On Deadline: Nationwide search for 'urban forester' left no leaf unturned | April 13, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 13, 2012

On Deadline: Nationwide search for 'urban forester' left no leaf unturned

by Jay Thorwaldson

After an exhaustive nationwide search for someone to fill Palo Alto's new "urban forester" position, city officials have found their forester.

In mid-May, Walter Passmore — currently the urban forester in Austin, Texas — will join the city's Public Works Department staff, heading up the department's Urban Forestry Program.

There has been no public announcement of his hiring thus far, but City Manager James Keene has informed City Council members of Passmore's selection by Public Works Director Mike Sartor and a staff team.

The search for the perfect person for the position has been intense and time-consuming.

"He was selected after two interview panels consisting of outside professional and state arborists. Canopy and senior staff interviewed nine highly qualified candidates, including two internal ones," Keene wrote last week in an email to council members from his iPod.

"Mr. Passmore was one of the two top candidates of both panels."

Passmore's initial challenge — among many he will face in tree-sensitive Palo Alto — will be "bringing the Urban Forest Master Plan into fruition," Keene wrote.

For those unfamiliar with that tome, it is available on the city's website, www.cityofpaloalto.org.

Passmore, despite being in Austin, knows the Bay Area and will bring more than 20 years of experience in the relatively young field of urban forestry. He grew up in San Francisco and is a certified arborist. He has a B.S. degree in Forestry/Natural Resource Management from California Polytechnic State University, and is currently completing a master's degree in public administration at Texas State University.

"While I typically don't take time to inform you of non-department head appointments I felt it important to tell you personally of this position that is of great community interest," Keene told the council members.

He said Sartor will be speaking personally with the two internal candidates, who were unnamed.

But a safe assumption is that at least one of the candidates would be one of the two certified arborists already on staff: Dave Dockter in the Planning Department, who in the latter 1990s spearheaded creation of the city's Tree Technical Manual, and Peter Jensen of Public Works, hired last year. Other staff members have been involved with Palo Alto's tree canopy, long known as its urban forest.

The Tree Technical Manual was a three-year effort and garnered several major national awards when it was published, and scores of other cities requested copies. It was left un-copyrighted so others could easily and freely reproduce or adapt it to specific communities.

The manual also complemented a city tree-preservation ordinance that limited removal of significant, or "heritage," trees on private property. The ordinance followed a time of wholesale removal of all trees on parcels being redeveloped in the early "McMansion" period. It was a battle to save both individual trees and Palo Alto's own forest.

I once tried to show a group of hikers in the foothills where Palo Alto was. Except for its mid-rise buildings sticking up, virtually all the houses and other structures are hidden by its trees. It quite literally looks like a forest, not a city.

The city's website also has an extensive "urban forestry" section. And there is a private website of the nonprofit organization, Canopy — the "watchdog" of the urban forest, from street trees to heritage trees on private properties.

But Canopy does much more in terms of education, participation and even an innovative "Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids!" program. It is "a multi-year initiative to plant 1,000 shade trees and fruit trees that engages children and volunteers in educational activities and the planting of hundreds of trees."

Planting sites "target school campuses and nearby open space areas in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and neighboring communities," Canopy says. "Trees create better learning environments for students, bring much-needed shade to play areas, increase energy efficiency of school buildings, break up heat islands on campuses and even provide healthy snacks" — in addition to providing an overall healthier environment.

Not everyone likes trees, or likes them all the time, of course. In the fall their leaves are expensive nuisances, requiring regular street sweeping and causing neighborhood complaints about the sound of leaf blowers. And their roots tend to push up sidewalks and driveways, causing people to trip and making wheelchair maneuvering challenging. Injury claims for sidewalk-caused falls have been a significant headache for the city.

But birds and squirrels love them, and a former mayor once proposed creating a system of rope "SquirrelWays" when the city was beginning to put electric and phone lines underground several decades back. The ropes would enable the squirrels to get from tree to tree without encountering the hazards from cars, dogs and cats.

The new urban forester position will be in addition to the existing arborists, but the precise duties are still being worked out, or haven't been publicly announced yet. Salary details also are not immediately available.

But the real question is, "How has Palo Alto's urban forest managed to thrive all these years without this position?"

The answer lies in the thousands of residents, and earlier generations of residents, who value trees. People were planting ancestors of today's urban forest more than a century ago, supplanting or augmenting the native oaks that once dotted the grass-dominant landscape of the flatlands that became homesites, in some areas with dairy farms along the way leaving well-fertilized soil.

But it also lies in the dedication of city arborists, such as the pioneer George Hood, whom I mentioned in a column late last year.

Hood was especially known for his care of the city's "living landmark," El Palo Alto, a venerable redwood that came close to dying from neglect and pollution over the decades.

Yet he was also known widely for developing an especially colorful variety of liquidambar trees and introducing them as street trees, which other communities across the nation adopted.

Hood was followed by others who cared about and cared for trees, such as Gary Nauman and more recently Dockter.

The new urban forester will have large footprints to fill.

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be reached at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com with a copy to jaythor@well.com.


Like this comment
Posted by Ray Morneau
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Congratulations, Palo Alto!
Congratulations, Walter Passmore!

Palo Alto can now continue forward without missing a beat in the continuity of the urban forest. Yes, Mr. Passmore, as Mr. Thorwaldson has said in his well-researched well-written article, you "will have large footprints to fill"!

Some early arborists were mentioned, many other names remained trapped inside the pen ... additional important ones in my mind include Dave Sandage, Eric Krebs, Steve Scott, and Deanne Ecklund.

