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.