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Heritage tree falls in Menlo where plenty hear it

Original post made on Jan 26, 2011

Money doesn't grow on trees, but apparently it does grow if you chop the tree down. After an hour and a half of late-night public comment, the Menlo Park City Council finally approved a developer's request to remove a heritage redwood tree.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 11:57 PM

Comments (62)

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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:12 am

Economic enjoyment: the developers enjoyed the devalued purchase price of this property, perhaps 20% lower than comparable properties (without a tree in the center). Let the developers fund that 20% value as payment to the city, in lieu of the tree's removal. Sadly, this is not the result.


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:14 am

...but now, I am darned sure interested in investing in property with large trees, just where the house should be.


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:14 am

I guess it pays to be politically connected. If the average home owner wanted to cut that tree down the council would have said NO. What's the point in having the ordinance if it isn't going to be enforced or if it is selectively enforced. They should just take it off the books.


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Posted by what rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 8:16 am

Once again, the latest Council has chosen to ignore its rules. First ignoring the BMR rules and now the Heritage Tree Ordinance. They seem to mistakenly think that they have to support property owners' desire to maximize their profits, not to simply allow them to develop. There is a big difference and it's high time they get it.
Why bother having rules if they don't apply? While I personally don't think we should condone planting new redwood trees, which grow to enormous size at maturity and will take out much-needed sunlight for blocks nearby, the point is that rules should be followed or changed. The uncertainty of haphazard enforcement is bad for everyone.


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Posted by Outraged
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 26, 2011 at 8:24 am

"The city has approved 97 percent of heritage tree removal requests since 2008."

This is a dismal record.


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Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 26, 2011 at 8:36 am

It's all about money & power, isn't it. Forget laws and common good. I wonder where the laws of karma fall in this one?


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Posted by Nothing new
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 9:17 am

Just the next tier of public elected officials paying back those who got them there. Same ruthless culture, same results.
Good to have proof that nothing has changed at City Hall since last fall.





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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:44 am

Common sense prevailed last night. The lots are for building homes and trees should remain on the lot when feasible. Unfortunately this tree was in the middle of the lot thus not allowing for a good home. Kim LeMeiux offered an equitable remedy which was ultimately accepted by the City Council.

Intimations that LeMieux used connections to get what she wants are specious. There is not a soupcon of proof that there was any undue influence. This is nothing more than mischievous people trying to portray conjecture as fact.

I for one have a renewed faith in the City Council. But I also have concerns regarding those who vilify people such as Kim LeMieux and Steve Jobs because of their success. They got wealthy through hard work and providing value to their customers. This is nothing more than pure jealousy.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

Other posters keep referring to the tree ordinance as either a "rule" or a "law". Perhaps it might be better to think of it as a "policy". A well managed organization should have clear "policies", but there also should be a defined process for requesting an "exception to policy" if curcumstances warrant. If you think of it in this way, the applicant in this instance followed the process and was granted an exception. She did not break a law or violate a rule. While one might disagree with those who granted the exception, at least it should be noted that it was granted after due process.


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Posted by Milton
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:01 am

[Post removed. Please discuss the topic and avoid attacking other posters.]


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:14 am

That darned tree grew right in the middle of the lot!

It struck me that the discusson for removal (by the public, and by City Council) seemed go have a byline, that by purchasing the property, there was an assumption, that building a new home was the goal. And that maximizing the profit for the homeowner (developer) was a given. Well, which is it, are we pro-trees, or pro-profit. Perhaps the suggestion to reflect reality in the ordinance, was the right suggestion.

Perhaps the city should purchase Below-Market-Rate properties, remove unwanted trees, and sell at market value. At least this way, there would be a teenie bit of public good served, as replacement for the loss of a heritage tree. It sure beats spending pubic funds for unused designs, or other BMR real estate investments.


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Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:51 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Our former city council, chose to IGNORE the recommendation of the Planning Commission and spend/waste our valuable city budget to satisfy the whims of Kelly Fergusson (who leads the pack in requesting additional staff reports for EVERYTHING) at the end of the day $7500 was spent to try to convince someone to build a house that wouldn't sell and to live with $300,000 less in return because of it. Pure and simple this suggestion was an abuse "take" by our city. Unless the city wishes to make up the difference with a check. They could not and should not remove ANY economic incentives to developing that property. The council last night CORRECT the heavy hand that the previous council wielded and returned rights to the homeowner.

