Heritage tree falls in Menlo, where plenty hear

Menlo Park City Council votes 3-2 to approve removal

Money doesn't grow on trees, but apparently it does grow if you chop the tree down. After an hour and a half of late-night public comment, the Menlo Park City Council finally approved a developer's request to remove a heritage redwood tree.

Most speakers supported developer Kim LeMieux's request to cut down a 70-foot heritage redwood tree at 240 University Drive.

Three months ago the council voted 3-2, with John Boyle and Rich Cline dissenting, to spend $7,500 of city funds to design a home that would preserve the tree.

However, LeMieux's analysis concluded the proposed design wasn't economically feasible without a basement, which would decrease the home's value by an estimated $350,000.

She also told the council at its Jan. 25 meeting that the tree, which thrusts upward from the middle of the property, posed safety risks as well as maintenance issues.

Those supporting her case focused on the rights of property owners and the damage a growing redwood tree can cause, including car paint ruined by acidic cones, cracked foundations and sewer lines, and mold.

Scott Marshall countered that when he bought a house in Menlo Park, he signed an acknowledgment that the city has a heritage tree ordinance and seemed to wonder whether the ordinance matters.

"If someone goes through the process (of requesting removal), is it ever declined? Seems like there's always a way around it if you're persistent," he said. "Menlo Park is about trees."

The city has approved 97 percent of heritage tree removal requests since 2008, according to Rebecca Fotu, environmental programs manager.

The newest member of the Environmental Quality Commission lives next door to the tree. Christina Smolke stated that the alternate designs show that the tree could reasonably be preserved, and challenged LeMieux's economic analysis of the property's value if the tree weren't cut down.

Tuesday night's vote also split 3-2, with Kelly Fergusson and Andy Cohen dissenting. Colleague Peter Ohtaki called it "a gut-wrenching decision," but voted to remove the tree because of its position on the property. The council members appeared to agree that the heritage tree ordinance in Menlo Park could use a rewrite to avoid a similar morass in the future.

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Posted by janet
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

When someone buys property KNOWING there is a heritage tree in place, there should be some provision that they can't demolish it unless it truly is a danger. The fact that so many trees have been removed despite the ordinance indicates that there is a flaw in the system. The thing that makes Menlo Park so special is the trees and gardens. Over the last decade or so, the charm is fading because people feel the need to build these huge mansions.

Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:37 am

Sadly, Menlo Park again reflects the mindset of its undeclared sister city, Palo Alto (I have lived in both and feel they are very similar - often in unfortunate ways).

Both city councils and governments do lots of pompous posturing, wasting tax payer money pretending to stand for the missions, laws, etc. stated, but always sell out to developers and those with deep pockets.

The tree won't bring in tax revenue so why should they care? (no doubt the mindset behind these choices) After all, if they build more houses, businesses and other tax generating properties "they will come." They being yet more and more people who will further pollute the air. And the trees that would balance the increase in populations will have been the victims of their foolish choices.

If you're too stupid to make it in the private sector, go into public office. All the idiots seem to find employment there!

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:44 am

I don't know MP's building rules when it involves Heritage Trees. I do know that in PA, if an "HT" exists within the building envelope, the homeowner does have the right to remove it --- typically in agreement that the tree will be replaced somewhere else on the property.

I don't know the specifics, but it sounds like the MP tree exists within the building envelope. Don't know if that is a consideration in MP or not.

Not to derail the thread, but I always found it interesting that Cal went through a bunch of protests and tree-sitters over the Oak Trees by their stadium. To this day I don't understand why they didn't consider doing what Stanford does, they dig up the Oak Trees, box them and move them to the side. Re-plant after the project has been completed. So simple. Cal could have saved a ton of money on litigation and project delays if they just thought it through a little bit.

Like this comment
Posted by local gurl
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:45 am

What baloney. There is not such thing as a "heritage tree" in either Palo Alto or MP if the ordinances aren't enforced.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I agree the house would be worth something less w/o a basement if the tree stayed, but the developer also probably paid less money for the land because of the big Heritage Tree in the middle of the lot.

If this lot was a publicly traded stock, no doubt it's market cap would have gone up following the City Council's decision. Is that really a valid argument though: "Let me cut it down so I can make more money"? Does that rationale reflect the "values" of Menlo Park?

Like this comment
Posted by Will
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Glad to hear that someone building a house is able to do so and piss off the bleeding heart liberal who want to save everything.

Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2011 at 1:30 pm

rem is a registered user.

Why don’t we have a honest City Council and all the other “Councils” and “Work Shops” that will honestly say “Developer (Contractors) Lobbyists , Developer (Contractors), donate to us and we will approve!!!!”

It would be great if the City Council and all the other “Councils” and “Work Shops” learned a new word – NO or new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason for this PROBLEM except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not caring.

Since when WOULD a basement decrease the home's value????

If you have an ordinance ENFORCE it. Quit looking the other way...

Like this comment
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I am guessing that the small group of people who were denied in their efforts to cut down old trees in Menlo Park forgot their checkbooks at home.

Like this comment
Posted by Not a good idea
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm

This is the same City Council that voted to plant 1,000 trees (many of them redwoods) on marshland by the Bay.

The marsh has many rear species of birds including the clapper rail, and marshland is not the place to plant so many trees.

As one person pointed out if you plant a tree near the Baylands that's a perch for a hawk or an owl to prey on shoreline birds.

