After learning that as many as 13 healthy heritage trees could be cut down to make way for the construction of a new civic center in Atherton, the City Council on Nov. 15 asked the town to try to figure out ways to save more of the trees now growing on the site.
Longtime Atherton resident Nancy Grove told the council the trees are valuable for more than just their appearance, sequestering as much as 100 pounds of carbon a year. "I really think that this is an important matter," she said. "Some of these oaks may have antedated the first white settlers in the Bay Area."
The trees must be removed to make way for a new library, town and police offices, and a council chamber.
A heritage tree is 48 inches or more in circumference measured 4 feet above the ground.
On Oct. 25, the town's Planning Commission approved a permit to remove 18 heritage trees for the project. Five of those trees are unhealthy and must be removed, but five other trees could possibly be saved, the Planning Commission said. The town may also be able to move some trees to new locations.
Council members asked the town to look at how it might save as many of the trees as possible, taking into consideration the costs for any redesign of the civic center plans that would be needed to accommodate them.
Kristi Waldron reminded the council that an oak is the town's symbol. "We are the communal owners of this project," she said. "We are a tree town."
Betsy Colby, a member of the independent Atherton Tree Committee, said some of the trees set for removal are as much as 200 years old. The list of trees on the site includes 35 heritage oaks, with 15 slated for removal, she said.
Denise Kupperman, who is also part of the tree committee, urged the town to look at ways to save the trees. "There are ways to mitigate construction," she said. "It might cost a little bit more, but there are ways of preserving these trees."
Councilman Rick DeGolia said some of the trees that are to be removed are "spectacular." However, he said, to save some of them, "we'd have to move the building."
Councilman Bill Widmer said that although saving the trees could impact the project's schedule and cost, "I think there are some alternative things" that could be done.
Mayor Mike Lempres agreed. "I think we do want to reconsider this," he said, adding that the trees "are all valuable."
The council also came to agreements with two neighbors whose fences, it was found when the town surveyed its property for the project, are actually on town property. Both neighbors agreed to allow the town to build 8-foot fences along the actual property line. One neighbor will be allowed to keep an existing hedge in lieu of the fence after signing an easement agreement with the town.