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Fate of heritage tree rests with Menlo council

Original post made on Jan 24, 2011

After voting to spend city funds to design a home around a controversial 70-foot heritage redwood tree, the Menlo Park City Council will decide the tree's fate at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, January 24, 2011, 10:37 AM

Comments (34)

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 24, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Why is the City getting into the A&E business? They are wasting the tax payers money by taking on a function that clearly exceeds their authority. I believe Ms. LeMieux offered to plant several trees to replace the one she proposes to take down. I think that would be enough. The problem is that the former City Council did not respect indivdual property rights.

When Ms. LeMieux offered an equitable solution the council should have accepted it. Their actions made them look foolish. All they are doing is convincing home builders pass over Menlo Park because the City has such a hostile attitude towards them.

Posted by Rules are Rules, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Oh, please! The City Council has adopted certain well-thought out criteria for the removal of heritage trees. Menlo Park values its canopy. Ms. LeMieux wants to remove a healthy, heritage tree, a move which is in direct opposition to those criteria. When she purchased the lot for development she knew the restrictions the presence of the tree presented to her project. For her to now try to circumvent these regulations and ask for special treatment, is unfair. The former City Council, in approving $7,500 to help her with an option to develop her parcel, was beyond the scope of their duty to a property owner. For her to still demand the tree be cut down now is even more ludicrous. The tree is beautiful, it is healthy ... LET IT LIVE! Ms. LeMieux should sell her lot and find another one that is more in keeping with her vision of over-development.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm

The canopy in Menlo Park is gorgeous. The oaks and Bay Laurels are lovely trees that provide a healthy canopy for our homes, a canopy that can be controlled by proper trimming - trimming that can allow natural light and sun. A redwood tree does not allow for this type of trimming. It is a tree that is heavy and dark and not condusive to 'trimming'. Using the age and size of a tree to preserve it makes no sense. The cost to a homeowner and neighbors can be high - roof damage, sun blockage, dampness and mold. All these things that cost money - in an era in which we all need to be careful of that resource.

Posted by watcher, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm

The city never should have opened the door to micromanage a design around, much less pay our funds for it. The application for tree removal should have been given a yea/no and that would be the end of it.

However, Ms lemiex is a chronic property speculator for whom our zoning is never appropriate for her needs.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Rules are Rules -

Can we assume that no trees were harmed when your home was built?

Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Beautifully said Rules are Rules.
By the way here's what the LeMieuxs have to say about preserving our city, too bad they don't abide by their own advertising of Kim's Laurel Homes. Web Link
"As long-time residents ourselves, we participate in community efforts
to improve our neighborhoods while preserving their character."
LeMieux made a bad business decision buying the lot thinking she could railroad the tree removal through the city and now she must live with it.
Her husband is one of the "biggest" realtors in town. He would never encourage someone to buy the property, knowing they wanted to place a large house on the property, by telling them it was no problem to get the tree removed. Kim knew what she was getting into, she's developed many properties in the area.
Her web site brags about her expertise "As the Project Manager and main point of contact for Laurel Homes, Kimberly streamlines the building process to make your experience enjoyable and free of worry. Her extensive industry knowledge and proven track record of success..." Well Kim everyone makes mistakes - bite the bullet and walk away.
And as your web site says, protect the character of our community - leave he tree alone. "Laurel Homes, with partner Adcon Builders, has been building custom homes in Menlo Park, Atherton, and surrounding communities since 1997. As long-time residents of this area, we are strong supporters of improving the communities in which we live while preserving their original character.
By the way the statement on your web site about relationships with city officials leaves me with a bad taste - "Plus, our excellent relationships with local building officials help expedite approvals and keep budgets and schedules on track." Web Link
Hopefully the new council will make the proper ruling and deny the tree removal and as the LeMieuxs advertise preserve the "original character" of our neighborhoods.

As to the council members who voted to pay an architect with our dwindling tax dollars, when Kim could have easily paid for a new design - they should be made to pay back the money to the city. Thankfully one of them is gone and the remaining two have no business being on the council for a variety of indiscretions.

Posted by Absurd, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

The tin-foil-hat posse is out screaming about individual rights and how they are being violated when a public good is at stake. Tell us Hank, is the canopy in Menlo Park a public good or a private good? How about the air that we breathe that is filtered by that canopy? How about the water in our water table that is cleaned by the roots that support that canopy? Do an individual's property rights extend as an infinite column from the footprint of the property into the various layers of the atmosphere and then into space?

