Locals protest planned felling of seven redwoods

Period to appeal Planning Commission decision extended to Jan. 9

Seven trees on top of an underground garage at 1000 El Camino Real are slated for removal, but a recent spate of complaints and emails of concern to the City Council have extended the period during which the matter can be appealed. (Photo by Adam Pardee.)

This story has been updated since it was posted on Jan. 1.

The clock is ticking for seven redwoods situated near one of Menlo Park's busiest intersections, El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue.

In October, the Menlo Park Planning Commission voted 6-0-1, with Camille Kennedy absent, to approve the removal of those trees – which meet the city's guidelines to be considered "heritage trees" and worthy of extra protection – so that the parking structure underneath could be repaired and made waterproof. The roots of the trees have significantly damaged the parking structure, according to a staff report.

But a number of residents who recently became aware of the plan are speaking out, asking the city to explore options to removing the trees. Opponents of the plan now have more time to make their concerns known. The original Dec. 28 deadline to appeal the decision has been extended to Jan. 9 because of City Hall closures, according to an email from Public Works Director Justin Murphy.

On Jan. 4, Murphy announced that a public meeting will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 8, at City Hall, 701 Laurel St., where people can learn more about this topic, talk about the removals and have staff answer any questions they may have.

John Kadvany, a former planning commissioner, sent an email to the City Council requesting more public outreach and further evaluation of options to avoid removing the trees.

"I would like to find out if there is another way of handling this rather than chopping down iconic 40-year-old redwoods at the corner of El Camino Real and Ravenswood," wrote Keri Meredith in an email to the City Council Dec. 20.

Project applicant Matt Matteson proposed the tree removals as part of a plan to fix the failing underground parking garage at the site, Cornerstone Research. He also proposed to replace the trees with 14 new ones planted around the site; they would be a mix of Brisbane box, coast live oak, London plane and white barked birch trees, with two planted along El Camino Real.

According to project manager Ken Rakestraw, the biggest trees on that corner – including the one or two that are lit during the holidays – won't be impacted. The trees planned to be cut down are part of a cluster close to Jeffrey's Hamburgers and were planted by a developer on the site about 30 years ago.

In an email, he explained that he and colleagues worked hard to find alternatives to avoid cutting the trees down. The problem, he said, is that the trees' roots have dug into the parking structure, and have ruined the waterproof membrane needed to keep the garage safe.

Rakestraw explained, "The roots of these trees have spread all across the landscaped area located over the underground garage and have caused damage to the exterior waterproofing and building. If left unmoved, these trees and their roots will accelerate such damage."

As of early Dec. 28, at least 12 people had sent emails to the City Council asking that it reconsider the felling of the trees.

According to an email from City Attorney Bill McClure sent to Kadvany, "The trees have caused significant damage the foundation of the building resulting in cracks and water leaking into the structure and parking garage."

Though other alternatives were considered, McClure wrote, "They need to effect repairs from the El Camino side of the structure and then install a waterproof membrane on the exterior of the foundation. Thus, the trees need to be removed. Unfortunate but a reality."

Kadvany, who had initially asked for the appeal deadline to be extended, said Jan. 4 he did not plan to file an appeal after learning more about the problem.

Other considerations

At the core of the concern is a less obvious question: Would removing the trees make it possible to widen El Camino Real at the approach to the Ravenswood Avenue intersection?

Widening the northbound approach to that intersection is often mentioned as a possible solution to the traffic jam that motorists experience as the right-most lane becomes a right-turn-only lane and other drivers must merge left.

Former Menlo Park councilman Steve Schmidt wrote in an email he suspects that these tree removals may facilitate the process to widen El Camino Real in the future.

"Adding a third (northbound) through lane would have required the removal of these same trees and certainly would have attracted vigorous opposition from residents who oppose choosing cars over trees," he wrote. "Assuming the trees were then gone when the (El Camino Real) widening comes up, the arguments against that project would be less specific and weaker, thus facilitating its approval."

During the Planning Commission's discussion of the matter, Commissioner Henry Riggs said he believes that only 2 more feet are needed to widen the street, and that he wants the city's transportation division to figure out what the alternative should be for widening El Camino Real and coordinate the placement of the new trees accordingly.