MP has a City Council as ignorant as PAs

Like this comment
Posted by klh
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2011 at 2:32 pm

The developer should have the right to remove the tree. If others want big, obtrusive trees in their front yard I'm sure the developer would consider an offer. The fact is some trees are great and beautiful but they can and do get too large to maintain, become safety concerns, or start to effect the quality of life for a homeowner.

Assuming the developer is experienced and successful, she probably weighed all the options for the tree knowing that many home buyers like large trees and natural landscape.

I looked at buying a house in West Menlo but didn't because there was a heritage tree in the middle of the driveway entrance. I didn't want to have to drive around the tree to get in and out of the driveway and also deal with the pain of trying to get it removed and all the negative feedback and opposition.

Like this comment
Posted by treehugger
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Quite a few years back, we purchased, for two years in succession, redwoods potted in 15 gallon tubs for use as indoor Christmas trees.
Their use as holiday trees lasted a total of 4 years and, in our ignorance and love of redwoods, each in turn was planted outside on our 75 x 100 lot. They grew and did well.

A close family member who is an environmental scientist with extensive redwood forest experience for California State Parks urged us to remove the trees before they got any larger, lifted the sidewalk, required a permit for removal, or injured someone by dropping a "widowmaker" limb.

A limb falling off the top of a shallow-rooted 70 foot redwood can kill. This is why redwood parks are closed to the public during windy weather. One needs only to visit a redwood park to see the fallen giants to see this firsthand. We removed the young trees, which were going to compete with the city planted maple tree in front anyhow.

Large (or future large) trees are appropriate in the proper setting, but not on crowded suburban tract lots. Parks and open spaces, yes--again, given the proper environment. And non-native invasive species (think eucalyptus) are never appropriate.

Like this comment
Posted by Lucky
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Why don't people who post here INFORM themselves before they write their opinion? All should read the Heritage Tree Ordinance at - it's quite interesting!

Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Absolutely sickening. We are so fortunate to have these beautiful trees in our area, but it seems those lucky enough to have them on their property are the last to appreciate their beauty. A 70 foot tree in exchange for a basement. Simply obscene.

Like this comment
Posted by Tdog
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:06 pm

To Will-
You think you are cool to laugh at people who love trees.
Does your car exhaust produce 02.
You are disconnected from the very circle of life you enjoy.
Hopefully you get a clue one of these days.

Like this comment
Posted by Woody
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 27, 2011 at 1:29 am

My neighbor, had a beautiful pine tree in south Palo Alto, It was located directly due west from the Palo Alto baylands, west of the freeway. This was the tallest and densest pine tree visible as you drove up and down the Greer road corridor. There were and are none other like it. At dusk the Egrets would fly in and nest in this tree. It was a safe haven and obviously the most attractive nesting site as they flew due west when darkness begins to set. We are not just talking about one or two giant egrets, I have videotaped of over 3 dozen nesting in this tree. At dawn they'd awake, interact socially, kiss each other, then take flight, circle, then head back out to the baylands to fish.
Then one day we came home and the tree was gone and so were the Egrets, the neighbor didn't like the mess or the noise.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:42 am

To those who say "What's the big deal":
At the Mitchell Park playground in Palo Alto, there's a sign with a photo of the park taken 50 years ago. The horizon is nothing but houses and buildings with hardly a tree in sight. As you look up from the photo to the current horizon, you see trees. Only by going there and seeing the photo in its context can you grasp the difference the trees make aesthetically, not to mention their environmental benefits. If you cut down a tree because it makes you sneeze, or you don't like watering it, or raking it's leaves, you're affecting your community. Want to know what our community would look like if everyone cut down their trees: go see the photo.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Our Menlo Park City Council has failed us by approving developer, Kim LeMieux's, request to remove a healthy heritage redwood tree from a property she wants to develop.

This decision contributes to the city's record of approving 97 percent of heritage tree removal requests since 2008. By removing these trees that in many cases have more history than most Menlo Park residents, we loose not only part of our heritage, but decrease the beauty and value of our 'city of trees' as our Menlo Park tree logo highlights.

This decision also further questions Menlo Park's commitment to the environment. Trees are the lungs of our earth helping to purify the air we breathe by absorbing pollutants, reducing the amount of pollutants in sewer systems and water, providing a natural habitat for birds and wildlife and reducing global warming. A tree that is 50+ years old vs a newly planted tree will take a life time to provide the same positive environmental and community impact.

The decisions made by our Menlo Park City Council have left me disappointed and concerned that these poor decisions will set a precedent that allows for a total lack of disregard for our heritage tree ordinance.

The fate of this healthy and magnificent tree at 240 University Drive lies now with Kim and Tom LeMieux who have the power to decide against cutting down the heritage tree. Kim and Tom LeMieux lead Laurel Homes Inc, a new home development company based in Menlo Park. Tom LeMieux is a licensed real estate broker specializing in luxury homes in the Menlo Park area with over $1 billion in sales since 1999. With both their offices located in Menlo Park as well as being residents and active members of Menlo Park, I hope that the LeMieux’s will consider more than just a financial profit and make the right decision to protect and preserve our shared community, our environment, and our valuable heritage tree.

Like this comment
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I am appalled that Tom LeMieux and his wife Kim put profit so blatantly in front of our community and environment. I will not be doing business with them and will recommend no one in my network would choose Tom LeMiex as their real estate broker.

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

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