Showdown ahead on
Oak Knoll building plan

District may spare huge oak tree

An enormous valley oak tree that's become a flashpoint for opposition to the construction planned for Oak Knoll School may be off the chopping block, according to Menlo Park City School District officials. But whether saving a tree will quell concerns about the reconfigured campus remains to be seen.

People on both sides of the $15 million Oak Knoll project are set to converge on the school board meeting on Thursday, May 8, in the K-5 school's multi-use room. At the meeting, which starts at 7 p.m., the school board is expected to approve an environmental study that will allow the construction to begin this summer.

The project includes removing the 14 portable buildings on campus, constructing a two-story classroom building, modernizing existing classrooms and adding a two-story multi-purpose building at the north end of the school near Oak Avenue. Parking areas and the pick-up/drop-off-lane would also be reconfigured.

Some neighbors say they have been left out of the planning process and are increasingly vociferous in their criticism of aspects of the plan. Principal David Ackerman sent out a call-to-arms letter to school parents last week, urging them to support the school board by attending the meeting.

Ram Duriseti, a nearby homeowner, objected to being labeled an "opponent" and, in a letter to the Menlo Park City Council, urged city officials to stand with neighbors in questioning the Oak Knoll plan and its environmental study, called a negative declaration.

Oak tree saved?

Superintendent Ken Ranella told The Almanac that district staff is working on a proposal to preserve the giant oak tree by reducing parking spaces in a new faculty lot to be built off Oak Avenue. Currently, the tree shades a playground and is visible from the school's frontage.

The reconfigured parking lot would go from 22 spaces down to 12, a plan that requires school board approval, Mr. Ranella said. District staff is also working on ways to save other large trees along the perimeter of the planned athletic field, he said.

"It depends on the values of the community. Do we save trees, or maximize the field space?" he said.

Construction at Oak Knoll is slated to begin this summer and continue through fall of 2010. For the district, there's a lot riding on that timeline: in an environment of escalating construction costs, getting the project done on budget means getting it done on schedule, said school board president Bruce Ives.

District officials said that the remodeled campus would improve traffic flow and parking at the school, improve pedestrian sight-lines at a relocated crosswalk, and add more space for bicycle parking.

John Fox, a Menlo Park bicycle commissioner and member of the team that designed the school's Safe Routes to School plan, said the district has virtually ignored how children who walk and bike to school will be affected by the new campus design.

"When you look at the studies that have been done, no one is walking or biking in [the school district's view," he said. "Everyone is driving, because these surveys and studies only look at automobiles."


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Posted by truth will set you free
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 5, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Don't dramatize it Almanac. Calling it a showdown and trying to depict a line in the sand is just too much Fox News/TMZ type stuff. This is chance for folks to talk through issues and try to reach a resolution. Try to keep it grounded just a bit.

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Posted by For Shame
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2008 at 7:22 am

A group of Hillview students spent their Sunday afternoon making "tree hugger" posters; before 7:30am on Monday morning, all had been removed. Are the words of these former Oak Knoll students so threatening that they must be censored?

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Posted by truth will set you free
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 6, 2008 at 9:58 am

I can put up posters that insult. That is not difficult and if that was the intent of the Hillview students as "Tree Hugger" is a derogatory term for the most part, then who can blame someone for taking them down? There are also muni codes that disallow signage for all sorts of reasons...

This seems less a case of censorship as it is about class.

I mean if I put up signs about "Bible Thumpers" would it not have the same reaction?

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Posted by For Shame
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2008 at 11:59 am

I'm sorry, I had meant the term "tree hugger" as a compliment. If the public had had a chance to see the posters, they would have read quite benign comments like, "I love trees." I find it quite a stretch to interpret that as insulting. The school allows plenty of posters to be displayed (as long as they conform to the approved talking points). And yes, I agree that class is a serious and disturbing element here. Thank you for pointing out my lack of clarity. I meant to shame the Principal, not the students. I appreciate the opportunity to eludicate my meaning and intent.

