Residents of Menlo Oaks in unincorporated Menlo Park have asked San Mateo County to pass emergency rules to protect their neighborhood's namesake oak trees, which they say have been disappearing at an alarming rate.
After hearing from neighbors, Supervisor Don Horsley asked the county's planning department to come back with a report on the urgency ordinance and also to consider setting up a citizen's panel "to deal with this issue." The report will be discussed when the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors' meet on July 26, starting at 9 a.m.
The report is item 5 on the supervisors' agenda. The board meetings are held in the supervisors chambers, 400 County Center, Redwood City.
Also on the agenda will be a vote by the supervisors on putting a 20-year extension of an existing half cent sales tax on the November ballot.
Supervisor Horsley said he had talked with some of the Menlo Oaks neighbors about their concerns.
"I know one thing builders often do is take the trees down and then ask for forgiveness," Supervisor Horsley said.
Janet Weisman Goff, a longtime Menlo Oaks resident and member of the Menlo Oaks Tree Advocacy group, said at the July 12 supervisors' meeting that on just one one-acre parcel in the neighborhood, seven heritage oaks have been lost in less than a year.
"We don't see any salvation for us without an urgency order to protect our neighborhood," she said.
"We are in favor of development in our neighborhood," she said. "What isn't good for us, is to see our urban canopy come down before our very eyes. And that's what's happening right now. It's basically a natural disaster."
"If we wait for the outcome of the revision to the heritage tree ordinance, we won't have any oak trees left to protect in our neighborhood. They'll be gone," she said
Judy Horst, another longtime resident and member of the tree advocacy group, said the neighborhood, which is south of Ringwood Avenue and west of Bay Road, is "a very rustic, bucolic part of the county" that really treasures its oaks.
But as homes are sold in the neighborhood, often to developers, the area has lost about 10 percent of its canopy in last two years, she said.
Developers bulldoze vegetation and leave only trees on the outsides of properties, she said. While some of the trees are removed legally, others come down by accident or are taken down illegally, she said.
Ms. Horst said the tree advocacy group found the county grants 98 percent of requests to take down heritage-sized oak trees. The county considers different species of different sizes to be heritage trees, ranging from, for oaks, 30 inches in diameter at 4.5 feet off the ground for a blue oak to 48 inches at the same height for a valley or coast live oak.
Permits are often granted, she said, "because no one wants to stand up or fight against (them),' she said. Arborists' reports are often cursory and "the reports favor whoever asks for it, whether it's a homeowner or developer," she said.
Lennie Roberts from the Committee for Green Foothills supported the Menlo Oaks neighborhood's request. "This seems to me to really be a crisis that is occurring in the Menlo Oaks area," she said. Recently a large oak on a construction site fell over. "That was due, I would say, to construction practices that damaged the roots," Ms. Roberts said.
Menlo Oaks "is well named," she said. The oak canopy "really defines the community. Most people in the community really value those oaks," she said. "We think better protection is really desired for those trees."
Contact the tree advocacy group through its website.