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New Palo Alto law would triple number of 'protected' trees

Original post made on Jun 1, 2022

Palo Alto is preparing to pass a law next week that would roughly triple the number of trees classified as "protected" and create new requirements for developers and residents looking to uproot these trees.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 1, 2022, 2:46 PM

Comments (19)

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2022 at 4:57 pm

felix is a registered user.

Good. About time given it’s been 20 yrs since the last update and so much new is understood as to the critical role trees play for health, heat island cooling, energy savings and carbon capture.

Trees can still be removed when needed - but now it seems there will need to be for a good reason.


Posted by scott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 1, 2022 at 5:11 pm

scott is a registered user.

Wonder if the city is considering how this might interact with the housing element. On one hand they'll be arguing to housing regulators in Sacramento that ~600 lots are developable at certain densities. On the other, they'll be reducing the developable land on many of the lots after they were initially selected.

Might look kinda bad.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 2, 2022 at 9:32 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Maybe the city did consider how it would impact the housing element. The number of realtors who tell people touring open houses how to kill the trees on the property so they can scrape and expand is disgustingly high.


Posted by olaf.brandt
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2022 at 10:47 am

olaf.brandt is a registered user.

Photo caption claims "bigleaf maple tree". I'm no botanist but I am pretty sure that is a liquid amber tree.


Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 2, 2022 at 10:50 am

eileen is a registered user.

Online Name, yes, that is precisely what the realtors selling the small cottage house across the street from me did. They advised the new owners, an investor, to cut down every tree on the property. There were two extremely large, beautiful canopy trees in the front and back that were cut down. There is no shade on that property and the street trees are also dying. I am glad our city realizes the importance of tree shade. We can still build higher and have more space around buildings for tall canopy trees to provide much-needed shade.


Posted by Alex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2022 at 11:28 am

Alex is a registered user.

This ordinance is too broad. The 11.5 inch specification should only apply to California Native Tree and not to diseased or dying trees. If Palo Alto wants to protect large non-native species, the trunk size should be in the 3 foot range. Trees should not only provide shade but be an integral part of the ecosystem to be protected.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 2, 2022 at 11:40 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Eileen, in my case I heard realtors repeatedly advising people on how to poison the trees and how long the various poisons would take for the trees to start hurting enough for the city to allow them to be cut down.

Since one of those trees is right next door to me, it stuck in my mind. Fortunately the new neighbors ignored that advice and we continue to enjoy the beautiful tree together.


Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jun 2, 2022 at 2:34 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

Thanks, Olaf. The tree in the caption is indeed a liquidambar. We corrected the error.


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 2, 2022 at 3:56 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Curious about who decides, and using what criteria, the threshold is for not “financially feasible” to retain an inconvenient tree. Especially mature street trees, so many of which city hall has allowed commercial developers to remove. Replacement trees, while required, are a sorry substitute for the loss of the public benefit of a mature canopy for the next 15-20 years, or longer.


Posted by Balance
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 2, 2022 at 4:08 pm

Balance is a registered user.

Trees are awesome and I love how they add to the complexion of a neighborhood turning it from good to great. Trees do great things but this new proposed ordinance just smacks of government overreach.
If you love trees, the solution is to plant more trees in YOUR yard. If you don't have enough land, buy more land. If you can't afford it, then stop affecting other peoples plans (my land, my choice). I think we need a more nuanced approach; something like having 1 in the front yard or the backyard, or planting more trees on public sidewalks.


Posted by Banes
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jun 2, 2022 at 7:38 pm

Banes is a registered user.

Agree. However, even when the trees are protected, new owners can come in and chop them down and unless somebody turns them in -and even then it’s just a slap on the wrist with minor fines.
I sold a house and first thing the new owners did was chop down every Redwood tree and the heritage Oak in the backyard on 4th July 2013, When nobody was paying attention or was in town. Neighbors called the city Arborist and there were only minor fines. Whereas if I had cut all those mature heritage trees down - the property would have sold for many hundreds of thousands of dollars more.
Now you look out around various neighborhoods in Palo Alto and it looks like there’s an ADU in every backyard, Reminded me of ghettos of India.
Do you really think any consequences will make any difference to property owners, who gain significant financial advantage for their tree ???? ???? less, BUILDABLE, ADU-available lot. ??
Talk is cheap, so are laws when they aren’t enforced.