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Posted by Elissa
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 6, 2008 at 4:28 pm

I am one of the Hillview students who put up the posters. When we put up the posters, we were careful not to write anything offensive, and instead of tacking or taping them to the trees, we tied the posters around with string. The posters contained short statements such as "Save the Trees." (The one in the picture wasn't one of ours; ours were hand-done, not printed.) We left a signed letter at the office apologizing for any problems. I should want to know if there were any problems with that. It is simply that we wish to save the trees, and we think that this is a way for people to know what we are aiming at. We don't mean to sabotage the school, just support our cause.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 6, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Sorry for the misinterpretation. I am not sure of the code for signage but would guess that may be the cause for the sign disappearance. If it is a disagreeing party, that is pretty lame.

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Posted by tree hugger
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 6, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Maddie, Elissa YOU GUYS ROCK!!!
someone told us that a former Oak Knoll teacher read the city council off tonight for being so weak in opposing the school board's plan to destroy so many heritage trees.
Is there a way for Hillview students to post this teacher's plea for saving the trees and nesting birds on You Tube?
Must be some way to capture it from the city website granicus video feed.
Any helpers out there?

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Posted by facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2008 at 10:14 pm

I'm confused. Which trees are you trying to save? The district's own staff report recommends that the big oak in the front that is being held up with poles be retained. It also recommends that the healthy oaks in the back near the baseball field be retained. Are you suggesting the school should keep the other large oak in the front? The staff report says this tree is unsafe and at risk of falling.

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Posted by tree hugger
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 6, 2008 at 10:42 pm

That other oak in front playground, next to the portable, was to be retained as shading the patio between the 2 new buildings. The district's arborist initially said it was fine, and the crew that dug around the root base told neighbors it was healthy. Now, the district's arborist is changing its tune. Seems fishy. 2 other arborists have stated that the tree is fine. Nobody can seem to trust the district any more.
On the back side, There is a 125 yr. old Joshua tree planted by the Stanford family(this was originally Jane Stanford's brother's farm "Lathrop Place"), and at least 2 other large oaks that would be removed to make room for the new soccer field.
Don't believe anything Ranella and his crew say about the trees, as they see them as mere impediments to "progress". The board is likewise being rightfully accused of showing callous disregard for community heritage and preserving natural environment for the future.

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Posted by facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2008 at 11:28 pm

What you are saying just doesn't make sense. The district designed the new buildings around that tree, so they obviously wanted to keep it. And if it were safe, they certainly would be keeping it. I can't believe you'd really want to keep a tree that isn't safe on school grounds. That's insane.

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Posted by tree hugger
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 7, 2008 at 9:40 am

we'll just see what 2 other certified arborists who pronounced the tree healthy last year have to say. they will review the resistograph data from the district's arborist. Those resistographs can be fickle. You should go look at the tree It has a very healthy looking canopy, no whitish cast to the trunk, the excavated root crown showed no sign of oak root fungus.

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Posted by tree hugger correction
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on May 7, 2008 at 12:19 pm

MP city council has no legal authority to force the district to do an EIR. The city council has very little power at all frankly and the quicker folks realize that the quicker they can focus energy where it counts i.e. the school board.

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Posted by not cynical
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 7, 2008 at 12:40 pm

The district obviously wants to keep that tree if it is safe to do so. They designed the building around it.

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Posted by let's focus
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 7, 2008 at 5:43 pm

As far as I can tell, there is a lot of talk here about good intentions but there is no detailed, written plan regarding the trees. Perhaps that would be a good thing to seek. Otherwise a lot of this is just speculation and concern without adequate information to resolve anything.

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Posted by facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 7, 2008 at 9:02 pm

The staff report on the district's website outlines the district's intention for every large tree on the property. It describes the arborists' concerns about safety of that tree.

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Posted by tree hugger
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 7, 2008 at 9:16 pm

we rode over and looked at it this afternoon.
looks healthy as ever, but curiously, no sign of core drill anywhere on the trunk like you would expect from a resistograph probe. No point of entry unless they went above 10 feet. Makes one wonder.
Root crown excavation from last year is still there, and that crew from the tree removal guy said it was healthy then. Go take a look yourself and let us know

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