VA tree-clearing taking place near Bol Park in Palo Alto

Trees make way for parking structure, new road at the hospital campus east end

Joggers, cyclists and residents in the Barron Park neighborhood are concerned about a tree-clearing project that has removed 400 feet of trees and shrubs near the Bol Park bicycle path.

The clearing, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, is on VA Palo Alto Healthcare System property that abuts the city parkland. The VA is realigning a perimeter road, adding underground utilities, a low retaining wall, and building a five-story parking structure and a new radiology building as part of its overall campus expansion.

The trees, which mainly covered a 45-degree slope between the park and the VA, provided a screen from hospital buildings along the popular bike and walking path, which runs through Bol Park and between the back part of Henry M. Gunn High School and the VA property. On Wednesday, several large tree trunks were piled up on the top of the berm where the new perimeter road will be built.

Hospital spokesman Michael Hill-Jackson did not know how many trees were removed. A general estimate on Wednesday based on spacing of existing trees along the slope indicated there are six to eight trees for every 10 feet.

Jason Nietupski, chief official for facilities planning, said he has heard from a number of concerned residents, and he has assured them the area will be adequately screened with replacement plants.

"For us, we are committed to ensuring the viewshed from the walkway will be camouflaged," he said. The VA's property line is actually 10 feet further toward Bol Park, but the hospital has not gone to that edge, he said.

A low retaining wall of varying height will edge the construction, which begins about 20 feet from the property line, he said. Part of the existing loop road will expand and straighten out toward the Bol Park path to link up with the new parking structure. The parking structure will be built at the current location of Parking Lot H1 adjacent to the Bol Park path at the easternmost edge of the campus.

Anticipated construction for the project will take 30 months, Nietupski said. The perimeter road will be the first part of the construction project, and it is expected to take 12 months to complete. Screening plants will be added at that time, he said. The garage will take up to two years to complete. The radiology building is set back closer to the center of campus adjacent to Building 100. The campus requires redevelopment to accommodate a nearly three-fold increase in patients since 1997, he said. Last year, VA Palo Alto served 62,000 people, he said.

The VA has done public outreach in the past on its redevelopment project, including with Barron Park residents. Feedback the hospital received resulted in shifting a planned six-story building for the east side to the front of the hospital, Nietupski said.

Barron Park resident Doug Moran said his records show the VA announced a public outreach meeting for Oct. 29, 2008, for a different area of the campus near the Stanford Research Park and the Roble Ridge area of Barron Park. Notice regarding the current project came six weeks ago.

Barron Park Association President Markus Fromherz said the VA sent an email at that time to the group about the project, which the association sent to its members. The VA called him on Wednesday to set up a community meeting for sometime next week, he said.

"Overall I think the VA is very concerned about keeping the neighborhood informed and doing what's right for this area," he said.

Nietupski said that he has checked on damage some residents say has occurred to Bol Park grassland along the project side. He did not find any except for a few tread marks a few feet outside the VA's property line, which occurred as part of installing the construction fence. He said he would ask staff to take another look, however.

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1 person likes this
Posted by John Thomas-Whitcomb McCoy
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2014 at 10:46 am

About the tree clearing at Bol Park. Is there a map or even a photo including aerial of the site concerned which PA Online can publish? Thank you.

I remember the ol' Southern Pacific commuter train which ran through the Bol property on the way to/from Vasona Junction and California Avenue junction to the SP Peninsula main line, way back in the early 60's stopping at Neal station there at Matadero and Laguna. My father used this stop to commute to PacBell in The City.

1 person likes this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:12 am

This is roughly the area where the trees were removed (Google Map, satellite view): Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Enid Pearson
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:24 am

Here's a thought. Have the meetings with the City and Stanford BEFORE the tree-cutting occurs. Sounds like it might be too late, but continue for the future. Both the site where the donkeys are housed and Strawberry Hill ought to be acquired by the City and made an official part of Bol Park. There will be some necessary negotiations with the donkey area site owner and with Stanford.
It would be a great gesture by the donkey site owner and Stanford to assist is protecting these two areas from
any development. It would ensure that Bol Park remain the great park that it is.

