An appeal months in the making over the proposed felling of seven prominent redwood trees at the corner of El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue is scheduled to come to the Menlo Park City Council tonight (May 14) for a final decision.
In October, the Menlo Park Planning Commission approved plans by Matt Matteson, the owner of 1000 El Camino Real -- an office building at the corner of El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue -- to cut down seven redwood trees in order to repair a parking garage beneath, which has been damaged by water intrusion.
When some residents saw notices attached to the trees, some chose to appeal the commission's decision, expressing outrage and shock and urging the city to explore other options to preserve the trees. The Environmental Quality Commission then reviewed the appeal and, on March 27, voted 4-3 to uphold the Planning Commission's decision. In advance of that hearing, city staff researched eight different alternatives to save the trees, but determined that none was both feasible and reasonable.
The matter was again appealed, and so the City Council will be expected to make a final ruling on the decision.
Matteson said he's sad to see the trees go, but doesn't see a way around it. He's been managing the property since 1987, he said, and the trees were planted around 1982, so he's been responsible for the trees' upkeep most of their lives. He said he and his team worked to find a way to keep other trees along the El Camino Real frontage intact, but these seven really are in the way. He's planning to plant 14 new trees that have shallower roots to replace the redwoods.
Back when the redwoods were planted, he said, "people knew a whole lot less." Now, it's acknowledged that redwoods have deep, invasive root systems and are extremely thirsty trees.
"There's no question they shouldn't be planted where they were planted," he said. Redwoods belong in places like Portola Valley, Woodside and La Honda, where they have access to creeks and coastal fog, he said. A lot of building owners in urban environments who planted redwoods close by now "wish they hadn't," he said.
Some of the steel cable tendons in the foundation of the parking structure have failed. "We clearly have a compromised foundation," Matteson said. In his eyes, it's a "life-safety issue." The problem needs to be remedied as soon as possible, given the potential for an earthquake to strike, he added. He's also not comfortable with efforts to do excavation that could undermine the root system without cutting down the trees -- what if a tree were to fail and fall onto El Camino Real during rush hour? That's a liability he has to consider, he said.
Those who are urging the city to spare the redwoods say trees are the city's symbol. Some ask that additional efforts be devoted to exploring alternatives to save the trees.
"Trees are the symbol of Menlo Park for a good reason, it’s what gives our city (its) special character," wrote resident Alex Komoroske in an email to the City Council.
"This grove is a stellar example of what continues to make Menlo Park livable despite the persistent push of development," wrote resident Mary Kenney in an email to council members. "The trees are visible even before you enter Menlo Park and give one hope that Menlo Park is a place where we figure out how to coexist with everything that lives here, flora and fauna included."
Access the nearly 400-page staff report here.
The Menlo Park City Council will meet at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center.
● January 2019: Public outcry prompts further scrutiny for prominent redwoods
● March 2019: Raging to save the redwoods
● April 2019: Despite protests, commission upholds removal of redwoods