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."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete a form here to request more information.