News

Public outcry prompts further scrutiny for prominent redwoods

Environmental Quality Commission to hear appeal of trees slated for removal at 1000 El Camino Real; $500 appeal fee waived

An underground parking garage at 1000 El Camino Real damaged by redwood tree roots. The owner planned to remove seven prominent redwoods that are causing the damage, a plan that has been met by a public outcry. (Photo by Adam Pardee.)

About 30 local residents showed up at Menlo Park City Hall for a public forum on Tuesday, expressing strong opposition to the planned felling of seven redwood trees at 1000 El Camino Real.

Menlo Park's heritage tree ordinance gives extra protection to trees that meet size and species criteria, and requires more scrutiny by the city before they can be cut down. Seven such heritage trees were [ approved for removal by the Planning Commission in October (on a 6-0-1 vote, with Camille Kennedy absent).

To appeal decisions made about heritage trees typically costs $200 for the first tree, and then $100 per tree up to $500, according to city staff. At the Jan. 8 forum, residents had begun to organize and determine how much each would have to pay for the appeal to move forward. But on Wednesday morning, Jan. 9, the day of the appeal deadline, Mayor Ray Mueller confirmed that he would refer the matter directly to the Environmental Quality Commission for further analysis, and thereby waive the fee.

According to project manager Ken Rakestraw, project applicant Matt Matteson and his team "have explored every possible option with an arborist and engineers to avoid removing the trees, but there is just no way to repair and maintain the building without doing so."

The podium slab at 1000 El Camino Real, which is the ceiling of an underground parking garage at the site, shows signs of water intrusion, and the waterproof membrane that protects the parking structure at the site has been damaged, according to Allana Buick & Bers, Inc., an architectural engineering firm hired to investigate the damage. Some damage is due to the age of the waterproofing, and some is due to the penetration of the tree roots and other plants into the membrane, the firm found.

Project Engineer Monte Rinebold reported in a letter that the waterproof membrane cannot be repaired as is, and needs to be removed to evaluate the extent of the damage to the slab.

In a letter, project manager Ken Rakestraw emphasized a few points: The trees are about 30 years old – young by redwood standards; the two much larger trees at the corner of El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue would remain in place; and the seven trees would be replaced by 14 new trees of different species that "should not cause this issue again."

Opposition

During the Jan. 8 forum, residents gave a number of reasons for opposing the tree removals.

Some urged the city to consider each tree's abilities to sequester carbon before allowing them to be cut down – a factor not currently among the criteria by which heritage trees are evaluated for potential removal, staff said.

More than one resident expressed disappointment that Menlo Park, a "city of trees," wasn't doing more to protect the redwoods.

Still others not in attendance emailed the City Council with comments. "It will be a sad day, indeed, when Menlo Park ... chooses to destroy healthy heritage redwood trees that have done nothing other than provide beauty, given life-saving oxygen to our air, and provided numerous small animals and birds shelter and food," wrote resident Carol Taggart.

According to former mayor Steve Schmidt, when the trees were planted, there was no city arborist, only a public works director. Redwoods, at the time, he said, were viewed as an easy solution. "They grew fast and were good for a while (until they) ran out of steam."

But the redwood roots invaded the soil above the garage and sped the demise of the waterproof membrane needed to protect the structure below, leading to the current situation, he said.

Jen Mazzon, a resident of the Willows neighborhood, collected email addresses at the door to organize future opposition to cutting down the trees. People interested can email her at 7heritagetrees@gmail.com, or complete a form here to request more information.

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Comments

18 people like this
Posted by Happy Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 9, 2019 at 1:11 pm

Happy Resident is a registered user.

why wasn't the Environmental Quality Commission consulted BEFORE this project went to the Planning Commission for a vote?


3 people like this
Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 9, 2019 at 4:29 pm

I understand the concern for the trees, but why is that the ONLY issue that ever concerns residents is trees: people run red lights all the time, STOP signs are suggestions, not rules anymore, yet gee, remove a tree and this town goes crazy. Let's try to focus on safety. I wish these residents were as concerned about drivers running red lights at that corner -- that can kill.


