feel the effects of this blunder in their wallets.

I can't think of anywhere I've been that is so offensive to my eyes.


Like this comment
Posted by cieboy
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 6, 2009 at 11:12 am

I am glad they are investigating further. And yes someone should be terminated or demoted over this serious matter. Finally I suggest the folks who would like fake trees installed or are "liking the new look" consider relocating to Southern California.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 11:14 am

And how much money and staff time are going to be spent on this "investigation"?
Every other day the City of Palo Alto is stating how broke they and how they don't have the money for vital services, but the seem to always find the hundreds of thousands of dollars for consultants, studies, investigations, etc.?
There are kids committing suicide, crumbling infrastructure, terrible roads, vacant fire station in downtown area, homeless people all over the place, vacant buildings, etc.
The City needs to get it's priorities inline with todays important problems.


Like this comment
Posted by Arthur
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 6, 2009 at 11:56 am

> Klein also asked whether "there was something in the
> department's culture" that would allow one of more
> employees to be "so far out and violating our
> department policies."

As usually, Larry Klein doesn't "get it". Everything associated with this matter reeks of a "lack of management". The "check and balance" mechanisms are just not in place in most Palo Alto City government operations. And that responsibility starts with the Department head.

Last year, there was a large fire in the compost area, that resulted in some articles in one of the daily papers about inspections of the compost area that had "problems". The Director of Public Works claimed that he didn't know about these inspections, even though failure to rectify the problems from by the County inspector could have resulted in a $10,000 per day fine. Then, within the last couple of months, there was the matter of the delay in the work at Lytton Plaza--because of a procedural failure originating in the Public Works Department. And now this.

Clearly .. there is a problem with the management of this Department. In the private sector, it might be time for the company president to have a chat with the director of the department, and maybe suggest its time to consider another place to work. Or at least find out why that department is having so many problems. Unfortunately, this is the public sector, and those sorts of "remedies" are generally not available to City Managers. (By the way, wasn't the Public Works director on the bonus list for last year?)

When things go wrong, it's almost always the managers fault first.



Like this comment
Posted by Outraged
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm

I was walking to work up California Ave at 9:00 am the morning of the tree cutting and was appalled at the spectacle. When I arrived at work I called the Public Works Department and I believe I was transferred to the Engineering Department. I asked what was happening on California Ave and the woman who answered said she was unsure, asked a coworker nearby while still on the phone, and said an outside agency was handling it and put me through to the voicemail for Woo Jae Kim (correct spelling?). I left a message and Mr. Kim returned my phone call within the hour. He said the California Ave Merchant Beautification…or some such committee…had been planning a facelift for the street for 5 years. He said he knew this was happening and assured me that the trees would be replanted with a red maple leaf tree. He said the merchants had voted for the removal as the old trees were infringing on roofs and dropped acorns on the sidewalk. I realized nothing I could say was going to change anything and thanked him for returning my call. Needless to say, it was very disturbing. It might be of help to followup with Mr. Kim as he knew this was planned and must know who carried out the orders. This whole unbelievable tree demolition brings to mind the Theater Works fiasco….the insuing investigation and the horrible insulting conclusion that disrupted so many lives. My son was walking down California Ave yesterday and said the southern side has been completely covered with cement where the trees previously grew. Do they plan on planting them only along the northern side?


Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 6, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Wait until they start work on the bike lanes. Watch the traffic back up and the parking get worse.

A few years back the city spent a few hundred thousand dollars on a study making Middlefield more bike-friendly be eliminating all the turn lanes on one of the busiest streets.

Hey, traffic would have only been backed up to Mountain View. Fortunately, the residents killed the project but all that money was wasted.

Perhaps the busiest streets aren't the best and safest for bike lanes?
If we're supposed to be so "green" maybe they could figure out that exhaust fumes from backed up traffic isn't wonderful.

I'm tired of paying for such stupidity while our utility rates keep rising while these fools get subsidized everything.

Heads should roll.


Like this comment
Posted by Linda
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 6, 2009 at 1:40 pm

California Avenue has lost a great deal of its charm and character with the loss of the tree. How CAN Palo Alto, whose name refers to a tree, destroy our canopy? This is outrageous. I too feel reluctant to go to California Avenue, since it feels down right unpleasant. I hope the merchants don't suffer.