The reason that the Heritage Tree removal requests exist is that it has a HIGH hurdle to even get in front of the commission, so if and when they hear a request it has been well thought out and the applicant should be granted the removal request if it meets the criteria.......

Please remember that we live in a country that rewards individualism, you want equality go live in France whose motto is: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The US Motto (on every coin we make) is: In God we Trust, E Pluribus Unum (One from Many), and Liberty. We are equal at birth here and NOT equal at results. Results or success in America is a matter of hard work. We as a city should NOT be trying to eliminate that incentive.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


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Posted by Rules are Rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm

This is so sad and so unfair! Apparently the rules are only for the rest of us citizens while the developers always get what they want. They either circumvent the rules by cutting down the trees without permission or by going through the system and obtaining the City's misguided permission. Are we a "Tree City USA" or not? I am so very sad. Shame on you, City Council members Cline, Ohtaki, and Keith! I will certainly remember your votes on this matter in four years.


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Posted by CareforMenlo
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm

There was no "exception" granted in this case and certainly no law that was violated. The planning staff and Planning Commission recommended and agreed that the applicant met the requirements of the heritage tree ordinance which does not say "save a tree at any cost." The eight point ordinance fortunately provides for "reasonable economic enjoyment of private property." The neigbor appealed the Planning Commission's unanimous decision, which is their right, and the Environmental Quality Commission sided with the neighbor. The applicant appealed the EQC decision to the City Council, which is their right. The Council voted to further study the case and commissioned a Peer Review team which consisted of another architect, former councilmember and 2 staff people. This team compiled a 50 page report which was reviewed again by the City Council last night. Nearly 7 months after the Planning Commission's initial approval, and after hours of public testimony in two City Council meetings, an appeal, an EQC ruling and a peer review analysis which looked at feasible alternatives, we have a decision. Due process - you bet! Easy to remove a heritage tree in Menlo Park - no way!


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Posted by Sam
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm

It is a question of Freedom to build on and maintain ones real property versus the oppression of the government to unreasonably interfere with a tree, a renewable resource. Micro management at its finest. Some people demand their rights and ignore their responsibilities to leave their neighbors alone.
Bigger question...who gets the wood?


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Posted by Discouraged!
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:59 pm

We thought we had a city council who had concerns for the environment. WRONG! First, the extermination of squirrels at Bedwell Bayfront Park was accepted, and now they have approved the cutting down of an ancient heritage redwood tree on University Drive. At the same time, the council members talk of planting trees at Bedwell Bayfront Park. Isn't there some irony here? I am saddened and disillusioned. By the way, how many raptors will you expect to see at the park now that the squirrels are gone - cruel killing approved by our city council members. When is the abuse of our environment and its species going to end? And we are "the tree city"?


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Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm

The council did not approve the extermination of the squirrels. They were not even informed by city staff about last August's decision until this month.


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Posted by Sad
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Maybe we should change our city symbol from a tree to a big monster house. Or maybe a dollar sign.


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Posted by Encouraged
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Imagine the madness if we had a City Council that did not base their decisions on our laws and ordinances. One can disagree with a decision and work productively to change the rules if they wish but to state that the Council should put environmental concerns above the law is not what I want from our elected officials.


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Posted by mimi
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Hey, no surprise here. It's Menlo Park! Council caves to Beltramo & Lemieux. Devlopers rule!


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I had to read Mr. Thiele-Sardiña's note several times to sort out what he was saying. Now that that's done, I'll agree that the city wasted our taxpayer time and money. No doubt. What a waste.

But it is sad, very sad, that our city council doesn't see how our community was taken. We are losing a valued tree. $300,000 of value, to be more specific (according to Mr. LeMieux's statement). And handing that value to the developer. Good grief.

At least now, everything is on a level playing field. We know that any of us can purchase undervalued property, and capture that value, buy requesting exceptions to ordinances, and variances to zoning, to remove the economic burden that they added in the first place.