All parks, because they are open spaces and thought of as free, are very tempting places to construct buildings
that are usually called "necessary to protect" or "in the publics' interest".

1 person likes this
Posted by John Thomas-Whitcomb McCoy
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:46 am

@Douglas Moran AND @Enid Pearson:

Thank you Douglas Moran for your very helpful link to the site.

Thank you Ms. Enid Pearson for your thoughtful suggestions regarding the tree removal at Bol Park/PAVA. I clearly remember a donkey using the beautiful pasture 53 years ago!

1 person likes this
Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 30, 2014 at 2:06 pm

(Former P.A. Resident for 38 years) How many times since I moved from P.A. in 2008 have I seen a headline about trees being cut down?!?!?! I think the town is going to have to change its name and logo pretty soon. It's just ridiculous and I'm certainly glad I haven't had to personally witness all the negative changes to the area that I've read about since moving to Oregon. OMG! It appears to be a continual war on trees combined with ever more ugly density and ever more uppity-ness. I guess when downtown Palo Alto is like downtown San Jose people will finally be happy.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 30, 2014 at 4:03 pm

With all of the trees being cut down, soon will be nothing but heat and cement. No one cares about trees being such a wonderful addition to each and every one of the neighborhoods, they just want to complain about trains, planes and the rest. Palo Alto used to be such a wonderful town. It is so sad.

2 people like this
Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Non Barron Park residents of Palo alto, and even newer residents of Barron Park, may be interested in the history of Bol Park and the bike/pedestrian pathway adjacent to Bol Park, which extends from Hanover Street near the former Varian Associates site, to Arastadero Road by Gunn High School.

At the time Bol Park came into existence in the early 1970's, the Barron Park community was an unincorporated part of Santa Clara County, totally surrounded by the City of Palo Alto. I was the president of the Barron Park Association (BPA) from around 1964 through 1975. The Cornelius Bol family approached me the early '70s with an offer of making the five acre site, that was then a donkey pasture, available to the community for purposes of making it into a park. The offer was substantially below the then market price. The offer was presented to the community through a BPA public meeting. In due time, wide spread interest developed in favor of accepting the Bol family offer and creating a park. In the course of a year,the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors were persuaded to initiate the legal means for this to happen. In order, a tax district was formed that would impose a special property tax on BP home owners; and election was held with about 67% of the voters approving; a successful application for a grant was made to the federal HUD agency, and contributions were offered by community residents. With funding in hand, the property was purchased from the Bol family and construction started. Two local landscape architects and BP residents donated their services to both design and supervise the construction.

Meanwhile, the Southern Pacific Railroad had completed its abandonment of the rail line that connected Los Gatos to the mainline in Palo Alto that is now CalTrain. It occurred to me that with the abandoned line now totally landlocked, that it was useless to the SP company. Therefore, using a contact that I had,the then Chairman of the Board of SP agreed to gift the right of way to Santa Clara County for purposes of creating the current pathway. The company's real estate manager told me this may have been the only land the railroad company had ever given away. A public ceremony was held on the grounds of the nearly completed Bol Park during which the deed to the property was transferred to the county. Construction of the pathway was soon underway as phase two of the Bol Park project. (BTW, Stanford University has never been involved in this project and is not now involved to my knowledge)

In 1975, after a number of years of studying the advantages and disadvantagesof annexing to the City of Palo Alto, an election was held to do so. Seventy five percent of the votes cast favored annexation. With this accomplished, Bol park and the entire pathway became part of the city. I retired from the presidency of the BPA in 1976

Three factores assure that the park and the trail remain such in perpetuity: 1)the moral condition imposed by the Bol Family that the park would always remain and that the donkeys would be provided for for the remainder of their lives; 2)the HUD grant required that the park remain a park forever; 3)the City of Palo Alto council at the time promised to dedicate the site as a permanent park, and that any major changes necessary would always involve residents of the Baron Park community. This agreement by the city has been honored ever since. For example, city and local residents have participated in replacing non-native plants with native plants; the original play structure, made of wood, needed to be replaced several years ago. The present structure in color (my contribution) and design reminiscent of a steam locomotive, were all part of resident suggestions; finally when the old black walnut trees became diseased and had to be removed,again residents were consulted.