The parallels drawn to the fiasco at the Children's Theater really make me wonder about the brazen character of some of the people we have put in charge, or who have claimed this power for themselves.

Both episodes are an abysmal smear on Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I'm not as concerned about heads rolling as I am about prevented these types of problems in the future. If a change in leadership is needed so that things will change, so be it, but if changes can happen without turnover, all the better. My other concern is shared by everyone -- what will California Avenue look like in the future? The cemented tree areas are quite suspicious -- it would be good to hear from the city whether this means they have no intention to plant in those spots.

Finally, we HAVE to do away with the bonus system. Giving employees public money bonuses for just doing their jobs makes no sense.


Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I read in another report of the ongoing situation on California Avenue that the concrete was a fairly thin layer that was not meant to be permanent, but to prevent someone hurting themselves falling into the hole left by the stump removal.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 6, 2009 at 4:47 pm

NOW an investigation has been launched?! I would have thought it would take a few minutes, right away, to trace back who was responsible.
If anything, this shows too great a bureacracy in one small city-


Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Like so many others in recent history, this one will go down to what has become just another play in the City playbook.

When it happens, remember you heard it first from OO.

Public Works Director Roberts will announce his retirement shortly. Long before the investigation comes to a close. When he does the investigation will quietly die, and Roberts will get accolades from the Council when he goes.

Same as Police Chief Johnson (Racial profiling scandal)
Same as Administrative Services Director Yeats (Childrens theater accounting scandal)
Same as Community Services Director James (Pat Briggs witch hunt)

Same as City Manager Benest (All of the above)



Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 7:55 pm

To "Arthur" from Green Acres -

Perhaps you should get your facts straight before you make incorect accusations.

On the Compost issue, the Daily Post was proven wrong and eventually published a retraction and apology to Mr. Roberts. How often do you see any newspaper, let alone the Daily Post and Dave Price, do that?

On the Lytton Plaza project, that was/is not even a Public Works project. It is being done by a "Friends" group and the contractor, Devcon Construction, was hired by them, not by the City let alone Public Works.

To "Outside Observer" -

Do tell, what particular insight do you have into Mr. Roberts plans and charcter? I doubt he will yield easily to a witch hunt such as this. My guess is he will display his usual resolve and strength of character in dealing with this issue. If you are right and he is eligible to retire he has nothing to lose. After the way he has been treated I doubt he would even want any "accolades" from the Council. A severance package would be more appropriate.


Like this comment
Posted by Henry Sanchez/Sunnyvale (ex- So. Palo Alto)
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:44 pm

Are the Red Maple trees Palo Alto is planning to use for California Ave a variety that is smaller than standard Red Maples? Red Maples grow to 60'-90'feet and very wide root spread, near the surface. Is this the kind of tree to have for a parking strip? The following is from a site in Google:

"Red Maple is a good choice of a tree for urban areas when there is ample room for its root system. The red maple is excellent at withstanding harsh urban conditions, including tolerance of both dry and wet soils, and a higher tolerance of pollution than sugar maple. Like several other maples, its low root system can be invasive and it makes a poor choice for plantings in narrow strips between a sidewalk and a street.

Anyone interested--look it up on Google.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2009 at 11:42 pm

To "Facts"-

I have "many contacts, among the lumber jacks, to get me facts...." And I won't say any more about it than that.

Roberts has been qualified for retirement for several years.

If he doesn't get the accolades, then I give the CC more credit than I think they deserve.

If he doesn't seek the accolades, then I give Roberts more credit than I think he deserves.

In terms of public response, this fiasco is looking much like the "Utilities Moonlighting Scandal", and if you will recall from that one, Utilities Director Ulrich announced his retirement during the investigation, and left with full retirement benefits. Indeed, Ulrich may have been the one to write the playbook on these sorts of things.



Like this comment
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 7, 2009 at 1:09 am

The real facts behind the aboreal decapitations is most sinister.