Regardless of potential plans to widen the road at the intersection, several people wrote to the council expressing appreciation for the trees and opposition to their removal.

"Let's not be a Joni Mitchell song please!" wrote Michele Sherman, who urged the council to save the trees (referring, presumably, to Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," whose lyrics include: "They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot.")

The trees, wrote Wendy Hornstein in an email, "are beautiful and a treasure to our community. We owe it to our community and our future to question and look for a solution."

The proposal also requested permission to repaint the building at 1000 El Camino Real, update some landscaping and lighting, and widen sidewalks to 10 feet from 8 feet.


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21 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 1, 2019 at 1:08 pm

"iconic 40 year old redwood trees" Give me a break. 1000 year old, 500 year old, even 200 year old might qualify as iconic. But not 40 year old.

BTW residents should not be allowed to plant redwoods on any lot under two acres or within 50 feet of a building or property line.

11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 1, 2019 at 1:57 pm

I agree that planting redwood trees on small private lots is really foolish. The trees grow quickly, the roots tear up everything nearby, and the size of the trees means they can cause a lot of damage if branches or trunks fall on anything. Trying to preserve both these trees and the nearby buildings is already a lost cause.

11 people like this
Posted by ol' sequoia
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 1, 2019 at 2:20 pm

@whatever: Iconic isn't always defined by age.

15 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 1, 2019 at 2:28 pm

Ol sequoia
True. Trump could be considered iconic, but that doesn't mean we should keep him around.

9 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 1, 2019 at 9:14 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Redwoods are weeds when planted in close proximity to homes. They have shallow root systems, they do nothing for screening except in their first ten years which is why they get planted and they fall over in soaked ground and high winds. No one should be allowed to plant them in dense residential neighborhoods.

19 people like this
Posted by Clunge
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 1, 2019 at 9:52 pm

That lot used to be a gas station- when they raised that and built this office building they promised trees to keep Menlo Park from looking like San Mateo and the cities south of Palo Alto. Now we’re tearing down trees and adding more f-ing buildings and making Menlo Park into an eyesore / wanna be big city.

City council and the planning committee and the city arborist can go screw themselves.

Let’s just pa My everything gold and go full gawdy

14 people like this
Posted by John Kadvany
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 2, 2019 at 8:22 am

John Kadvany is a registered user.

My letter to city council of Dec 26 asked for a delay because no information was obvious on the city web site and the original appeal date closure was Dec 29, during the holiday week with city offices closed. Hence an appeal could not even be made and nobody was available to explain what was happening. I was later informed by a helpful resident of Planning Commission minutes for October 22. The minutes explain the problem with the trees/garage, with the PC making the decision (6-0 with one absent). Neither the city arborist page nor Environmental Quality Commission page appear to have information on the removal.

4 people like this
Posted by Twentse
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 2, 2019 at 12:50 pm

Twentse is a registered user.

Is it possible to transplant those trees to a different and more suitable location? That would be a better solution than chopping them down.

Like this comment
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 2, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Last year in Boise Idaho a 100ft tall 20ft circumference sequoia was transplanted at a cost of $300,000. One tree and everything is cheaper to do in Boise than Menlo Park. Figure a minimum of $150,000 a tree times seven, and do you have have an extra $1 million in your bank account. Oh and no guarantee the transplanted trees will survive. In which case you'll send at least $5K-$10K each to dispose of the dead trees. for the article

9 people like this
Posted by Ol’ Homeboy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 2, 2019 at 2:00 pm

What does “iconic” even mean? It seems to be the most overused and incorrect descriptive adjective in the last 2 years, right behind “epic”! Just count how many times our news stations use it in a single broadcast.
As for the Redwoods, they don’t belong on the valley floor anyway. Cut ‘em down, mill the wood and use it for the new library. Oh wait, we’re not getting a new library.

10 people like this
Posted by henry fox
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 2, 2019 at 2:11 pm

henry fox is a registered user.

I say, let's wait for the redwoods to fall.

Redwoods have no place near buildings.
The replacement plan proposed by Matteson seems lovely.

BTW The Menlo Park City Council in June 2017 denied an application by property owners to cut down a redwood which 3 arborists declared a safety hazard. Hope the new Council, if the issue comes to it, is more sane.

