One man's quest to encourage new trees to grow at Sharon Park took a strange turn when someone apparently took a chainsaw to fledgling trees in the park.
Alex Cannara, who lives in an unincorporated part of San Mateo County but frequently walks his dog in the city-owned park, recently alerted the city that the goats that graze in the park every spring have prevented new trees from growing. The city employs the goats to clear out high grasses so they don't pose a fire hazard, but the goats eat more than just grass, Mr. Cannara maintains.
"If you've ever lived in a farming area, you'd know that there are some animals you don't want to have in a park, and goats are one of them," he said.
At the request of the City Council, two city staffers -- Ruben Nino, the deputy director of public works, and Dave Mooney, who supervises the city's parks and trees -- met Mr. Cannara at the park. He pointed out a cluster of small trees off Altschul Avenue as an example of what the whole park would look like, if the goats weren't allowed to roam through it every year.
Mr. Nino said the city would provide fencing for Mr. Cannara and other interested residents to install themselves to protect small trees from the goats, and they left it at that.
But when Mr. Cannara returned to the area on June 11, the very trees he had pointed out had been leveled, hacked at with what appeared to be a chainsaw.
"I told them, 'This is what you could have five years from now,'" he said. "Then they cut it down."
Who's responsible? That remains a mystery, though Mr. Cannara blames a certain maintenance worker he refers to as "Chainsaw Chuck."
When The Almanac called, the reporter was told that Mr. Nino was on vacation. A call to Director of Public Works Kent Steffens was not returned.
"We're looking into it to find out what happened and why, and to take steps to make sure, if something was done inadvertently, that it doesn't happen again," said Lisa Ekers, the city's engineering services manager.
A ridiculous practice?
The goats that tramp through the park every spring appeal to children and animal lovers. Their presence also carries a green sheen -- the city trumpets the fact that the practice is more friendly to the environment than the exhaust-spewing tractor previously used to flatten the park's weeds after the spring growth.
But to Mr. Cannara, who says he has followed the city's efforts to develop a climate action plan with interest, the practice is "ridiculous."
"You used to have one guy with one tractor go in and mow it," he said. "He would drive around the little trees. He was done in a few hours, and that was it." Now, the city pays more money than it would on the guy with the tractor to truck "10 tons" of goats in from the East Bay, according to Mr. Cannara. The park poses a more serious fire hazard than it would have, because the goats kill off the small trees, and grass grows in their place. And the goats emit methane gas that contributes to global warming.
"Menlo Park has always been kind of a hapless but sympathetic kind of place," Mr. Cannara said. "They say something, they want to do something, but what they end up doing is kind of bass-ackwards.
"I'll follow up next year. It's good to have (the issue) out in the public."