It's part of the Feds (Obama's) grand scheme. Cut down as many trees as possible. Accelerate carbon buildup and global warming. Use the engineered crisis to declare Marshall Law, incarcerate all Republicans, put old people into death panel designations, etc.

As the city workers are SEIU members, SEIU supported Obama, the links should be easily discerned. Stay tuned to Fox News!


Like this comment
Posted by EJ
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2009 at 1:17 am

So, Councilman John Barton thinks the public and the council has "tremendously overreacted' to the tree removal. What, so those of us who experienced "shock and awe" when stumbling upon the carnage of September 14th have "tremendously overreacted" to this debacle?! Seriously?!! My God, get a clue, Barton... or, at least take a walk along the now denuded Calif. Ave. "Cutting edge," indeed.

Placing blame among the employees at Public Works is misdirected anger. Instead, we should be setting our sights on Ronna Devincenzi and CAADA, for shepherding in this whole fiasco, and then trying to sell us all "happy pills," touting the new 'vistas' and 'now-visible' store fronts.

"Hey now, pardner, looky there - Leaf and Petal? Well, I'll be a blue-nosed gopher! I never seen that storefront before! Or that Country Sun neither! Walked down here for years and years, and never did know what was behind all them windows. Goll-lee! Look at that little feller stickin' out the sidewalk! Guess he ain't goin' nowhere anytime soon, heh, heh!"

The trees go down, but the creepy little gnome at Calif. and Ash still stands, along with all the other "art." Meanwhile, you need a new pair of powerful sunglasses just to negotiate the new Calif. Ave. Sorry Councilman Barton, for my "tremendous overreaction." Guess I'm just not on the "cutting edge" like you.



Like this comment
Posted by I dont get it
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 7:49 am

To OO,

I was looking through the City of Palo Alto’s job descriptions today and could not find any positions listed as “Lumber Jacks”. If your contacts are lying to you about their duties, maybe they are not the more reliable sources for information.


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 7:59 am

To 'Outside Observer' -

If one wants to read the words of someone who has an extensive network of real contacts of substance and is willing to put her name behind her opinions, I'd suggest reading this mornings (10/07/09) column by Patty Fisher in the San Jose Mercury News. Tht ought to give one some insight into both the true story here and Mr. Roberts character.

Can you and your "lumberjacks" match that?

I thought not.


Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 9:02 am

'Facts'-

OK, I read the article. Nothing inconsistent there with what I've said.

I'm not making a personal attack on Roberts, just pointing out how I think this issue will conclude based on past history.

'I don't get it'- the "Lumberjack" line is a lyric from a Bob Dylan song.


Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 9:28 am

Facts,

Do you by any chance work in the City of Palo Alto Department of Public Works? Just wondering.


Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2009 at 9:35 am

EJ
Is it possible to hold Ronna and her" gang " responsible for pushing the tree cutting through?


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 9:38 am

To "just wondering" -

Not any longer; used to, and have known Mr. Roberts professionally for many years. Have spent a career in both public (3 agencies) and private (2 companies) sector civil engineering and pretty much seen it all from both sides.

Thanks for asking!


Like this comment
Posted by Nearby
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 7, 2009 at 10:30 am

EJ - I think you've hit on it! The beautification plan meant to propose clear cutting all the ugly freakish art on CA avenue but due to some kind of typing error, it was the trees that were chopped. It would be wonderful if we could get a variety of trees planted (not just one type), preferably with evergreens directly in front of some of the "art."


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 7, 2009 at 11:18 am

I don't think that a bonus for Mr. Roberts is out of the realm of possibilities. That is the way we think here in this best of all possible cities. We have deemed all of our workers and management like Lake Woebegone 'Above average'. And to prove it we dish out generous salaries, benefits and bonuses for things that as Arthur states earlier would draw reprimands or worse in the private sector.

Isn't public works responsible for the many projects about town where road resurfacing has been followed up weeks or months later by another excavation (cable, gas, water, etc.) on the same street that was previously planned and on the schedule but not accounted for in the original resurfacing work? The until recently smooth repaving on Alma is now a victim of this kind of non planning with numberous patches and new holes from Oregon to Churchill.