Plus, you have the opportunity to bask in the glow of many arboricultural consultancies which/who have also left their marks on this fair city ... including: HortScience, Inc. (many prominent arborists on staff), Dryad, LLC (Torrey Young), Barrie Coate & Associates (including Barrie D. Coate, Michael Bench, et alii), Arbor Resources (David Babby), Walter Levison (Consulting Arborist), Walter Fujii (Fujii Trees), Oaktopia (David Muffly), S. P. McClenahan Co. (James & John McClenahan), and Tree Management Experts (Roy C. Leggitt, III). These guys have been worth their weight in gold and will continue to benefit the City of Palo Alto!

Meanwhile, Palo Alto's residents will continue to thrive in one of the most magnificent, really incomparable, urban forests. In fact, the entire Bay Area (& beyond) stands to benefit from Palo Alto's urban forest program under Mr. Passmore's guidance. And, that's why I selected the category "Issues Beyond Palo Alto"!

Again, congratulations to all!
Best regards,
Ray Morneau

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm

These are the " arborists" who destroyed California Ave by chopping down all the trees and who have allowed Palo Alto oak trees to be be 35 to 50% fatally infected by their incompetence.

What we need are agricultural scientists not " aborists"

We need someone with a PhD in science

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Good Luck.

You'll need it

Like this comment
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 14, 2012 at 10:41 am


Established Date: Jul 1, 2011
Revision Date: Jul 28, 2011
$38.90 - $51.86 Hourly
$6,742.67 - $8,989.07 Monthly
$80,912.00 - $107,868.80 Annually

Reports To: Asst. Dir. Public Services
Supervises: Yes

Purpose of Classification

This management position will be responsible for implementing the City's Urban Forest Master Plan and provide key oversight to the coordination and management of the City’s tree resources. Under minimum direction, the Urban Forester manages the development, implementation and ongoing management activities of the Urban Forest Management Master Plan program involving trees located in City parks, public rights-of-way and on private properties. Acts as liaison between the City and the Community; represents the city/department on issues concerning the various Urban Forestry programs managed. The position involves the preparation of written reports and making presentations before City Council, citizens groups, and appointed boards and commissions and other government agencies. Supervises a staff of arborists and maintenance personnel involved in planning, engineering and operations activities associated with tree protection and enhancement projects.

Distinguishing Characteristics

This classification is at the section management level. The Urban Forester is responsible for the direction of the entire Urban Forestry Master Plan program and exercises a broad range of authority that is central to the maintenance and sustainability of the City's urban forest. Incumbents plan and assess operational goals and objectives related all Urban Forest programs. Responsibilities include developing budgets and allocating resources. Incumbents supervise professional, supervisory, technical, and clerical staff. The Incumbent makes hiring/firing recommendations and evaluates performance including disciplinary recommendations.

Essential and other important responsibilities and duties may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Plan, schedule, direct, and coordinate the activities of the Urban Forestry program section; develop and implement long-range plans, goals, policies, and procedures for the section; participate in the planning and implementation of complex city wide or multi-agency projects.
Provide professional and technical guidance to staff engaged in the supervision of field operations. Develop and direct the dissemination of rules, regulations, policies, and procedures and ensure compliance.
Develop and monitor operating budgets for the section; negotiate contracts and agreements.
Prepare and present reports to community groups and city council; respond to questions and concerns.
Coordinate activities of the section with other City departments and outside agencies; meet with various community groups and representatives of other departments to coordinate programs and projects; represent the City on committees, project teams and to the community.
Supervise staff to include: prioritizing and assigning work; conducting performance evaluations; ensuring staff are trained; and making hiring, termination and disciplinary recommendations.
Develop staffing, analyze and appraise results, and develop innovations to accomplish objectives and improve performance; assure that employee development programs meet division and employee needs.
Develop and monitor permitting requirements and processes
Assess safety risks
Perform other duties of a similar nature or level.

Sufficient education, training and/or work experience to demonstrate possession of the following knowledge and skills, which would typically be acquired through a minimum of:

Bachelor's degree in Arboricultural Sciences or Urban Forestry and seven years of directly related experience, including two years of prior supervisory experience; or, an equivalent combination of education and experience sufficient to successfully perform the essential duties of the job such as those listed above.

Licensing Requirements:

• Valid California Driver’s License.

• Certified Arborist Certificate from the International Society of Arborculture.

Qualification to enter this position requires knowledge of the following:

Managerial principles and practices;
Principles of supervision and ability to plan, direct and coordinate the work of others.
Ability to read landscape and architectural plans, and familiarity with tree protection measures on construction sites
Understanding of CEQA and environmental permit planning processes and requirements

Qualification to enter this position requires skill in:

Establishing and maintaining cooperative relations with the public;
Communicating effectively verbally and in writing;
Analyzing operating procedures and recommending improved programs for administering Urban Forestry Master Plan activities;
Writing reports and preparing budgets;
Using a computer and related software applications;
Communicating with others, making sound decisions, assimilating and understanding information, in a manner consistent with the essential job functions;
Operating assigned equipment;
Communication and interpersonal relations as applied to interaction with coworkers, supervisor, the general public, and others, sufficient to exchange or convey information and to receive work direction.

Positions in this class typically require: reaching, standing, walking, lifting, fingering, grasping, talking, hearing, seeing and repetitive motions.

Light Work: Exerting up to 20 pounds of force occasionally, and/or up to 10 pounds of force frequently, and/or negligible amount of force constantly to move objects. If the use of arm and/or leg controls requires exertion of forces greater than that for Sedentary Work and the worker sits most of the time, the job is rated for Light Work.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Apr 15, 2012 at 8:02 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Thanks, Herb, for rounding out the "urban forester" information. -jay

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