Basic Research Reveals Some Trees Easily Preserved; City Council Needs to Step Up

October 16, 2012
By

Attention all interested residents! Preservation of the trees at Parkside will be discussed at tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting. Anyone wanting to make a public comment on the matter should attend the meeting. Public comment on the tree issue will begin at approximately 8 pm.

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In recommending the removal of all the trees in the Parkside park, Archstone, the developer, and the city staff tried to pull one over on the City Council and the residents of Emeryville. The City Planning Division has finally revealed the real motivation for the tree removal: Archstone needed the space as a temporary staging area for construction equipment, and for a temporary parking lot for PRC, the medical facility across the road. This information can be found in the attached staff report (see section entitled “Southwest Quadrant”).

The big question is, has this temporary parking lot been approved by anybody other than Planning Director Charles Bryant? Was it ever put before the planning commission or the City Council? I’ve seen no evidence of that. It just suddenly appeared in this staff report. And this is no minor project after all: it involves the removal of a dozen trees, the leveling of grades, the laying down of pavement or gravel.  How will all that impact local pedestrian, bicycle and automotive traffic and nearby parking? How can such a large project not be put through a public approval process? This temporary parking lot project should not be allowed to proceed until it gains formal approval.

Now that the City Council has the complete story, it has an opportunity to re-assess the park design and consider ways to preserve the trees. For starters, they should help find a way to provide parking spaces for PRC that doesn’t involve the destruction of these trees. How hard did Archstone try to find alternative temporary parking for PRC’s needs? With the vacancy rate being fairly high at the moment, there are currently several under-used parking lots in that area which could be used. There is one just down the road from PRC across from the Pickleworks building on 55th. There is lots of room for parking along Spur Alley. The Novartis parking lots on Hollis are under-utilized. Honor Bar’s parking lot has extra room during the day. They could reserve street parking on Stanford and parts of Doyle Street for PRC employees by issuing them stickers for their cars and posting signs indicating the spaces are reserved for PRC employees. The city council can and should help find a solution to this parking issue.

Once that’s taken care of, the Council should look at ways to incorporate the trees into the park design. I have done a little research on this and it seems to me that it will be very easy to preserve eight to 10 of these trees. But again, the path to tree preservation has been clouded by misinformation coming from city staff and from Archstone. Let’s take a look.

On Feb. 7 the City Council met to decide whether to approve the Parkside park design. I recently reviewed this video of the meeting. At 2:30:10 into the video, a member of the city’s Planning Division gives a presentation providing background as to why the trees along Stanford Ave have to be removed. Here is what she says:

“Most of these trees are in fair to good condition, and this creates an opportunity to create good ground area for better growing trees.”

It’s difficult to make sense of these words. She seems to be saying that the good health of the existing trees provides a good reason to cut them down and start again with new ones. At this point, we know why she was struggling for words here: somebody didn’t want her stating the real reason the city was recommending the clearing these trees. What is surprising though is that no one on the city council stopped her and asked her to clarify such an odd statement.

A little bit later, (at 2:41:20 in the video) Scott Foyer, landscape architect hired by Archstone, tells the City Council that one of the reasons the trees have to be removed is that they are on a mound which is “about three feet high”.  That is an exaggeration. In the public park area, that mound is closer to two feet high.  Nowhere is it three feet high. Also, the trees are not on the top of this mound, they are on the edge of it. They could therefore flatten the mound considerably without impacting the trees, thus reducing its effect on the topography of the park to the point where it will be almost negligible. It is not hard to imagine ways to incorporate this short mound into the park design. It just requires a little effort and imagination.

This landscape architect goes on to say that new parallel parking spaces will be added to the street next to the park, and that the related construction work would “impact significantly under the drip line of the trees”.  What he means is that the construction work would damage the roots and compromise the trees’ health. I believe that is correct, but only for two of the 10 trees along Stanford (the two closest to the sidewalk). For the remaining eight trees, it doesn’t seem like the sidewalk construction would affect them much; they are far enough away from where the new sidewalk will go that their roots won’t be involved much if at all. And even if it the sidewalk construction did require removal of all ten trees, the city would essentially be trading ten mature trees for ten parking spaces. To me that seems like a lousy trade, and I say that even though eliminating those parking spaces will mean more cars end up parking on my street (Doyle street).

Keeping these trees in the park is very achievable. The City Council just has to step up to the plate and make it happen.

(To comment on this story, or to view the comments of others, click on the headline to go to the story page and scroll to the bottom.)

Adrian McGilly is the husband of Emeryville Mayor Jennifer West. They live at Doyle Street Cohousing.

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