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City moves to expand tree-protection rules

Original post made on Oct 19, 2021

Palo Alto famously loves its trees -- as its namesake redwood, official seal and Urban Forest Master Plan proudly testify. But laws that protect trees are outdated and due for an update, the City Council agreed Monday.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 19, 2021, 12:29 AM

Comments (16)

Posted by Lydia Kou
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2021 at 9:08 am

Lydia Kou is a registered user.


Thanks to the two former Palo Alto Urban Foresters Walter Passmore and Dave Dockter, Canopy and the resident ad hoc group.

US cities are losing 36 million trees a year - CNN Health Web Link

Preserving trees and water are high priority for biodiversity.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 19, 2021 at 9:20 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"Planning staff struggle with the ambiguities in the city's code, particularly its failure to address situations where trees impact accessory dwelling units or neighboring properties... City commissioners observe that other cities protect a wider array of trees than Palo Alto.

Bryna Chang, a member of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, said she was surprised to learn recently that Palo Alto's tree protection laws are weaker than in neighboring cities."

Our "leaders" have been stalling tree protection long before ADUs were even an issue. Shame on their ignorance about what neighboring cities are doing. And shame on Cormack and Tanaka for proposing that city staff stall even more. When does Cormack NOT defer to staff rather than the evidence at hand that shows abuses by developers?

Some protections and procedures to review and appeal moves to chop down trees BEFORE they're cut down would be special. Some enforcement of these procedures and stiff penalties for violations are in order.

Thanks to those who are working so hard on this issue.


Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 19, 2021 at 10:53 am

commonsense is a registered user.

The city should be planting oak trees, not just protecting them. Otherwise, eventually all of Palo Alto's will be gone. Presumably the city does not plant them because they take too long to grow large. We should plant oaks that future generations will enjoy and keep Palo Alto beautiful for years/100s of years to come. Redwoods grow like weeds, no worry there


Posted by Steve T
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 10:54 am

Steve T is a registered user.

A day late and a dollar short for the poor native tree that was at the VTA lot at the corner of EL Camino and Page Mill. For some odd reason the city okayed the cutting of this large and beautiful native Californian Oak Tree.


Posted by DebbieMytels
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:00 am

DebbieMytels is a registered user.

I encourage the staff and council to update the tree ordinance to protect ANY tree that has grown to at least 15 inches (as Mayor Tom DuBois proposed). Whether or not they are part of an "original" California ecosystem, these trees are part of our neighborhood life. They provide habitat for birds and insects; they provide shade and beauty; and, as we are learning from tree scientists such as Carolyn Simard, they are interconnected by their roots with the amazing underground network of fungal mycelia that transport nutrients and other biochemical information to neighboring vegetation. Every tree that is cut down diminishes our community. Cutting them down to add a bedroom or a driveway is an affront to their sacred being. Big old trees are our elders, and we must learn to treat them with the awe and respect they deserve.


Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:20 am

Crescent Park Mom is a registered user.

There’s a proper place in Palo Alto for protected trees. Parks and other common areas…not postage-stamp sized lots.


Posted by jguislin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:25 am

jguislin is a registered user.

The "deliberate approach" proposed by Tanaka and Cormack is nothing more than their typical attempt to delay any action that might slow development. Just like the tobacco industry, these council members always cry for "more data" before we can take any action that is opposed by business.
I suggest Staff and Council also look into modifying the regulations when someone violates our tree protection regulations. Our neighbor had some untrained gardeners hack our shared live oak. When brought to the attention of the city, a six year plan was put in place requiring the owner to restore the health of the tree. HOWEVER, if this property is sold, the requirement ends; the plan only applies to the current property owner (this per city attorney Molly Stump). The city needs to review the provision to make any city-mandated tree care plan apply to the property itself, so any future owner must follow through.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:34 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

One problem is redwood trees that are now sending out new growth at a very fast rate. There are a couple on the lot behind me that are near the power lines and are now sending branches through the lines and producing new growth. This has been discussed with the city and the neighbors that own the trees. They do not see the problem from their side but I see the problem from my side. Why are large branches allowed to interfere with the power lines when all that is required is to cut off those specific branches. I just paid big bucks to have my redwood tree on the street side "managed" so no unruly branches are not over the street or in the neighbors yards dropping all types of tree trash.
Power line protection is the main goal here - we do not need a "PG&E" situation in a R-1 neighborhood location. No one is saying take the whole tree down - just the branches that are now growing with a fury. Tree growth needs to be managed so that new growth is not interferring with the power lines. The AT&T, Comcast lines are at the midpoint where a lot of tree interference requires yearly management.
The city has to budget for this type effort - more important than pouring cement all of the streets to bump into.


Posted by plantfruittrees
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:47 am

plantfruittrees is a registered user.

On the other hand, sometimes a tree does need to come down, like the ailing redwood that had lifted my walkway 15" four feet from the edge of my house, with a lot of its roots under the house and an arborist warning that the tree was sick and could fall on our house.

It took well over a year to get permission, despite an arborist saying of course that has to go.

They eventually required we pay $350 to another arborist for a second opinion in writing because the neighbor wanted to hire the first guy's company. I don't in any way begrudge the second for his hassle, expertise, and time, but I did offer to simply send the city photos because the damage was so bad and the roots so close to our foundation and the case so obvious. They refused to accept them nor to come out to see for themselves. That makes no sense to me. (Their meter reader could have told them...)

I want to protect trees as much as anybody--I've added 17 to my property--and I miss that one very much. It was glorious watching a Cooper's hawk hunt from it.

