News

City's urban forester resigns to join Cal Fire

Walter Passmore, the first person to serve as urban forester, to depart at end of May

Walter Passmore stands next to a stone pine tree at Mitchell Park in 2012, the year he was hired to become the city's first urban forester. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Walter Passmore, who nine years ago became Palo Alto's first urban forester, will leave his position at the end of the month to join the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Passmore, whose accomplishments in the city included the development of the Urban Forest Master Plan, will serve as the state's urban forest program manager, according to Public Works Director Brad Eggleston.

In recent years, the issue of fire protection has become particularly personal for Passmore, a former researcher at the U.S. Forest Service who had served as the urban forester in Austin, Texas, before coming to Palo Alto in 2012. In 2020, his home burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fires. Passmore said in an email that the cost of constructing or buying a new home in the Bay Area has prompted his family to "evaluate the next steps for our lives."

"After lengthy and prayerful consideration with my family, I decided to apply for and ultimately accept the position with CAL Fire as the State Urban Forester for California," wrote Passmore, whose new position is based in Sacramento. "I have enjoyed working for the City of Palo Alto. There has been tremendous progress for the Urban Forestry Program as well as associated endeavors such as the Sustainability/Climate Action Plan."

In addition to playing a leading role in developing citywide policies on trees, Passmore was involved in reviewing major development projects and their impacts on trees. This includes the proposed reconstruction of Castilleja School, a contentious project that has faced heavy scrutiny over its tree plan.

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Resident Rob Levitsky is among those who has persistently called on the city to reject Castilleja's project because of the tree plan, which calls for removing 18 trees, relocating 29 and adding 103. Addressing the City Council on Monday night, Levitsky lamented Passmore's departure and suggested that the city hire a new urban forester to help analyze both the Castilleja project and other developments around town.

"We're going to need somebody to help get through this, because it's a big project," Levitsky said, referring to Castilleja. "And we don't have anybody anymore."

Eggleston said he plans to hire a new employee to fill the urban forester position. In the meantime, the Public Works Department is "planning for the transition and for continuing to provide this important service to the community while the position is vacant, including the Urban Forestry role of reviewing tree plans for development projects."

Passmore is one of several Public Works veterans to recently announce their departure from Palo Alto. On Monday, the council also passed resolutions of retirement to Assistant Director Phil Bobel and Industrial Waste Inspector Margaret Zittle, each of whom is retiring after spending 32 years at City Hall.

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City's urban forester resigns to join Cal Fire

Walter Passmore, the first person to serve as urban forester, to depart at end of May

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, May 3, 2021, 6:38 pm

Walter Passmore, who nine years ago became Palo Alto's first urban forester, will leave his position at the end of the month to join the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Passmore, whose accomplishments in the city included the development of the Urban Forest Master Plan, will serve as the state's urban forest program manager, according to Public Works Director Brad Eggleston.

In recent years, the issue of fire protection has become particularly personal for Passmore, a former researcher at the U.S. Forest Service who had served as the urban forester in Austin, Texas, before coming to Palo Alto in 2012. In 2020, his home burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fires. Passmore said in an email that the cost of constructing or buying a new home in the Bay Area has prompted his family to "evaluate the next steps for our lives."

"After lengthy and prayerful consideration with my family, I decided to apply for and ultimately accept the position with CAL Fire as the State Urban Forester for California," wrote Passmore, whose new position is based in Sacramento. "I have enjoyed working for the City of Palo Alto. There has been tremendous progress for the Urban Forestry Program as well as associated endeavors such as the Sustainability/Climate Action Plan."

In addition to playing a leading role in developing citywide policies on trees, Passmore was involved in reviewing major development projects and their impacts on trees. This includes the proposed reconstruction of Castilleja School, a contentious project that has faced heavy scrutiny over its tree plan.

Resident Rob Levitsky is among those who has persistently called on the city to reject Castilleja's project because of the tree plan, which calls for removing 18 trees, relocating 29 and adding 103. Addressing the City Council on Monday night, Levitsky lamented Passmore's departure and suggested that the city hire a new urban forester to help analyze both the Castilleja project and other developments around town.

"We're going to need somebody to help get through this, because it's a big project," Levitsky said, referring to Castilleja. "And we don't have anybody anymore."

Eggleston said he plans to hire a new employee to fill the urban forester position. In the meantime, the Public Works Department is "planning for the transition and for continuing to provide this important service to the community while the position is vacant, including the Urban Forestry role of reviewing tree plans for development projects."

Passmore is one of several Public Works veterans to recently announce their departure from Palo Alto. On Monday, the council also passed resolutions of retirement to Assistant Director Phil Bobel and Industrial Waste Inspector Margaret Zittle, each of whom is retiring after spending 32 years at City Hall.

Comments

Paul Brophy
Registered user
Professorville
on May 4, 2021 at 10:15 am
Paul Brophy, Professorville
Registered user
on May 4, 2021 at 10:15 am

Before this position is filled by the Public Works Director, shouldn't the city first decide how important this job is relative to proposed cuts elsewhere in the city budget? Very few cities the size of Palo Alto have an "urban forester." Just maybe an additional position in police, fire, libraries, children's services etc. should have a higher priority.


sfvalley
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on May 4, 2021 at 10:26 am
sfvalley, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on May 4, 2021 at 10:26 am

Thanks Rob Levitsky for bringing this important information to the neighbors of Castilleja and all of Palo Alto, and the WEEKLY for picking it up. Mr. Passmore and the Urban Forestry department have been vigilant in trying to get the school to provide updated and accurate tree protection zones so decision-makers can determine what's really going on with the trees, as it is impossible to get useful information from the actual expansion plans and outdated related documents available to the public. We wish the best for Walter and will miss his thoughtful approach to protecting trees and the Palo Alto muni code.


Green Gables
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2021 at 4:00 pm
Green Gables, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 4, 2021 at 4:00 pm

Sorry to see such a well versed and highly integrity City employee leave.


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