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Posted by fox
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 26, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I was directed to this incredulous conversation by a friend.
Why are you vilifying developers? Almost everyone of us lives in a home a developer built. Not only do developers create the homes we live in, they add value to our community.

And what is this nonsense about monster homes? We want them. That's why they get built. Do you posters think you have some righteous standard for what size is appropriate?

And since when does being an environmentalist demand that you preserve every tree in a city with thousands of them? We do not live in North Dakota—or in North Korea for that matter.

Kudos to our council members for distinguishing between sense and nonsense.


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Fox, you are spot on. Developers are good.

The problem is that the City just handed $307,500 to this developer (and clearly, the LeMieux's had their expenses in professional reports to get to this decision).

The problem is the damn Heritage Tree Ordinance. Either we have it and honor it, or we don't. But to overturn it...on the basis of obstruction to someone's profit, is nuts.


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Posted by ListenUp
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm

In the town next door to Menlo Park, their ordinance states that only Heritage trees on the perimeter of the lot, not in the middle or "building area", are covered by their "Don't Cut Down" ordinance. That makes sense.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I think there is a big misunderstanding of what happened here. People are referring to the heritage tree ordinance being as being "overturned" or getting "exceptions" or it being "selectively enforced." Not true. The Council upheld the ordinance and agreed that the applicant met the requirements under that ordinance to remove the tree. If you disagree with the decision, work to change the ordinance but don't blame the developer for protecting their rights within it.


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Posted by J
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I'm disgusted that the council approves 97% of the requests to cut down heritage trees! Why do they even require approval? We should not be cutting down trees just to build monsterous houses.


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Bob, there is probably far more disagreement and far less misunderstanding than you might expect. Sadly, far too much of this heritage tree ordinance is based on subjective judgement. Take a look at the 8 factors for consideration

It isn't clear how these should be applied, and to many, interpretation of these can go either way - dramatically in favor of those who prefer tree-keeping, and in the other corner - those who prefer development.

I expect that there isn't much misunderstanding going on. Just a lotof interpretation, and misinterpretation.

(1) The condition of the tree or trees with respect to disease, danger of falling, proximity to existing or proposed structures and interference with utility services;
(2) The necessity to remove the tree or trees in order to construct proposed improvements to the property;
(3) The topography of the land and the effect of the removal of the tree on erosion, soil retention and diversion or increased flow of surface waters;
(4) The long-term value of the species under consideration, particularly lifespan and growth rate;
(5) The ecological value of the tree or group of trees, such as food, nesting, habitat, protection and shade for wildlife or other plant species;
(6) The number, size, species, age distribution and location of existing trees in the area and the effect
the removal would have upon shade, privacy impact and scenic beauty;
(7) The number of trees the particular parcel can adequately support according to good arboricultural practices;
(8) The availability of reasonable and feasible alternatives that would allow for the preservation of the tree(s).

No blame for the developer...just the city council for allowing this $300,000 gift to the developer. It's a shame, and the ordinance should be changed.


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Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

The $300,000 number did not come form the developer, it came from the Peer Review Study. That was their estimate of the loss on sale of the house. They didn't even take into consideration the additional construction costs for each of their proposed designs. So at the end of the day the city would have "taken" $300-500K from a landowner.

I am not a developer, but when I built my two homes in Menlo Park (as an owner builder) I was FURIOUS when the planning commision suggested I not build the maximum allowable footage (FAL/FAR). In the end I prevailed because they can not and should not make rules to take monetary value from a home owner. Whether that home owner will occupy the home or sell it for profit. It's just not right, and it's just not the American way.

For the record the CITY cuts down Heritage trees all the time, they do it to mature trees within the city to replace them with Younger trees to insure that the city landscape doesn't die all at once. They did it on Werth Avenue and replaced all but one heritage tree with new ones to stagger the age of the canopy....

Roy


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Posted by MPR
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm

The Peer Review report did not state that $300,000+ would be "taken" from the developer. While the Peer Review report stated that the alternate home would sale for $300,000 less, it also stated that the developer's proposed 1400+ sf basement would carry additional construction costs of $350,000 to build (plus carrying costs of the extra 5 months required to build the basement). Thus the 'take home' of the developer would be essentially the same in both cases (see page 9 of report).