Lack of coordination seems to be a hallmark on public works. Isn't that ultimately the responsibility of the director, as is its 'culture'?


Like this comment
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2009 at 11:43 am

Patty Fisher's article in yesterday's SJ Mercury, mentioned above, notes that she finds several references to "tree replacement" in plans going back a couple of years.

This mention of plans-in-concept over 3 years ago is not to be accepted as a substitute for required public hearings and clear, adequate, and timely notice.

There was just one public meeting on the proposed California Avenue improvements. It was on June 6, 2006 at Create IT! and was reported on immediately before and after in the press.

The plans were later listed in the City's 2007-2009 Capital Improvement Plan together with required hearings at the Architectural Review Board, Public Arts Commission, and Planning & Transportation commission. Then it went off the radar. None of these bodies held a public hearing on this matter.

In July of this year, a development review application for California Avenue was submitted to the city that made no mention of tree removals.

Curiously, in a letter of September 14, the day tree-removal began on California Avenue, planning staff conditionally approved the application via a staff-level architectural review. Staff stated this week in a report to the council that had work not started early, a 14-day appeal period would have allowed the public a chance to object. [See my other post of today with regard to this Orwellian process. Web Link

There were no public hearings with regard to removal of all Holly Oaks, and no direct public notice from the city, except to the California Avenue Area Development Association


Like this comment
Posted by jim
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

Please say again who is on this CAADA committee...


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 11:57 am

To "Mike" -

Hey buddy, get a grip and check your facts before you post.

It's the Utilities Department who digs up the streets, not Public Works, and the coordination issue for scheduled work has been resolved for about 3 years now since the new Utilities Director Val Fong came on board and has been willing to be a team player. Coordination is a two way street - so to speak - and Public Works had never been able to get that cooperation on schedule coordination from the prior Utilities Director(s). Check out the work recently done in the SOFA area and underway in College Terrace to see how it's been working now that Utilities cooperates.

That being said, there are two types of street cuts that cannot be coordinated - emergency repairs for things like gas and water leaks (you DO want those fixed, right....?) and new utility service lines for new development, which are motivated by the private sector/economy, and the timing for provision of which is mandated by State law. The same thing happens in areas served by PG&E - and without the coordination of the scheduled work. Palo Alto is actually better served in that regard by owning and controlling its own Utilities.

Cable and fiber providers are regulated by the Federal Govrnment/FCC/ICC as an interstate commerce issue and the timing is at their sole discretion. Try coordinating that! Every City in the USA is stuck with that problem.

Thanks for asking!

PS - no "bonuses" (it was actually a pay for performance plan based on criteria, but hey, why be accurate about that either, right?) for any Department Heads this year. New City Manager Jim Keene eliminated them. So - I think that's 3 strikes and you're "out" as far as accuarcy goes. Nice try on your smear job, though.


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

To Fred -

Perhaps you should check the facts regarding the July application. Your statement that it did not mention the trees is totally false. Both the text and the plans clearly show the trees to be removed.

You may not like what happened, how it took place, or the applicble process (and you'd be right about a lot of that) but please don't misrepresent what did in fact occur and infer that the process that was utilized was dishonest. The situation is bad enough without exaggerating it and misrepresenting people's motivation.


Like this comment
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Facts,

Herb Borock showed me the application at the council meeting on Monday night. There is no mention of tree removal in the project description on the first page. I did not study the subsequent pages.

How did you get to see the document? As a member of the public going to the 5th floor of City Hall and asking to see the file; as someone inside the city with access to it, or via some other route?


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Fred -

You should go to the Planning Department and ask to see a copy of the full application package. They will even make you a copy for a small fee. Look at the attached plans; the tree removals - all of them - are clearly noted. A related question might be why the Planning Department chose to approve this at a staff level rather than to have sent it forward to the ARB for a full public hearing. My understanding is that Public Works had no say in that decision one way or the other.

You should not place your trust in Herb Borock. He finds delight in being "right" and will use incomplete and/or inaccurate 'facts' in an attempt to appear to be seen as such. Many times he is correct, but he often either has an agenda or is mistaken.

Do your own research, please.


