NOTE: All Alameda Patch stories about the tree removal are here: Park Street Trees.
Last Thursday and Friday all the mature trees on Park Street between Central and San Jose avenues were removed by work crews as part of a long-planned streetscape improvement project.
The new streetscape is slated to include new lights, parking kiosks (instead of meters), and bike racks — as well as nearly twice as many trees, both ginkgos and crepe myrtles.
But community reaction to the removal of the existing trees was swift, sad and angry — and , as well as on Alameda Patch's Facebook page.
Also notable were the search terms leading to this site. There's been a steady stream of them since the trees were cut down:
What happened to the trees on park street
Park Street trees cut why
Alameda trees Park Street disappeared
Where are the trees on Park street
No trees on Park Street Alameda
At Tuesday night's city budget meeting, where about the removal of the trees, (as they also did at ), City Manager John Russo apologized for the way the removal was done and promised to do better next time.
"This wasn't handled well," Russo said. "It's not that the steps weren't taken, it's that they were stale."
The review of the project took place in 2005, Russo says, when the project was first initiated. "There is a rationale. People may disagree with the rationale, but there is a rationale," Russo said.
The City will set up a community meeting in November to look at how the process could have been done better and what should happen now on Park Street.
Public Works Director Matt Naclerio also apologized.
"While the Public Works Department followed the established procedures for the Park Street project, it is clear that it was insufficient," Naclerio said. "The Public Works Department should have recognized that the public review for the project occurred several years ago and we should have held a new public meeting to remind the community of this project and confirm its support."
"I apologize that we did not do this and commit to working with my staff to ensure that improvement projects that remove trees have current public review and input," Naclerio said.
Funded through a combination of federal grant money and local redevelopment dollars, the Park Street streetscape project has been in the works for years. Phase One of the project involved the removal and replacement of trees — as well as installation of new lights and bulb outs — on Park Street between Central and Santa Clara avenues. Phase Two calls for similar changes (though no bulb outs) south of Central Avenue on Park Street.
Naclerio and others have noted that when the trees were removed north of Park Street several years ago it did not create a stir.
"People were more concerned about parking then," said Chelsea O'Hara, who used to run Three Wishes gifts on the east side of Park Street near Santa Clara Avenue. "Businesses were also concerned about visibility," she said.
Trees on that block were big enough to block businesses' signs. "But was I sad when the trees were cut down? Yes," O'Hara said.
Councilmember Doug deHaan said the city should have done a much better job of letting people know the trees would be removed last week.
"We put the [streetscape improvement plan] together years ago, but we just didn’t have the money to go forward," deHaan said. "And now we did it in kind of an awkward way and didn’t notify people and very substantial trees were taken down."
"I can see people would be upset," deHaan said. "But years ago we committed ourselves to the streetscape plan."
Public Works Director Naclerio says that noticing of tree removal is not required when it's part of a streetscape project, though it would have been appropriate in this instance.
"There was public support for phase one because it followed on the tails of extensive public outreach," sad Naclerio, "and I think in the lag time people either forgot or didn't know that there was going to be a future phase."
Councilmember Lena Tam also agreed that noticing should have been better.
"I think what we probably could have done better is to overcommunicate this because it was done in phases," said Tam, noting also that there will be nearly twice as many trees on the street when the work is completed.
Alameda blogger and good government advocate John Knox White has created a petition calling for the planting of mature trees on Park Street, more public involvement in projects of this type, and more accountability from the city's Public Works Department.
"The community concerns were easily foreseeable," wrote Knox White. "It is unclear whether the clear cutting of downtown was required. What is clear is that the public was cut out of the conversation."
Patch stories and letters to the editor about the Park Street tree removal:
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