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Roy, in his statement Mr. LeMieux confirmed that the purchase price was undervalued by 20%, because of the tree. This suggests that FMV on the property would be $1.9M-$2.0M without the tree (and $1.6M with).

The same principle applies: the city shouldn't be playing loose with the heritage tree ordinance, any more than they should with FAL/FAR. The reason the property sold under market, was because the ordinance was in place. As suggested last night, perhaps the ordinance should change to allow tree removal, similar to Palo Alto's approach.

Your last point highlights an entirely separate issue - the city's reforestation project. The idea is to remove heritage trees and replace them with new, to stagger the age of the canopy. The problem is that the city was severly misrepresenting the expected lifespan of mature trees (suggesting that trees be removed at age 50, despite an expected lifespan of 120-150 years, as acknowledged by the consulting arborist). This is a well-intended program, driven by enthusiasm, and not much more (and no evidence in fact to support this project).


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Posted by can o' peas?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Typical Lemieux come on. What else is new in this town of quick buck transplated invasive species who stop at no political manipulation to get rid of the natives for a few xtra bucks?
No sense of stewardship because they have no legacy here.
Slash and burn just like the overly aggressive advocates for the Oak Knoll school "redevelopment" project, where the late comers to MP paved over Jane Lathrop Stanford's coveted natural preserve.
Great job, RC, our default mayor redux, to assert some moral compass NOT, in this genuflection, to all you reflect of city's heritage tree logo. Shameless


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Posted by That's Funny
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:36 pm

That's funny "can o'peas". Your comment about the "overly aggressive advocates for the Oak Knoll school redevelopment project", holds no water. One of your most coveted large old oaks that you HAD to save, or a tree hugging war would have ensued........has fallen over, after only 6+ months of being "saved". When will the whole religion of tree hugging stop? Please start adding some common sense to your religion. At this moment and time your dislike of the OK redevelopment project is adequately, safely and economically educating over 700 children per year.


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Posted by Nothing new
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 27, 2011 at 8:37 am

It is very clear that those who support unregulated development and side with those who'd like to develop our city into another cookie-cutter community are unable to see the forest.

And their shortsighted view to maximize personal profit and monetary gain will ultimately destroy this unique community.
And that is a shame.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:27 am

Gee, how about something "in between?"

Preserve trees if possible and PRACTICAL, but have a reasonable and consistent standard if they interfere with a reasonable use. Legal development of a property is reasonable. Mother Nature didn't create those places we call home, a developer did. And just because you weren't there at the time, doesn't mean some neighbor didn't object to the building of YOUR home.

Yes, I know, one person's reasonable is another's outrage. That's why we elect officials. If we just published a rule book with no exceptions, then we wouldn't need anyone there to make the tough calls.


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Posted by Maureen Teter
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 11:06 am

This could be City Staff's theme song.

"They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot."

(Joni Mitchell's 'Big Yellow Taxi')


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Posted by treety
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:01 pm

If our heritage tree ordinance no longer makes sense, fine, then modify it.

But let's not have one set of rules for the rich, connected, and self-entitled, and another set for the rest of us.

The council should never have fronted $7500 for the study. An abomination and reflective of a serious collective error in judgment. Especially as anyone could have reasonably predicted that LeMieux would get her way (being a member of that group to whom the first set of rules applies.)


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Posted by That's Funny
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Hey Maureen, is the same Joni Mitchell that lives in Beverly Hills in a 7,000-8,000 square foot home? I wonder who cleared the trees for that monstrosity? It couldn't have been Joni, because that would make her a hypocrite. It must have been one of those nasty "developers".


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm

That's Funny -

O u c h... that hurt.


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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Since the Heritage Tree policy was sdopted 30 yrs or so ago, application has been very selective. Factors include the mood of any particular council group, popularity (or lack of) by the tree-owner, popularity (or lack) of the party who wishes exemption, expectation of gain by the council (developer fees=$) and the assessment of health of a particular tree. Some homeowners who wanted to get rid of their trees have hired "experts" to call their trees "unhealthy". Others have fed their own trees chemicals to accelerate deterioration (yes, I mean you on Ambar Way). Remember the poor guy on Oak Knoll years ago whose neighbors called the police when he tried to take down one of his trees? He did a stealth takedown very early on a Sunday morning & was heartily condemned by much of the town, including his neighbors.