Like this comment
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 7, 2009 at 3:03 pm

To Facts,

I am willing to use my name is my postings. When you say something about me why are you unable or unwilling to use your name?


Like this comment
Posted by I dont get it
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 3:16 pm

OO,

It is interesting that you chose Ballad of Thin Man to draw your quotes from. You, like Mister Jones, don't know what is happening here. It would be best to do your own research instead of relying on your inacurate lumberjacks!


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 3:27 pm

To Herb Borock -

First, please reread the above thread. It was not I who introduced your name into the discussion, it was Fred Balin who cited you as a reference for his understanding and asked for futher information. Do you have a problem with my suggesting that he do his own research instead of relying on you? Obviously in this case you did not share the full information with him

Secondly, I, unlike you, am not in an environment where I can freely speak the truth as I know it to be. Political correctness rules the day, and woe be onto he who speaks out.


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm

PS to "Herb" -

For that matter, how can we even be assured that it is really you who is posting here? The only confirmed identities are those whom have chosen to be registered users; all others are just assumed screen names. If you really want to protect your name why are you not a registered user?


Like this comment
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Facts,

I will take a look at the entire July application. However the only way it was available to the public prior to the tree cutting was if you someone divined that street-tree replacement was coming and went to the city and started looking for an application.

I have the highest for regard Herb Borock, on this and countless other issues he has been involved in. On this matter, he was also the one who first publicly identified, on Town Square, the Capital Improvement Project from the 2007-2009 budget, the last viable public information the project.

But if you want to be truly helpful, let's move on:

What do you make of the fact that the letter from city planner to Public Works approving the staff-level architectural review is dated September 14, the same day that the tree-cutting began together with Monday's staff report to the council (page 2) that email notification of the project was sent to CAADA on September 3, eleven days earlier?


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Fred -

No question about it, that was a major presumption of intent and violation of prceedural requirements by staff in the Public Works Department. The pertinent questions are:

- who made that decision, when and why?
- why did the Planning Department select the staff level ARB review process rather than full Board and Commission review for a major urban design issue such as this, thus allowing it to get to that point?

I believe the partial answers such as I perceive them are that staff felt they were being responsive to the desire of the business district and Council to expedite the project in order to complete it before the onset of the Holiday shopping season, which commences with the Thanksgiving break. The entire project schedule appears to have been derived by working backwards from those evemts.

You next question is..............?


Like this comment
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Herb,

Did you have a chance to check the project file to see if the arborist's report from Public Works is there? I do not believe it has been made public.

-Fred


Like this comment
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Someone in our citizens' group was able to dig out the document "New Planning Applications" for the period July 14 to August 17, 2009. It does briefly describe the July 29 application (along with 24 other items):

"Request by the Public Works Department, on behalf of the City of Palo Alto, for minor Architectural Review for street improvements for California Avenue, between El Camino Real and the Caltrain Station"

At one time, no too long ago, weren't you able to subscribe to this document on a weekly basis?


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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 7:17 pm

I Don't Get It-

Sorry, but my "lumberjacks" have been spot-on with the scandals I mentioned in my first post.

If you are going to take me to task for my prediction on how this scandal will play out, please let us know how you think it will play out.




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Posted by John
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 7, 2009 at 8:21 pm

To Adrienne Mayor in response to your question:

"Why were the perfectly healthy old PINE trees cut, between the Caltrain Station and the pedestrian underpass?"

The reason given was that they were in the way of the street lights, and there were robberies. Remember the robberies that were occurring on the OTHER side of Alma? Last year! Where the police chief had to "retire" because she was unPC about the robberies. Remember?

Once the chain saws come out it's hard to stop until the entire area is clear cut.

A lot of the magical Palo Alto died with those trees.

By the way, nothing is going to happen other than a bunch of hot air from a bunch of detached politicians who are on the employee unions payroll.


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Posted by Eileen Stolee
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2009 at 9:06 pm

To Facts above. This is a big deal for people like me who live a few blocks from California Avenue and consider that area my neighborhood. I get to watch itty bitty trees grow up instead of enjoying a nice shady street with cafes and restaurants. Since you live in another area and refuse to give your real name, maybe it's time for you to butt out of this discussion!