Get a grip Hank. Not everything can be reduced to some silly reductionist right-left or conservative-liberal partisan nonsense. This isn't some sort of constitutional crisis. There is a city tree ordinance and the decision went through a process. It is ridiculous that city funds were used to help a millionaire after she already used more than her fair share of city resources in seeking variances and exceptions. She took a risk, and she lost.

Not all trees are the same. Saying that one will plant a bunch of Japanese Maples and Dogwoods favored by the image centric trust-fund-elites to match their new s-class is exactly what I have grown to expect in this city. The city council did the back-slapping, frat-sorority vote that one expects in a city where 50 year olds are trying to relive the popularity contests of high school and college-greek life.

Truly pathetic.

Get a back bone city council and stick to the rules. Stop kissing the hands of the self-anointed prom-kings and queens of Menlo Park. It's time to move on beyond those halcyon high school and co-ed days.

Posted by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm

If I lived next door, the safe removal of this tree would be an issue, given its size.

Of course, I'm sure the LeMieuxs can afford the risk.

But then, the redwood would probably cover the insurance premium. Old growth, heart redwood? Easily worth $7500, no doubt.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 24, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Just so I have this straight, Redwood trees are superior to Japanese Maples and Dogwoods. Interesting. Any other rules we should know about?

Is my rose bush inferior to my juniper? Don't they lowly have rights, too? Are you heartless?

Posted by Absurd, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Yes POGO, old growth is different form new growth in terms of environmental function and value. Amazingly, even the type of growth has differential impacts. I know all of this must be a convulsive shock to your intellect and belief system. "How could it be?" POGO asks, "Ain't they all just a buncha plants?"

As for personal preferences regarding Dogwoods and Japanese Maples, those were facetious remarks to highlight the yuppy absurdity of it all. I am sorry, but entirely unsurprised, that irony is so easily lost on you. If you are from some sort of Yuppies Are Good People interest group and are offended, for the record, I like Dogwoods and Japanese Maples.

Posted by Maureen Teter, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2011 at 3:55 pm

The City of Menlo Park has an ordinance and permit process to protect trees of a certain size- Heritage Trees. The City of Menlo Park issues heritage tree removal permits on the average of TWENTY per month. There is no permit needed to cut down a tree that has not yet reached heritage size. It doesn't matter how many trees are 'promised' to be planted in place of the heritage tree removed because there is no protection of those trees until they reach heritage status. The tree at 240 University is healthy and should be allowed to live on.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2011 at 8:27 pm

This was a bad business decision, pure and simple. Lemieux thought she would be able to take this tree down with no opposition so she could maximize a new house on this property. She was wrong. Time to move on. She's made plenty of money off of her other development projects. So she takes a loss. She's due. It happens.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 24, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Absurd -

Thank you for your clarification. No, the irony was not lost on me, but it would appear mine may have been lost on you.

Because of where I live, I suspect I see and walk among more redwood trees every single day than most people will in their lifetime. For that, I consider myself very fortunate. But I am able to appreciate the beauty of the redwood and oak forests in my neighborhood, I'm not arrogant enough to say that one species is superior to another.

It may interest you to know that I agree completely with Menlo Voter's post above. Ms. Lemieux took her chances and lost. Too bad for her and I'm not going to shed any tears. But I will call out the absolute hypocrisy of people who so easily fault Ms. Lemieux for doing something that was almost certainly done when their homes were built.

Absurd? Good pseudonym.

Posted by Absurd, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm


It doesn't take arrogance to proclaim one species superior to another. It's just an ecological bio-mass related reality. Yes I caught your irony and thus my somewhat acerbic response. Whatever mistakes were made in the past with prior construction need not be repeated.

And I am glad that you appreciate the oaks and redwoods in your neighborhood. They are majestic and often ancient. The neighbors who love these natural wonders often deal with folks who couldn't care less about the existence of these trees.

Beyond the ecological issue, my main issue is with the silly in-crowd mentality that suffuses Menlo Park city politics.

Do you think any homeowner would have been given the time of day let alone city dollars? The council is kowtowing to the pathetically parochial cliques that have formed in this town. So juvenile.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 25, 2011 at 2:35 am

I believe that everything in nature serves some purpose - none nobler than another.

