Matt Matteson, owner of the Cornerstone Research building at 1000 El Camino Real, requested a permit to remove the trees because they are on top of a waterproof barrier that is protecting a parking structure beneath it. The waterproof barrier is damaged, and to fix it the trees must be removed, he and arborist reports argue. The proposal includes plans to replace the seven trees with 14 new trees of different species.
The Planning Commission had previously approved the tree removal request, but outraged community members appealed the decision in January. At a meeting held then, residents urged the city to explore alternatives to cutting down the trees.
Prior to the commission's meeting, staff researched eight different alternatives to save the trees, but determined that none were both feasible and reasonable.
According to Menlo Park Sustainability Manager Rebecca Lucky, the problem has to do with the fact that the waterproof barrier separating the parking structure from the trees is at the end of its useful life, has become degraded, and needs to be replaced to prevent further water damage to the parking garage.
"Water makes canyons," she said. "Even with a waterproof barrier, water's going to wear it down."
In addition, the tree roots have started to penetrate the barrier in places where it is weak or vulnerable, she said.
The majority of the 14 people who spoke publicly at Wednesday's meeting favored keeping the trees. There was even a song presented by the Raging Grannies, a local advocacy group, in opposition to removing the trees. Protests were also held in front of the trees the weekend before the hearing.
"It was definitely a hard appeal for everybody involved," Lucky said. The permit applicants and the community have grown very attached to the trees, she added. "I think that sentiment was felt deeply in the room."
The Environmental Quality Commission's decision may be appealed within 15 days. If an appeal is made, the City Council would have the final say, according to Lucky.
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