Several alert residents and the president of the BPA are now working with city officials and an official of the VA to formulate a plan to mitigate the current damage and to implement replacement of the trees that have been removed. A meeting of this group has been scheduled. Once a plan has been developed, it is my expectation that the current president of the BPA will bring the plan and the details of what has happened and will likely happen to the attention of the Barron Park community as a whole. As one of the alert resident mentioned above, I fully intend to be involved in these remedial efforts.

I hope this adds clarity to the above story and allays fears of all interested residents. This situation will not stand uncorrected as long as I am around. Resident should know that David Boxerman and his wife, residents of Barron Park, were the first responders to this situation. Many thanks to both of them.

Like this comment
Posted by Markus Fromherz
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:45 pm

People concerned about trees should some time look at Palo Alto from a hill across Foothill Expressway. I sometimes joke that we live in a forest. You can barely see any buildings. We certainly do not lack for trees.

Like this comment
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2014 at 7:26 am

Thank you Dick Placone for offering this history, and for having had the foresight to make this all happen. Barron Park would not have the quality of life we enjoy had you, along with others, not stepped forward to help make all this happen. Can you tell us this: is the present "donkey land" part of the Bol family transaction and if not, who owns it? And, who owns the land between the Southern Pacific bike path you helped establish and the one along the neighborhood? (Strawberry Hill)

I hope the community meeting will not be scheduled for Tuesday night which is election night...

Thanks for your in depth knowledge.

1 person likes this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2014 at 11:11 am

Most of the trees being removed on the VA property are eucalyptus trees, a non-native plant that chokes out native trees creating a mono culture along with a fire danger. I applaud the PAVA for taking the courageous step as part of the facility improvements. Hopefully native trees will be considered for the project that will improve the ecological zone along the creek and park. As with most construction, there is always a period that residents and neighbors don't like, but in the long run it should be an improvement.

Like this comment
Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2014 at 11:32 am

Reply to Cheryl's question regarding landownership and the forthcoming meeting. The park and the pathway itself is owned by Palo Alto. The land West of the path at some point is owned by the VA. Toward the southern end of the path,the wide open and barren space is Gunn High School property. I believe the owner is Stanford, but is leased to Gunn, which includes the entire school campus.

The meeting I mentioned is not a community meeting, but is a meeting of the president of the Barron Park Association, three residents who surfaced this problem in the very beginning, a VA official and one or two people from city staff. The purpose of this meeting, I believe, is to prepare an agenda and possible mitigation plans to present to the residents of Barron Park (and anyone else)at a regular community meeting. These meetings are usually held in the Barron Park elementary school and are announced in the BP Newsletter.

Like this comment
Posted by Anciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2014 at 11:40 am

When I think about tree issues in Palo Alto, I always remember a line in a novel by Wallace Stegner that I read decades ago: "Into Palo Alto, heavy with trees."

I really want Palo Alto to cherish its trees. They are beautiful, and they do so much for the environment. I'm not happy to hear about what has happened near Bol Park, and I was FURIOUS when they cut down all those trees on California Avenue.

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: David

His comment that the trees being removed are eucalyptus is dead wrong -- although there are eucalyptus trees in other sections of the VA property, there were none in the section removed. The trees removed were predominantly native oak trees, but included a number of other native species. Some of those natives had been planted as part of the revegetation effort after the creek bypass project and members of the community had invested large amounts of effort in getting them established (for example, carrying water in jugs on a bicycle to get them through the critical period of getting established).

The VA also destroyed large areas of long established native plants that had been the "reservoir" for seeds that were moving back into the areas disturbed by the creek bypass construction. (this was not part of the Weekly article).

1 person likes this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2014 at 10:37 pm

[Post removed.]

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

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