The lowly dogwood tree literally pours calcium back into our soil Web Link and sugar maples whose nutrient rich fallout supports earthworms Web Link.

I'm not sure there are many "ancient" redwoods in the area. Almost everything you see is second growth. Most of Woodside was clear cut about a century ago.

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 25, 2011 at 7:28 am

Dear Absurd,

[Portion removed - avoid attacks.] Kim LeMeiux offered an equitable solution to plant many trees that will take in the toxic pollutant Carbon dioxide and create oxygen. [Portion removed.] With LeMieux's proposal Menlo Park gets a net gain.

[Portion removed. Avoid generalizations that are off topic.]

Kim Lemieux through her ingenuity and hard work has created many beautiful homes in Menlo Park. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Absurd, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2011 at 9:22 am

Dear Hank,

{Portion deleted. Response to another post that was deleted.]

Back to the topic at hand. There are simple rules to follow and the Heritage Tree Ordinance is very clear. Lemieux gambled and lost. Apparently you think that the land upon which she built would have been left empty sans her pioneering trust-fund endeavors. Apparently you understand the housing market in this area as well as you understand the scope and magnitude of the issues at hand.

[Portion deleted.]

Posted by Absurd, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2011 at 9:31 am

Dear Almanac Editor,

I do think your deletion of Mr. Lawrence's post was a bit aggressive.

I did not find the things he had to say particularly offensive.

I'm just saying...

Posted by back to topic, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm

The issue here centers on the heriage tree ordinance (not carbon emissions). It doesn't call out particular species, just sizes of trees. This one is a magnificent specimen, and one of the largest in that area, benefitting (and belived) by the whole neighborhood. ANd Ms. LeMieux knew there was a heritage tree there when she bought that lot at a lower price than other lots that do not have such trees.

Now a three-expert team -- an architect, arborist and landscape architecture expert -- have come up with a design that allows devekopment WITH preservation of the tree.

There is nothing in the heritage tree ordinance that allows the buyer of a property to build the maximum buildout with a basement.

If this speculative buyer made a bad business decision by assuming that she could get the City to go against its ordinance here, that is the business risk she took. If she didn't want such risk she could have bought a property that did not have a heritage tree on it.

What meaning is there to the heritage tree ordinance if a tree like this can be taken down to allow maximum build out when another design could save the tree?

If the Council goes against the Environmental Quality Commission's findings -- the only commission to consider all the elements of the heritage tree ordinance here -- then what is the point of having a heritage tree ordinance at all? .... um, maybe we would have to take down our "Tree City USA" signs.

Palo Alto and many other local jurisdictions have such ordinances. And many homes in Menlo Park have been designed or redeisgned to save heritage trees which can give great value to both the immediate property and the whole neighborhood as a public good.

We should live by our ordinance and give it meaning as the Council balances interests here, the interest of the tree cannot be ignored. It is after all the heritage tree ordinance not the "maximixe profits" ordinance. Reasonable economic returns for a reasonable sized house should pass muster under the ordinance so this magnificent tree that was here long before the first house was built there, and will be there (like El Palo Alto) many generations from now. This tree should be given is given every chance to live lest Menlo Park's "Tree City" designation be tarnished.

Posted by Someoneinmenlopark, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Nobody else is commenting on the heart of this issue- the flipside of whether one has the right to cut down an enormous tree in the city. I drove past the small lot in question the other day. Like many lots in the downtown/allied arts areas, this is a really small piece of land. The tree is planted pretty much dead center in the lot. In my opinion, it was completely irresponsible and ridiculous that some dope planted a sequoia in the center of that tiny lot 50-75 years ago. I'm equally certain that they didn't plant it for it's "noble grace" or any of those other sequoia superlatives. They probably read an old version of Sunset garden book, or another similar book that touted that these trees grow like weeds- around 3 feet per year. They were quick easy landscaping. In a sequoia forest, and in the hills, I have unbounded love for sequoias, but they impose a deep and unwanted shade in residential areas. I live in MP, and my back yard is dominated by two double-standard sequoias. We have had to work everything around those monsters over the last 20 years: extra planning and construction costs to keep them healthy while remodeling, very non-standard landscaping that required a lot of expense and thought to end up with something resembling a back yard, repeatedly replacing neighbor fences as our trees continually uproot them, neighbors that have to put up with fencing encroaching into their lots as our trees grow...and the cost of thinning every 10 years or so looks more like the cost some spend on a car.
True that LeMieux took a gamble on this spec development, and may have lost- that's a risk she took, and I don't really care about her outcome. But I see no reason for planting these trees in residential areas- at least not where lots are so small. There is every reason to maintain them in our open spaces, but I almost think there ought to be a law against selling them them without buyers thinking about what they will become in only a few years. About 8 years ago, a row of sequoias was planted at Encinal school along the Middlefield border. I remember reading an arborist's letter to the editor complaining of the very poor choice- noting that the sunny area would soon be a dark, cold and unfriendly feeling place. The trees are already very large....