11 people like this
Posted by Tree Lover
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 2, 2019 at 6:14 pm

We have 5 gorgeous and healthy redwood trees and 5 oaks on our half acre property. Neither have ever been a problem in the 30 years we've lived here. The redwood roots are extensive and shallow, so we mostly compensate by planting in large pots.
I'm in favor of doing everything possible to keep the city's redwood trees.

5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 2, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"The redwood roots are extensive and shallow"

That's the problem. When we have really wet winters combined with high winds redwoods fall over. And if they are near buildings, they often land on those buildings. Causing damage at a minimum and killing people at the extreme. Redwoods do not belong in close proximity to buildings. They are a hazard. You're personal experience is just that, personal. Over all experience with these trees supports what I'm saying.

11 people like this
Posted by Arborist
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 2, 2019 at 9:51 pm

The city Arborists are what they are...employees of the city.

I have seen them and the City wink through removal of tress that were healthy and just a nuisance to property owners (yes, I know this for a fact). Not to speak of property owners who kill trees and are not held responsible.

In some cases, removal of the healthy tree was actually more costly than finding a workaround to preserve the tree and just make simple structural changes.

Who still buys the notion, that MP or its administration are invested in heritage trees other than keeping up some sort of appearances, is not looking closely.

I am a trained Botanist and Arborist, BTW.

1 person likes this
Posted by Lobatom Mufasi
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 3, 2019 at 8:34 am

Menlo Voter is incorrect and spewing uninformed opinion. Redwood tree root systems form a mesh with other redwoods and together they provide a strong base. Such is the case with the trees referenced in this article. Informed people know the trees that fall on homes in our area are almost invariably oaks. So should we have ordinances that prohibit planting oaks?

Like this comment
Posted by Samuel Y
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 3, 2019 at 10:10 am

What is the point of widening the northbound approach on ECR to Ravenswood to create a 4th lane for right turn only? The next 6 intersections have right turn only lane too!

Going north on ECR, from Robles to Ravenswood, the rightmost lane becomes right turn only, so cars in the rightmost lane going straight must merge with the middle lane, creating traffic congestion. I understand that if there was a 4th lane for right turn only, then the current rightmost lane can allow traffic to proceed straight. However, you still have to merge at the next block, between Ravenswood and Santa Cruz, since the rightmost lane there is right turn only . . . and before Oak Grove . . . and before Glenwood . . . and before Encinal . . . and before Buckthorn . . . and before Spruce Ave. It's not until Watkins Ave that you can go straight in the rightmost lane. Sooner or later, you have to merge into the middle lane, unless you change all 7 intersections, which is not going to happen. So what's the point of changing ECR/Ravenswood? I understand ECR/Ravenswood is the busiest intersection, but if you drive it everyday, you already know you have to start merging by the time you get to Jeffrey's Hamburgers.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 3, 2019 at 11:45 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


more oaks fall on homes than redwoods here because oaks greatly out number redwoods. Redwoods may mesh their roots, but the root systems are shallow and when the ground gets very soaked with water it is not difficult for winds to knock them over. I've seen it numerous times in the surrounding hills where they grow in groves.

13 people like this
Posted by Neil Macneale
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 4, 2019 at 3:56 pm

A few clarifications are needed here. First, the seven redwoods are not growing on top of the parking structure. They are outside of the building line, which is the perimeter of the parking garage, NOT the office building itself, which is quite a distance back from the underground wall of the parking structure. The picture which shows the crack and water stains on the ceiling of the parking structure is of an area covered by grass, not tree roots. The grass and soil could easily be removed from this area to re-waterproof and repair this section of the ceiling. A drive through the rest of the parking structure revealed very little evidence of adverse impact from the seven trees along El Camino. Repair of the water proofing, where necessary, could be accomplished without removing the trees. I speak with some authority here having been a licensed contractor since 1974 and supervising the construction of numerous commercial buildings, including several with underground parking structures. I was also chair of the Menlo Park Environmental Beautification Commission and had a hand in writing the first Menlo Park Heritage Tree Ordinance. The two redwoods at the corner in question (not the ones slated for removal) were included in the plans for re-aligning Ravenswood Avenue at the insistence of the Environmental Beautification Commission, and the Council at the time agreed that a stand of Redwoods at this intersection would be a terrific landmark for the center of our town. The developer agreed and proceeded to plant about a dozen more. These trees collectively, along with the Sycamores planted all along El Camino are a welcome break from what would otherwise be just another stretch of commercial ugliness. Let's do what's necessary to preserve these trees.