The Lemieux'issue is that they acquired the property at a devalued price because a tree was in the way then successfully yammered the town into letting them remove the tree & getting a bump up in value for themselves. Typical for this development group. Nobody is anti-developer. We just want the game rules applied uniformly to all players.

Since that clearly won't happen, let's scrap any "policy" about trees & let the owners of trees, who are responsible for their care & maintenance, do as they like with no civic interference. If your neighbor wants to cut down his tree, it's not your business. This would save a lot of time for everyone. If you want a tree, plant your own.

Now let's do something about the trees in the El Camino median strip which hides the jaywalkers from drivers' views, thus increasing the likelihood of pedestrian fatalities. Jaywalkers don't appear to know that the shrubbery so effectively conceals them that they risk life & limb avoiding the walk of a few feet to a crosswalk, many signal controlled. Did anyone think of that when the big hoopla to beautify the medians was underway? Thought not.



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Posted by Steve Taffee
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 27, 2011 at 1:36 pm

The loss of a large tree is always something to be lamented. It seems to me that a reasonable requirement would have been for the city to request that Ms.LeMieux plant or arrange to have planted a number of trees in another area to help offset the loss of the heritage tree. This is, I think, a reasonable and common accommodation.


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Posted by Consequences
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

I think the three council members who voted to kill this magnifiecnt tree knowing there was a house plan that could leave it standing shoudl be required to be the ones to chop it down. It is Kirsten Keith, Peter Ohtaki, and Rich Cline who have this tree's demise in violation of the heritage tree ordinance in their karma. Shameful.

They should also be required to take down the Tree City USA signs.

Be looking for lots more speculative developers buying sites with herittage trees and seeking to get them cut down. When will the City "grow a pair" and abide by this ordinance?? (Hint: It will be when we elect different Councilmembers than these three)


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Posted by To be clear
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2011 at 2:33 pm

The Council itself didn't approval all of the heritage tree removals embedded in that 97% approval rate. Most of them are approved (and perhaps a few denied) by staff without appeal. It is only when there is an appeal that it goes to the EQC and then the Council.

That 97% approval rate for removals is indeed disconcerting. This needs to be looked into by the EQC and a report given to Council, e.g. breaking down the "reasons." Then we can see if there is something about our ordinance than might need tweaking.

All of the cities and counties around us have heritage tree ordinances for a REASON. Take a look at California Avenue where Palo Alto cut down all the street trees at once (followed by a mega outcry and staff firings) and you will see that planting something new really doesn't take the place of what was lost -- it takes 20 - 30 years to get a large mature tree in many cases. In the meantime, the aesthetics of our nieghborhoods is what suffers when a healthy heritage tree that can be saved isn't.

The Council blew it.


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Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

MPR, you are wrong about basement building time. I have almost 2400 square feet of basement under my house. From the moment I tore down the initial structure until I had a hard deck to build the house on was 5 weeks, not five months. That included time and inspections for the drain and sewage system to handle the bathrooms and laundry room.

The peer review would also have reduced the amount of basement they could build (because of the tree root system) so that 'extra' footage and it's associate resale value would be lost.

Can we all stop calling the Lemieux purchase at a devalued price? Not sure what planet you all live on, but $1,320,000 for a barely improved house built in 1936 on 7700 square feet of lot, is only "devalued" in a town of limousine liberals. It was sold at less than asking (the discount you describe) because it was originally priced wrong by their Realtor. At that price it was not "cheap" and certainly required a significant outlay of cash (banks won't let you leverage that much.

And anyone who wants to keep Menlo Park quaint and small needs to get a grip on reality. Housing at these prices requires craftsmanship and size (remember all the appraisers kept talking $/sq ft) to get a "good" value. If you want to live in the original 1200-1600 square foot house built in the 40's or 50's that's OK. But that's not "market".

Steve Taffee: TO answer your question, you ALWAYS have to replace the Heritage Tree you take down in Menlo Park as part of the approval process. I put up 3 to replace the diseased tree I removed.