Posted by Hal Plotkin
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2022 at 9:37 am

Hal Plotkin is a registered user.

Unfortunately, as we learned when an investor cut down several "protected" old growth trees on our block the "tree preservation ordinance" is virtually meaningless. It doesn't matter at all how many trees are on the list. What matters is how easy it is to avoid complying with the ordinance. It is a trivial matter to get a consultant to claim a tree's roots are damaging a nearby structure's foundation as occurred on our block. Once that happens the property owner gets permission to cut down the tree. When I inquired, the city was not able to identify a single tree that had been preserved after a property owned jumped thru the hoop of claiming damage to their foundation. Nor does the city provide any resources to identify ways that foundations can be protected without removing the tree. Our experience is that the loopholes in this ordinance render it entirely ineffective.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 4, 2022 at 11:40 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Well, we know from the Casti hearings the city staff effectively said "a protected tree is protected except when it isn't." That's why the neighbors had to hire their own arborist to push back against city staff falling all over themselves to give Casti what they wanted.


Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2022 at 12:17 pm

felix is a registered user.

Many of these commenters point out the need for strong enforcement. They are absolutely right!

The City must hire more Enforcement Officers generally to see our laws are followed, including those that pertain to trees.

We can have good laws but we must then enforce them. That is true here. Are you listening, City Council Members?


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 4, 2022 at 2:35 pm

mjh is a registered user.

The past and current city manager have seen fit to gut the code enforcement department. Unfortunately the council has not priotized a fully staffed and functioning code enforcement department either.

However, the city manager has stacked and packed his office with highly paid assistant managers, assistant to the assistant, etc etc. Not to mention this city managers newly created PR position to push out press releases, although this appears to be more about keeping the city manager’s image burnished as keeping residents informed.

Unfortunately Palo Alto’s city charter gives the city manager wide leeway in how the city is run with only a limited oversight roll for the city council.


Posted by jr1
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 6, 2022 at 5:04 pm

jr1 is a registered user.

Before neighbors begin to insert new trees, they should think of the ramification when the tree is over 20 years. If the proper tree is planted, when it grows the tree can be enjoyed by the current resident. In Greenmeadow, a neighbor planted several trees along the side of the house and in the backyard. The neighbor failed to note that trees grow and then they had a problem. In time most of the trees were removed. Residents need to think about the trees they are installing, and get a general idea how large and wide will the tree get. I was recently in Sacramento, they are inserting new evergreens so the clean up is less and the city appears greener year round. The city should publish a list to help residents make a determination as too the tree that they should plant. To often trees are put in, they grow and 25 plus years later they are being removed.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 7, 2022 at 4:33 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Last night's City Council agenda included a little exercise in irony. After determining the fate of the Castilleja expansion application which involves the removal of many mature trees, CC turned its attention to this tree protection ordinance. Timing is everything. Trees are important, good for the environment, and should be protected. Until a development project says otherwise.

Really now, when is that values statement coming out?


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 7, 2022 at 6:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Hah! It's no doubt much of the city's voluminous Sustainability Plan they said last night was coming soon -- right after that amusing discussion of whether taking out old trees mattered to the environment.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2022 at 2:27 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

Shade people by approving and building safe sustainable affordable homes . So much concrete is being poured for commercial and city building development and the parking structures/stalls that accompany these near empty buildings. Why are there empty spaces which lay fallow and for what purpose do these hot paved and paved spaces do, but heat up. One guaranteed parking space for every employee coming from outside or drive to work? Yet what once was, has changed with COVID. Now former “commuters” office workers, working from home while our economic structure wobbles under the weight of a looming recession! Every hour the Northern California, Silly Valley economic divide gets deeper and steeper. Truth. Trees grow old and die. While our democracy is falling sickly, city ordinances like these only “appear” to get things done. And also bolster the few in power against the many who have very near nothing. How about this. For every parking space “needed” for no-one , that commercial development plants one tree here in PA or elsewhere near, like tree deprecated East Palo Alto? Layers and layers and layers of Concrete wet, dry, demolished or transported sucks tons and tons of clean oxygen from a breathable, living space — inside and out. Manufactured chemical based Concrete never dies, it’s poison just gets shifted behind “tree speak”. It’s also a petroleum based toxic product that is surely rising in price along with petrel fuel and falling on the leaves and roots of life itself.


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