But that redwood should have been protected 65 years earlier by being planted somewhere else, not at the very edge of their property where it was closest to our house. There was no question as to where it would grow and the damage it would do and it was a terrible thing to do to the people in its future not to mention the tree itself.

Plant. But plan ahead.

The city required the neighbors to plant a new native tree to replace it. They did, in a responsible place. It's growing nicely and it's a treat to watch it coming to be. I look forward to the hawks' grandchicks nesting there someday.


Posted by We Are The People
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 12:36 pm

We Are The People is a registered user.

This is a problem in all Cities?
I attended an Atherton Council meeting a few weeks back.
Some one with "Clout" had a 60yr Old Tree Cut down! As it was destroyed, a Neighbor noticed that it had very little damaged on one Limb?
The person that instigated the "Cut down" didn't like that was sitting in the middle of a Street and they didn't want it there? They didn't want to have to drive around it. They are now spending over $8,000 to replace the Tree. The One concern Neighbor wanted to pay the extra and spend $12,000 for a larger size tree? She wanted a Larger Tree to replace the one that was killed.

There will always be Others that don't like something?
I have noticed that most people that don't want a Tree somewhere, its just because they can "Hate" it?
Some don't want the task of "raking" Leaves? Which I find Selfish. Tree's are good for the environment.

There was a East Palo Alto Council Meeting that address the saving of Tree's. It was noted that in City's similar to East Palo Alto also cut down Tree's. The city is going to make an effort in replacing vacant areas with Tree's with the help from "Canopy".
I agree with the person who spoke up about The New Construction of a House. With Our Neighborhoods changing, people that move in don't understand the

Traditions and comforts of the previous neighborhood.
I had a New Buyer tell me the reason they cut the Tree down, is because in Their Country they have "Bugs" in the Tree's??
The person that referred to having Trees on a "Postage stamp" Lot? Does it matter? A Tree is a Blessing. Its saving your life.
There are People that want to remove a Mature Tree, just to enable MORE parking or a NEW Addition. Which should be a LAST resource. Build around it.


Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 19, 2021 at 2:23 pm

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

The other problem is the city hires a third party who plants trees in the worst places. We have a corner lot and they came around and planted 2 more new trees on the city side of our property. That gives a total of 5 trees surrounding our property (not including the 1 huge tree on our property). That is 6 trees. 1 existing tree is next to a water meter & main, and cause pipe issues and the new tree planted is next to our 2nd water meter.

They planted a new tree inches from our 2nd water meter. Meanwhile our neighbor who cut down this huge city oak tree (illegally) not only didn't get a fine, but the city shrugged their shoulders and said, "meh too late now"

There needs to be some balance. There are streets with little trees and lots with absolutely no street trees, while some homes are surrounded by tremendous number of city trees.


Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 3:19 pm

Crescent Park Mom is a registered user.

Lets assume, for example, you have a Live Oak Tree in your backyard. The Live Oak Tree will eventually grow to have a 6 ft trunk diameter. The City of Palo Alto Tree Technical Manual states you can't build or pave anywhere within the dripline of a protected tree. This effects, not only the property it rests on, but also the surrounding neighbor properties that fall within the dripline. Based on the calculations in the Manual, that would mean almost 12,500 sqft of property can't be disturbed. Now suppose you also happen to have one of the city trees in your front yard. You aren't able to disturb any of the area within its dripline either. So if you happen to live on a small lot, you will be very limited in what you are able to do with your property unless you are prepared to go through a significant amount of red tape and expense. This applies not only to the owner of the tree but also any neighbors within the tree dripline who want to do something with their own properties someday.

I can't predict what I, my kids, or the next owners plan to do with my property but I do know I don't want to be boxed in by unnecessary rules regarding my small piece of dirt. A tree can easily be planted somewhere else.


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2021 at 3:55 pm

mjh is a registered user.

*NOT YET APPROVED*
8.10.50 Prohibited acts(d)
In the case of development requiring a project approval under Chapter 18.76 (Permits and Approvals), removal of a protected tree may be permitted if retention of the tree would result in reduction of the otherwise-permissible building area of the lot by more than twenty-five percent,


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2021 at 4:11 pm

mjh is a registered user.

The proposed new ordinance is more nuanced than might be thought reading the article. Some examples from Staff's Report to council:
TREE ORDINANCE RECOMMENDATION - HIGHLIGHTS
8.10.020 Definitions
(l) ”Protected” tree means:
(1) Six native low water-use trees, rather than two, will now be protected from removal if at least 11.5-inches in diameter, (36-inches circumference) at about chest height, except Coast Redwood.
(3) Any tree at least 18-inches in diameter, (57-inches circumference), other than invasive species or high water users.
2. PRACTICAL ALTERNATIVES CONSIDERED BEFORE A PROTECTED TREE MAY BE REMOVED
(c) (2) On a single family or low density residential lot, If a protected tree were growing so close to proposed development that construction would result in the death of the tree, it could be removed if there were no financially feasible and reasonable design alternative that would permit preservation of the tree.


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2021 at 4:29 pm

mjh is a registered user.

NOT YET APPROVED*
8.10.50 Prohibited acts.
...except as allowed in this section:
(a)...is a detriment to or crowding an adjacent protected tree, is impacting the foundation or eaves of a primary residence,
(b) (2) the tree is within the buildable area and that the proposed construction would result in the death of the tree, or
(3) the tree should be removed pursuant to subdivision (a).
(e) Tree replacement....except in the cases of crowding an adjacent protected tree or impacting the foundation or eaves of a primary residence,


Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 19, 2021 at 7:15 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

Please consider protecting the trees on the Castilleja campus.


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