Roy Thiele-Sardina



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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Mr. Thiele-Sardiña,

Regarding your request:
>>Can we all stop calling the Lemieux purchase at a devalued price?

Of course we can. But that wouldn't be correct. It was Mr. LeMieux himself who presented this inforamtion at Tuesday's city council meeting. You were there too! It sold for less than comparable properties. And it sold for less than asking.


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Posted by john slater
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 28, 2011 at 8:14 am

Everyone is spot one, someone bought a property which had a large tree that decreased the property's value. Then the new owners got permission to cut the tree down; they basically got permission to print money.

If M.P. thinks the tree is a problem, they should have bought the distressed property, with the tree. Then cut the tree down and resold the property. The LeMieux's could bid on the tree-less property, like everyone else.

The next time the C.C. complains about not having enough money, I hope they talk to the LeMieux's, they won't get a sympathetic ear from me!


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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 28, 2011 at 10:40 am

Mr. Slater

The lot was for building homes. That is its primary purpose. The former owner did not want to expend extraordianry efforts to get an exemption. It was easier for the owner to sell. Ms. LeMiuex through her knowledge of the ordinance was will to expend considerable effort (which does have a price tag) to get a variance.

She saw an opportunity where the previous owner did not. So does that make Ms. LeMieux a bad person? No it does not. It makes her an assiduous person who is able to capitalize on opportunities where others are not. If we were to follow your logic then people who work hard to achieve should be punished so those who do not work so hard will not feel bad for their lack of accomplishment.


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 11:29 am

That makes Ms. LeMieux a savvy business person.

Ms. LeMieux isn't the problem. I hope though, that she has helped to catalyze a solution.

We don't quibble whether the lot was supposed to grow homes, or the land, to grow trees. That isn't the issue.

That the city council does not recognize the absurdity of an ordinance that allows the Planning Commission to interpret it 5-0 in favor of removal, and the Environmental Quality Commission 5-0 in favor of keeping the tree. Some ordinance.

Mr. Cline, Fix That Ordinance.


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Posted by mimi
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Hi Hank lawrence,

I think that in order to apply for a variance re:tree removal that you have to have a building permit application? If so, that skews very much in favor of developers because an owner/resident probably won't go through the charade of pretending to need to remodel-expand, getting plans drawn (required for permit application), etc, etc. Once you get a permit, have to start work in 6 mos. to keep permit live?

You said LeMieux "saw an opportunity where the previous owner did not." Wrong. She benefits as a developer. The previous owner may well have seen opportunity but couldn't apply for the variance without an adjutant development plan. Not fair to credit Kim & tom LeMieux with any great & special insight. They are developers & real estate agents. This is their business & Kim is very aggressive. That's why she handles this end of the family business & Tom does the people-contact. The current council is very pro-developer.

Time to scrap the whole "Heritage tree" program or make it easier for homeowners to remove their own trees. A few years ago, on Glenwood behind the Shell station, the old house with a 200 year old healthy oak tree? Instant demo, inclucing the oak, for the the office building now in its place. Was there even an application for variance or was MP so eager for the new building that no variance was required?


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Posted by jackrabbit
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jan 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Boycott the Lemieuxs' and any future real estate dealings in which they are involved. They really need to learn the hard way (i.e., lack of future business) that they are not exempt or "privileged" even though they have been able to extort the desired results for a "below market" property (owing to a heritage tree) from their pals on the MP Council.


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Posted by Old Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm

This conversation has been interesting.

Some observations:
- Someone claimed the tree to be "ancient". Ha! Ancient would be 1000 years or more. This tree is easily less than a 10th of that.
- Redwood Trees are not a natural tree for the flat lands of MP or PA. The majority of Redwood Trees in MP and PA have been planted by humans. Source? The PA city arborist. MP and PA used to be open fields and marshes --- take a look at any of the photos from the late 1800's...the concept of "heritage" trees is a laugh.
- "The rules are different for developers vs. the rest of us." Ha! again. The developer chose to challenge the ruling - everyone has that right. And given the specifications of the current ordinance, it is clear, like it or not, that the developer had the right to remove the tree. If the city council did not agree, the developer could have gone to court and would have easily won the case.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

This lot sat empty for YEARS. Anyone complaining about the tree on this thread could have easily purchased the lot and saved that tree... but you didn't.