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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2009 at 10:36 pm

To "Eileen" -

Well, thank you ever so much for your most gracious offer, and I will admit that it's people with demeanor like yours who make it most tempting to accept - but no, thank you, I'll feel free to speak up here as do so many others who are not able to be identified by name. Why do you not castigate them as well?

Why are you so afraid of the facts of the matter being freely and openly discussed?

Freedom of speech only applies when it is what you think or want to
hear?

The great Palo Alto democratic approach does not apply to all in your vision, I guess.


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Posted by Opinonated
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 8, 2009 at 2:19 am

CA Avenue looks horrible, its so ugly I hate going there now. The buildings are ugly, the street is dirty, and now its all in plain sight. The trees were the only thing that made it appealing. Cutting down 64 trees is not a mistake, they knew exactly what they were doing.


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Posted by I dont get it
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 7:46 am

OO,

In any other City in the land, this would not be a scandal. Only in Palo Alto, (not your typical city involved in a typical daydream.).


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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 7:55 am

To O.O. -

The more appropriate lyrics in this case might be:

Here's to the new boss
Same as the old boss
just like yesterday
so I'll get on my knees and pray
That we don't get fooled again


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2009 at 8:14 am

Last Monday's Staff Report to the Council states (on page 2): "In March 2009, Council adopted a FY 2009 midyear adjustment to exclude street lights and reprogram funding for the street tree replacements as part of a group of midyear adjustments to the City's Operating and Capital Budgets"

I can find no mention of this adjustment within the March, 2009 City Council agendas. Did I miss something? Has anyone seen it elsewhere?


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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 8:23 am

Fred -

You need to dig deeper. You will not find the Cal Ave item listed separately on the Council agenda. It was one of many items contained in the item which was listed as the Mid Year Budget Adjustments. Get a copy of that full item from the City's budget staff in the Administrative Services Department, review the sub item for Cal Ave, and you will find the detail you are seeking.


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Posted by Charlie Mader
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2009 at 9:11 am

When I was growing up in Palo Alto, in the 1970's and 80's, the City was always being held up as national model of excellent civic governance.

As a boy scout, I had to attend a couple city council meetings for a merit badge I was working on. I remember those meetings to be very long because they were filled with input from city residents about proposed changes to law and procedure.

I'd like to know what happened to that Palo Alto where the community was always consulted first before any controversial change to public policy


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2009 at 9:24 am

I now see the item within the 90-page Staff Report plus attachments to the March 10, 2009 Finance Committee and then to the April 6, 2009 City Council.

No mention of trees:

“California Avenue Improvements - CIP PE-0700S and Street Lights Improvements- CIP PO-OSOS4 - Increase funding of California Avenue Improvements project by $300,000 and decrease funding of Street Lights Improvement project by the same amount. Transfer of the appropriation is to cover the estimated cost of the street lights improvements along California Avenue. (No reserve funding required.)”
Web Link


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Posted by Bev
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2009 at 11:01 am

Anyone going to the meeting tonight?


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2009 at 11:26 am

Bev,

If you want to help bring about a truly open process for viable tree-replacement options and finally selection as well as hear from and interact with renowned arborist Barrie Coate, then you must attend.

You will also learn about the rest of the California Avenue street scape plans.

See my Town Square commentary at Web Link

See you there?


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Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 8, 2009 at 11:50 am

What time is the meeting and where is it?

Thanks in advance.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Public Meeting October 8th, 6:30 p.m.
TREE SELECTION and PROJECT INFORMATION.
Escondido School Auditorium
890 Escondido Rd, Stanford

As copied from the city's web site on this matter: Web Link


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Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 8, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Thanks much!


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Posted by ninadora
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

i was there yesterday, and it looks strikingly awful! im avoiding it too, it's taken away 70% of the charm factor on cal ave. awful!


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Posted by Bev
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2009 at 3:05 pm

What about the merchants? If people are not willing to shop in the Cal. Av. neighborhood, would the merchants go out of business?


