Alameda's Public Works Agency worked to reassure the public at a community meeting Wednesday night that policy changes would be made following the along the city's main business and retail thoroughfare.
“I understand the procedures don’t work for the community now, so we’re going to revise policies so there’s that are going to remove any street tree,” Public Works Director Matt Naclerio said.
Speakers at the public meeting, held in City Council chambers, expressed their outrage and disappointment at what they described as the “unexpected” removal of beloved older trees on Park Street.
“It’s a drastic change,” said one speaker. “Everyone visiting these businesses on Park Street was aghast.”
“We, the community, did not approve this,” said another speaker.
The community last month when the city removed almost all the mature trees on Park Street between Central and San Jose Avenue, and Lincoln Avenue and Webb Avenue as part of a streetscape improvement project.
The streetscape plan includes the installation of new street lights, parking kiosks in place of most meters, and bike racks, along with more than twice the number of trees of different varieties and size.
The first phase of the project was completed in 2006, but there was .
“The problem is a breakdown in communication,” Naclerio said. “We will not allow that on a policy level to happen again.”
The plan was approved at a City Council meeting last February, where “everyone who came out praised that it was very collaborative,” he said.
“We were not maliciously trying to hide anything, we thought we were following the community’s wishes,” Naclerio said.
When Naclerio acknowledged that he made the call to cut down the trees, one speaker suggested that he resign.
Naclerio, although apologetic, defended the decision, saying that the trees that were removed were not well-suited to an urban environment, with roots that raised the sidewalks.
The City has shortlisted six tree species to replace the removed trees — Brisbane Boxwood, Crepe Myrtle, Silver Linden, Chinese Pistache, and Frontier Elm. Alameda's tree plan allows for up to three different species on a block.
The trees were chosen based on a set of criteria, such as shade provided, canopy width and speed of growth.
“We wanted trees that would grow fast – at least 12 inches or more per year,” Naclerio said.
One speaker asked that attractiveness be included in the criteria.
“Distinctiveness should be part of it,” he said. “These trees are just different shades of grey.”
Another speaker said residents in Alameda appreciate a particular aesthetic. “We moved to Alameda because we like old, we like things not to match, we like everything to be different and quirky,” she said. “You delivered something to the wrong customer.”
Heather Reed, owner of Monkey Bars on Park Street, credited Naclerio and Deputy City Manager Alex Nguyen for their proactive response to business owners’ concerns. She stressed the importance of moving quickly by planting bigger trees as soon as possible.
“My suggestion is we need to move forward on this,” she said. “We need new trees.”
But landscape architect Jennifer Bowles cautioned against a hasty decision. She said trees on the City's list for replanting would likely not perform well over time, and suggested the city seek professional guidance when selecting what species of tree to plant.
“This is our flagship street and it needs to be done well,” Bowles said. “As much as we’d like to have it all back to new, rushing it is a mistake.”
Community members responded with a round of applause.
Al Wright, owner of Raintree Studios on Park Street, asked that construction be put on hold until January.
“Wait until January, then start business,” he said. “Stop building now so we can have a holiday season.”
But the streetscape project’s funding dictates a strict timeline, which means the City needs to act soon, said City Engineer Barbara Hawkins.
“Funding will be gone, or at least a good portion of it, by October, 2012,” she said.
Hawkins said trees of this nature and size aren’t easy to come by, and the City would need to act within the next month or two if it wishes to secure good quality trees.
Trees were not the only topic of discussion at Wednesday's meeting: there was also heated debate about the merits of parking kiosks versus parking meters. Some speakers said installing one kiosk on a block would be inconvenient for the disabled and for mothers with young children. Others disagreed.
“The ones in Oakland work beautifully,” said one speaker. “I don’t see what the problem is.”
Following the discussion, Nguyen agreed to reassess the viability of the shortlisted trees, and said staff would meet with a volunteer landscape expert to discuss the best options.
A list of the shortlisted trees will then be put up on the City's website where the public will have the chance to vote on what trees they would prefer to be planted.
The streetscape plan will also be brought before the planning board at its Nov. 28 meeting to discuss changes to the public input policy, as well as longterm policy changes.
Past Patch coverage of the Park Street tree removal:
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