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.
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.