10 people like this
Posted by Sara
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 9, 2019 at 5:05 pm

Dear Common Sense,
Why do you assume that the people who are opposed to the cutting down of the Redwoods are not opposed to people running red lights?
Sara


8 people like this
Posted by Jim Sanders
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 9, 2019 at 6:13 pm

These Redwoods are still just baby trees, in the life of a Redwood. They will only get bigger and do
more damage as the years pass. They should have never been planted in a location like this.
It may be sad but they need to be cut down and the city and its residents need to be more realistic
about the types of tree planted within our city. Just because Redwood thrive a few miles away does not
mean any area in Menlo Park is a suitable place for this type tree. Think of the possible life that might be lost
if one of these trees decide to fall when least expected. They fall in the forest when conditions are much
better suited for their growth. This is a terrible location and disaster is just waiting to happen.
like others have said, CUT THEM DOWN, now.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jim Sanders
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 9, 2019 at 6:16 pm

These Redwoods are still just baby trees, in the life of a Redwood. They will only get bigger and do
more damage as the years pass. They should have never been planted in a location like this.
It may be sad but they need to be cut down and the city and its residents need to be more realistic
about the types of tree planted within our city. Just because Redwood thrive a few miles away does not
mean any area in Menlo Park is a suitable place for this type tree. Think of the possible life that might be lost
if one of these trees decide to fall when least expected. They fall in the forest when conditions are much
better suited for their growth. like others have said, CUT THEM DOWN, now.


7 people like this
Posted by CGrace
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 9, 2019 at 7:53 pm

This article incorrectly states that the redwood trees caused the structural damage. City staff made very clear at the meeting that the trees did not cause the damage, but that the trees would need to be removed in order to access and repair the damaged structure. The structure also had damage in areas where there were no redwood trees.


Like this comment
Posted by Frugal
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 9, 2019 at 9:06 pm

Does anyone know if the trees.were planted BEFORE the garage was built?


12 people like this
Posted by Dave Ross
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 9, 2019 at 9:42 pm

Frugal - the trees were planted after the underground garage was built. The process goes like this: mass excavation at the site, followed by construction of the below-grade structure, then waterproofing is installed on top of it (the sides and bottom get waterproofed as they are built). After the waterproofing and any needed underground utility lines are installed, the structure gets covered with layers of baserock and soil, to get the area back to something like its original grade. Then, at the very end of the project, the landscaping (including Redwood tress) goes in. So the damaged waterproofing is now sandwiched between the concrete roof of the garage (below the waterproofing) and the soil (above the waterproofing, and in which the Redwoods were planted).

I was not (and am not now) involved in this project, but have been in construction locally for over 40 years. I've been a consultant on tricky construction issues for the last 18 years or so. I cannot think of any way to effect these needed repairs without removing the trees. Maybe the protesters have better ideas, or more insight as to how this can be done without removing the trees. Or maybe they are not well informed about construction and are simply objecting based on some principle, without being able to contribute to a solution that meets their needs - only creating a delay to the inevitable.

In the end, I believe that the trees will be removed in order to get the repair work done. While heartfelt, I think the various grounds for protesting the trees' removal will fail to overcome reality. IMO, Redwood trees, while beautiful, are not appropriate for every location. Planting them on top of an underground garage was a terrible idea in the first place, and they do not belong there now or going forward.

Apologies to those who may be offended by my lack of reverence for every Redwood tree.

Minor rant - I really appreciate commenters who are willing to back up their comments with their real names. I don't give much credence to the statements of those who hide behind aliases on simple civic issues like this one. Please consider being willing to stand behind your opinions.


3 people like this
Posted by Investigate Compromise
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 10, 2019 at 7:45 am

I wasn't at the meeting, but the comment of CGrace bears paying attention to.

It seems like we are approaching this in a very black and white way, but I suspect there is a potential for a compromise. When I read a study done several years ago - there was ZERO reason for removing the trees - they are all healthy and by themselves, do not present an above ground risk. (This is for the "cut them down before they kill someone" comment.) It's clear that the building owners want to renovate the area around the building and it seems THIS is a motivating factor. I have yet to see something which indicates that there is structural risk, that is, what is the long term impact of water damage? Are there other remediation methods which are less invasive? Even if they aren't as effective. Maybe they don't NEED to be 100% effective, and something like pumps or other means can be used. I do think the neighborhood has a right to have a say about the appearance of such a prominent area.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jen Mazzon
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 10, 2019 at 8:16 am

Jen Mazzon is a registered user.

Fellow neighbors, if you want to join the group of community members who are pushing for the city (and tenants) to explore alternative solutions that will preserve these 7 heritage trees, please email 7heritagetrees@gmail.com or add your email to this online form: Web Link

I will personally ensure that we only contact you via the email you provide regarding this specific issue.

Best,

Jen Mazzon


Like this comment
Posted by Katherine
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 23, 2019 at 2:07 pm

Can we organize and complain about all the ugly cellphone towers popping out everywhere!!!??? Trees are being cut too throughout the US to accommodate for these ugly towers!


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

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