6 people like this
Posted by Facts of the Matter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 4, 2019 at 4:31 pm

A few facts ... the PROPERTY OWNER here is the City of Menlo Park. The applicant, Matt Matteson (MPOC Investors, LLC (“Owner”), an investment entity managed by Matteson Real Estate Equities, Inc. and Matteson Realty Services, Inc. (the
“Matteson Companies”)), is the BUILDING OWNER on top of the property. The city negotiated with Mr. Matteson a few years ago to lengthen the lease another 55 years. The city document / proposal states that the lease discussion included the redwoods when Matteson was negotiating with the City Attorney and the City Manager. The TREES were planted in 1979. The building and parking structure was built 5 or so years after that. (So if you argue that trees don't belong next to buildings, why choose to build there, in the "Ravenswood Triangle Redwood Grove"?) Read more in the staff report, note Attachment D - Web Link Staff Report Number: 18-090-PC

5 people like this
Posted by City Meeting Notice
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 4, 2019 at 4:35 pm

City staff will be hosting a public forum next Tuesday, January 8th at 4 p.m. at City Hall for any member of the public that is interested in learning more about this topic. This informal meeting will serve as a forum to have a dialogue about the removals and answer any questions.

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 4, 2019 at 6:47 pm

Brian is a registered user.

All this opposition to Redwood trees and yet when the owners of a house on Pipe applied to remove a redwood tree that was deemed to be unsafe by three different arborists they were denied by the planning department and the city council. Instead they were told they needed to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to "mitigate the risk of failure" by topping the tree and cabling the seperate trunks (it split into 3 about 15 feet up) together.

If they want a resident with a tree deemed dangerous to do that then shouldn't they require the applicant in this case to go to the same lengths to save these trees?

6 people like this
Posted by Arborist
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 4, 2019 at 7:33 pm

In case of Brian there certainly is the issue of being a small fish, and probably more than meets the eye on the facts about the tree in question.
Topping and cabling a tree isn't certainly gonna break the bank, and without knowing the details, there is also a good chance that the tree was likely not properly maintained over the years to get to that condition.

This is the case with many heritage trees on public and private land in the city and general area, BTW.
You can't claim to be a "Tree City", or own a majestic tree without doing anything FOR it.
With any property, with or without trees, come responsibilities.
And yes, there are property owners who maintain their heritage trees.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 4, 2019 at 8:54 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"And yes, there are property owners who maintain their heritage trees."

And I'd hazard that most people DON'T.

That's why so many in this city are in poor shape and in many cases drop large limbs or fall over. If this city is serious about trees, they need to be serious about maintaining them. Otherwise people should be allowed to remove them.

2 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 5, 2019 at 3:39 pm

Brian is a registered user.


Topping 3 trees, which is what grew out of a single trunk, by about 20 to 25 feet is not a very cheap endeavor. Cabling them together might be a little cheaper but as the three arborist that evaluated the trees made a point of the trunks were too large for cabling to be a very effective mitigating Factor. Also the people making the request had just purchased the house and we're looking to build a new house on the property which is how they became aware of the problems with the tree.

It just bothers me that the city can be hypocritical in terms of not letting someone tear down at redeemed at-risk and dangerous, but approving taking down multiple trees because they are causing some damage to a structure that can be repaired.

3 people like this
Posted by Arborist
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 5, 2019 at 7:09 pm

All I got regarding "we need more government" and "I didn't do my homework before buying" is:


Regarding those trees at ECR/Ravenswood:
It's debatable how "heritage" these trees are, but the process used to remove them is just a slap in the face of anybody familiar with the situation (take a look yourself or see the post by the contractor earlier in this thread).

City should just make the executive decision and "WoMan up to it", instead of trying to pull wool over the public eyes about the real (financial/development) motives.
Just chop and then pay the fines like most do when caught. TWOT to "discuss" this ad nauseum in a so called "hearing" just to save face.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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