Posted by Ethan, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Uno menos. One less McMansion. 'Tis a great loss to us all.

Posted by treety, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2011 at 1:34 pm

There's a pattern we observe occasionally in Menlo Park:

1. Well-known or affluent local developer buys property that has inherent limitations because of zoning, nonconforming lot size, or other ordinance-related issues -- in this case, a heritage tree. Because the property is not ideal, developer pays significantly less than the property would cost without the flaw.

2. Developer prevails upon city (staff, planning commission, council) to grant her/him a variance, complaining that refusing to bend the rules will result in an economic setback for the developer.

3. The city, not wanting to appear to be obstructionist or against change, withering under accuations that "Menlo Park is about to become a ghost town!" grants the variance.

4. Rinse, repeat.

There are two other relevant points in this particular case.

* The property owner cannot claim to be unfamliar with city ordinances. If the buyers had been, say, a young couple from Iowa, we might have forgiven them their ignorance (but...the city would not have given them a variance!)

* Experts have indicated that there are compromises that allow the owner to develop the property and retain the tree.

If the city wants to amend the ordinance to exclude species it doesn't like (redwoods, eucalyptus). Barring that, I think the council should be clear that the rules apply equally to all residents.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Ethan -

McMansion? That's all in the eye of the beholder.

As a kid, I suspect my brother, sister and I would have called your current home in Menlo Park a mansion.

Who's being materialistic when they resent someone because they have better kitchen appliances?

Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2011 at 3:20 pm

"this is a really small piece of land"
Wrong - this is a 7750 st ft lot with a 2380 sq ft house and a good size in-ground swimming pool.
Lemieux wants to build a 3974 sq ft home.
The maximum allowed by the city on this size lot which is zoned R-1-U is 2988 sq ft. Not only does Lemieux want an exemption to take down a heritage tree she wants an exemption to build a house a full one-third larger than that permitted by city code - an extra 1000 sq feet.
It's time to say no to the spec builders and their McMansions!

Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2011 at 3:43 pm

To put the planned house in some sort of context LeMieux wants to build a 3974 sq ft house (larger than her own home in Menlo Park) on a lot which is less than half the size of her own home's 16000 sq ft lot.

figures from

Posted by Ethan, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 25, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Operative words describing most of the "homes" (home=a house blessed by a real estate agent) being built on the Peninsula: enormous, unsightly, shoddy (ask a carpenter), pretentious, and grossly overpriced (still).

Right, Pogo. McMansions are in the eye of the beholder. And I behold them everywhere.

Posted by Rules are Rules, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Let's hope that our City Council tonight decides to follow the rules and disallows the removal of the redwood tree. It would be refreshing if, for once, a developer had to jump through all the hoops that us regular citizens who want to remodel our homes have to jump through.

Posted by Central Menlo, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2011 at 11:50 pm

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.

Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:01 am

The council voted 3-2 to allow removal:

Web Link

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 26, 2011 at 4:49 am

Ethan -

Do you see them when you drive up to your house, too?

Posted by Rules are Rules, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 9:54 am

Well, apparently the rules are only for those of us who acknowledge their existence, not the chosen few (developers) who gain special favor from our elected officials because of the influence they wield, influence that is paid for by the monies they supply to campaigns. I am literally sick at the outcome of this. Our cash-strapped City is out $7,500.00 it should not have spent for plans for a building that Ms.LeMieux never intended to build. We rule-following citizens will be deprived of an irreplaceable majestic redwood tree. And, our City will be saddled with another over-sized building to cast a shadow on its neighbors. What a legacy! VERY SAD!!!

Posted by poster, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

There is a new thread on this topic: Web Link

Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:49 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 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 (for Many One) , and Liberty. We are equal at birth 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

Posted by Concerned Neighbor, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 31, 2011 at 12:31 pm

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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