I'm not a fan of Ms. Lemieux but she bought the property, spent a great deal of money to try to get the tree removed, and took her chances. And she'll be spending a lot more to develop the lot and build a home - not unlike some developer did for you. As has been previously noted, Ms. Lemieux might have lost and would just have to live with the decision.

Your complaint is with the City Council, not Ms. Lemieux. And remember, the heritage tree rules in Menlo Park do provide for tree removal.


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Posted by Interested observer
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jan 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm

A 15 gallon size redwood tree can grow to heritage size in 20 years given reasonable water, sun and soil. If you are going to raise such a fuss over removing such a tree why not require a permit to plant one in the first place!!!!!!!


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Pogo notes:"This lot sat empty for YEARS. Anyone complaining about the tree on this thread could have easily purchased the lot and saved that tree... but you didn't."

And now this lot, once the house is finished, will generate significantly more property taxes than it did before. I suggest that this increase is property taxes is more beneficial to the general public than the tree was to those immediate neighbors who benefited from the tree - but who paid nothing to maintain it nor were they willing to pay to preserve the tree.


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm

jackrabbit: boycott the LeMieux's? are you crazy? If you want good real estate professionals, they're quite a good team.

They do their job well, as I am sure you do yours well, too.

Your efforts would be better placed with the EQC tand CC to get this ordinance fixed. The ordinance is unclear enough that the decisions, by the planning commission, environmental quality commisison and city council are either polarized, or split, and almost always, subjective.


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Posted by Another Old Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm


Removing this tree is on a parallel with removing El Palo Alto for the same stated reasons. No one would ever allow that.

This 70+ foot Redwood tree at 240 University Dr. is undoubtedly one of the few remaining healthy Coast Redwoods in this part of the city. This particular tree is likely a remnant of the same historic local grove of Redwoods contemporary with El Palo Alto. The present issue appears to be: This tree is simply too healthy.

Both of these trees have taken at least three hundred years to arrive at their present stature. How many of us will be here to see any replacement grow to the same size? Is there any space left in this city for a living urban tree to survive against today's developer interests?

The mere fact this tree exists on private property allowing for argument and petition for its removal must be viewed by our citizens as a folly. Why must we support selfishness in favor of another monster home or over-developed lot?

Removing this particular Redwood tree today for a fast profit of a few thousand dollars is a crime against the past and future generations.

I propose we consider creating a protected step above "Heritage Tree" to create "Legacy Tree" status for a few landscape fixtures such as this.

Since no room exists for two purposes, the property should be publicly acquired and designated as a neighborhood park. How about, "Redwood Legacy Park"?


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Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm

What a shame that this blog encourages anonymous postings! If you people spewing forth the vitriolic nonsense about greedy developers and how they receive special attention had to attach your names to the comments I doubt you would push the send button. Why not educate yourselves and speak the truth? You have a right to disagree with the Council majority and you can hate fact that this tree is coming down, but don't turn that hatred toward the developer who worked within the system every step of the way. The facts are that this tree was planted in the wrong place many years ago and it not only inhibits the development of a reasonable new home, but it is also impacting the house currently on the site and it is a menace to live under. How many of you live under a 70 foot tree that drops limbs, tannin staining debris, invades our sewer lines routinely, is growing into the roof of your house and cracking your foundation? Think about it. Furthermore, the Heritage tree ordinance was not put in place to save every tree in town, it was intended to protect trees when reasonable, and in this case it is not reasonable. So, get off your soapboxes and get educated!


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Robert who? Of course the developers are profit-motivated. Most of us are. The problem here is the inequity of the application of this ordinance. By the way this ordinance is written, decisions are purely subjective. That's a shame. Or maybe that's good news, since the CC can interpret the city arborist and CC can interpret it any way it pleases.


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Posted by Rules are Rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Dear Peter Carpenter,

Your comment that at lease now the city coffers will contain more property tax revenue from the property owners of the new residence that is to be built by Ms. LeMieux's development company. Goody, goody! Now the City Council will have another opportunity to expend more funds toward unused architectural plans for another developer! What a waste!

Sad! Sad! Sad!