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Posted by Eileen Stolee
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Let's hope, with the help of the community and the city, we will have a nice walkable street again. The buildings could be made more bearable to look at with fresh paint and a window box or two. Also, potted plants could be added for color along the sidewalks. Maybe Ronna Devincenzi can pay for that? I think there are ideas out there for short term beautification while the trees grow, let the city know ...


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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 8, 2009 at 10:00 pm

I finally forced myself to have a look. It was just as dreadful as I'd envisioned and so many have stated. Made worse by the fact it was completely and utterly unnecessary and carried out so stealthily.

It will be criminal if heads don't roll over this.


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Posted by Carol Cruikshank, California Avenue business owner
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Eillen I have been thinking along the same lines: a fresh coat of paint and potted plants at the very least. Trees must be planted, but they will take time to grow. We need to enhance the street to the best of our ability now.

When I read the comments of people who don't want to shop the area, I am of course concerned for the health of my business. Everyday we make a every effort, large and small, to enhance the shopping experience for our customers. Then, in one fell swoop, this devastation comes along.

CAADA does not represent the sentiments of the merchants. We were not in any real sense informed of the tree removal. We are not only suffering the potential loss of business, but in some cases being blamed for the decision.

This is our home too. This is where we spend our days. We loved the neighborhood and ambiance of the street.


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Posted by bonnie Anderson
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 8, 2009 at 10:45 pm

You know you could defuse much of the anger, confusion and disbelief that a group of people could cut down all those trees on Calif Ave. You could tell us what you are going to do about this, like replace those trees so that the area looks healthy, warm and inviting. The street lookw lk


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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2009 at 8:01 am

To Fred -

You still haven't looked far enough. The mid year budget is not the operative policy document. You need to look at the 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 adopted Capital Improvement Program Budgets.


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Posted by Move On
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2009 at 8:36 am

Time to move on.


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Posted by Adrienne Mayor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I've always been embarrassed when visitors remark on the Horrid, Ugly outdoor sculptures on California Ave. I confess to wishing vandals would steal the art on the street.
Now the clear-cutting makes the Bad Art even more ridiculous. Instead of cutting the trees, why didn't Palo Alto city council just beautify the street by eliminating the artwork and repairing the old fountain that everyone loves?


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 10, 2009 at 8:39 am

Facts,

Where can one find the arborist's report?


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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Hi Fred -

Allow me to respond in a circuitous manner if you will. I am not certain I understand what it is people are seeking or what they hope to find when referring to an "Arborist's Report". It appears to me that this question stems from the initial response of a staff member who, when questioned as to why the trees were being removed, responded rather hastily, defensively, and mostly incorrectly that they were "diseased". Yet, the official statements I have seen from the City are that there were a combination of factors - some were diseased and had already been removed - a fact that seems to be curiously overlooked in the ongoing discussion -, others were suffering from a nusiance factor fungal infection that would get progressively worse over time but was not fatal in the short term, and that a significant portion of the decision was in fact driven by an urban design consideration requested by CAADA to remove them all at once and create a new uniform streetscape canopy. No "arborist's report" will reflect that last motivation.

That having been said, it is my understanding that what does exist is not a formal "Arborist's report" per se, but rather is an inventory list with annotated information as to location, species, condition, recommendation, etc. I understand that information to be in the posession of the City in multiple locations - Public Works, Planning, etc.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 10, 2009 at 5:59 pm

OK.

Projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) require an environmental assessment, which includes a section on Biological Resources that often references what I'm referring to as an "arborist's report."

My understanding of Monday's comments by the city attorney at the city council meeting is that the California Avenue streetscape improvements project now set to come before a public Architectural Review Board (ARB) meeting as well as the Planning & Transportation Commission and City Council review will require an environmental study, although there may not be much left to say in an arborist's report.

In any case, as per the staff report for the upcoming Thursday ARB meeting, staff states: "Both the former and current Public Works arborists, recommended the fazed replacement of these trees" [(i.e., the large Holly Oaks]. (Page 5 at Web Link )


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 11, 2009 at 10:10 am

Facts writes:

"You still haven't looked far enough. The mid year budget is not the operative policy document. You need to look at the 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 adopted Capital Improvement Program Budgets."