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm

mimi...please let me help you get the facts straight as you are very misinformed on the law....

You said "The previous owner may well have seen opportunity but couldn't apply for the variance without an adjutant development plan." and that "I think that in order to apply for a variance re:tree removal that you have to have a building permit application? If so, that skews very much in favor of developers because an owner/resident probably won't go through the charade of pretending to need to remodel-expand, getting plans drawn (required for permit application).

Once again there was no variance granted. The Council agreed that the owner met the terms of the heritage tree ordinance which means they can take the tree out. This right is the right of any property owner - not just developers - yes even you mimi can apply. There does not need to be any development plan. The former owner could have applied to remove the tree and made a case that is was uprooting the existing foundation and destroying the house for example. Are we clear now? There really is no conspiracy here just well intentioned councilmembers trying to apply the law.


think there is a big misunderstanding of what happened here. People are referring to the heritage tree ordinance being as being "overturned" or getting "exceptions" or it being "selectively enforced." Not true. The Council upheld the ordinance and agreed that the applicant met the requirements under that ordinance to remove the tree. If you disagree with the decision, work to change the ordinance but don't blame the developer for protecting their rights within it.
I think that in order to apply for a variance re:tree removal that you have to have a building permit application? If so, that skews very much in favor of developers because an owner/resident probably won't go through the charade of pretending to need to remodel-expand, getting plans drawn (required for permit application), etc, etc. Once you get a permit, have to start work in 6 mos. to keep permit live?




You said LeMieux "saw an opportunity where the previous owner did not." Wrong. She benefits as a developer. . Not fair to credit Kim & tom LeMieux with any great & special insight. They are developers & real estate agents. This is their business & Kim is very aggressive. That's why she handles this end of the family business & Tom does the people-contact. The current council is very pro-developer


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Posted by Marty
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jan 29, 2011 at 1:05 am

I wish someone would remove the eucalyptus trees that are a fire and storm danger, but it seems that even those Australian weed-trees are protected. Plus, unlike a redwood tree, those Eucs are ugly and smelly.

Okay, so I'm bit off topic, but more than enough has been said by both camps.


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Posted by Menlo Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 2, 2011 at 11:28 am

Our Menlo Park City Council has failed us by approving developer, Kim LeMieux's, request to remove a healthy heritage redwood tree from a property she wants to develop.

This decision contributes to the city's record of approving 97 percent of heritage tree removal requests since 2008. By removing these trees that in many cases have more history than most Menlo Park residents, we loose not only part of our heritage, but decrease the beauty and value of our 'city of trees' as our Menlo Park tree logo highlights.

This decision also further questions Menlo Park's commitment to the environment. Trees are the lungs of our earth helping to purify the air we breathe by absorbing pollutants, reducing the amount of pollutants in sewer systems and water, providing a natural habitat for birds and wildlife and reducing global warming. A tree that is 50+ years old vs a newly planted tree will take a life time to provide the same positive environmental and community impact.

The decisions made by our Menlo Park City Council have left me disappointed and concerned that these poor decisions will set a precedent that allows for a total lack of disregard for our heritage tree ordinance.

The fate of this healthy and magnificent tree at 240 University Drive lies now with Kim and Tom LeMieux who have the power to decide against cutting down the heritage tree. Kim and Tom LeMieux lead Laurel Homes Inc, a new home development company based in Menlo Park. Tom LeMieux is a licensed real estate broker specializing in luxury homes in the Menlo Park area with over $1 billion in sales since 1999. With both their offices located in Menlo Park as well as being residents and active members of Menlo Park, I hope that the LeMieux's will consider more than just a financial profit and make the right decision to protect and preserve our shared community, our environment, and our valuable heritage tree.


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Menlo Park Resident,
Please look to the ordinance, not property owner, for the problem. The LeMieux's asked for, and received approval to remove the tree. This was entirely legitimate and justified, according to the city's Heritage Tree Ordinance.

The problem will be solved only when the City Council decides to rewrite the ordinance so that the intent AND interpretation are clear. It's fairly obvious that this was not clear to either the Planning Commission (5-0 to remove the tree), the Environmental Quality Commission (5-0 to keep the tree) and the city council (split 3-2). Seems crazy, doesn't it.


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