The City of Palo Alto Budget website has links to the 2008/2009 Adopted Capital Budget but not to the one for 2009/2010. Web Link

The 354-page 2008/2009 Adopted Capital shows a single line for the project:
"PE-07005 California Avenue Improvements 175,000" Nothing else.


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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2009 at 11:13 am

Fred-

The Planning Department found the tree removal to be exempt under CEQA - see the approval letter of Sept 14th that served as the staff level ARB review. Thus, no biological review and no formal arborist's report. It looks pretty certain that Planning will not repeat that mistake.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 11, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Back to the Capital Budgets
What is it that you are leading me to find?
So far I nothing to indicate that all trees would be replaced.


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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Fred -

Then I guess perhaps you have not yet had a chance to read the language in the Council approved (and Planning Commission reviewed) 2007/2009 Capital Improvement Program document which specifically makes reference to tree replacement?


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 13, 2009 at 10:20 am

OK, I'm full circle now. We're back to Herb Borock's initial reference to this item on another Town Square thread Web Link

The project description for the California Avenue Improvements in the 2007/2009 Adopted Capital reads in part: "...replacement of street trees and street lights, reconfiguration of vehicle lanes to accommodate bike lanes, new street furniture, crosswalk enhancements, and repair or replacement of the fountain."

The words to examine here are "replacement of street trees".

The description does not use a clear term to describe what is going to happen, such as
- "replacement of all trees", or
- "full replacement of street trees"

Based on this information, it is not fair to assume that members of the bodies that had this document come before them would divine what was actually going to happen to the trees.

However, as stated earlier, the document does indicate that the project would come to the Architectural Review Board, Public Art Commission, and Planning & Transportation Commission, none of which happened.

Also, the document states that the project is exempt from CEQA under Section 15301, which I find hard to accept if all the trees were planned to come down when this item was included in the Capital Budget.

And the public will also need to know the justification for the decision for Staff level architectural review. (As I've mentioned earlier, and will state at the ARB Thursday, the 14-day window for the public to respond to the decisions of such hearings, is in fact no notice at all.)

Also the public needs to see the arborist's report or other related documentation, so we know how many of the Holly Oaks were diseased and needed to come down. Many have stated that removal of all the Holly Oaks was a decision of "preference" and not of "need" and that should be verified if true.

In summation, the public needs a full understanding of what happened. Were the problems due to carelessness, institutional failing, errors of judgment, and/or manipulation?

This is the challenge for City Manager Keene and the way he responds to it will go a long way to informing the public's judgment on how well the city will be run under his leadership.


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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Fred -

I believe you and I have arrived at virtually the same place on this issue, with the addition of a few points which I will add below.
As such, I intend that baring some unforseen circumstance or new revelation this will likely be the last post I shall make on this thread.
While the title of this thread - "Palo Alto probes Public Works" was apparently intended to focus attention on that one entity alone, there some additioal contributory facors to be considered as well:

What was the role of the Planning Department in approving a staff level ARB review and categorical exemption for the tree removal, thus precluding the public process and taking it out of Public Works' hands?

What was the role (or lack thereof) of Councilmember Pat "he who would be king/the next appointed Mayor" Burt in failing to fufill his designated role as Council liasion to CAADA and not attending a single meeting during this year when the project and tree removal was dsicussed and voted on by the CAADA Board? Should not that have been monitored and reported back to the Council as other liasions do in their respective areas?

What was the role of Councilmember Larry "he who would be reelected and be the power behind the throne" Klein in having been the prior CAADA liason and participated in an ad hoc committee to advance the California Avenue street improvement project?

It was interesting to watch the political gamesmanship at play by those two members at the meeting of the 5th. They were the most outspoken and acerbic critics, perhaps because they had both the most to lose and the most to hide. They Shakespearian cliche of "I think (they) doth protest too much" comes to mind.

Unless any investigation reviews all of these factors as well as those previously enumerated this will become a limited persecution. Then the active verb in the title of this thread will become a polite euphanism for a more crudely put commonom vulgarity as to what is really the intent here.

Just in case the readers didn't follow that somewhat oblique allusion, it refers to "probes" in the carnal sense.

It should be very interesting to watch how this all plays out, at multiple levels.


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