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Council to discuss street tree plan

Submitted by on 1, February 16, 2010 – 5:50 amNo Comment

By Ani Dimusheva

It’s round three for the Master Street Tree Plan at the City Council meeting tonight. After two presentations to the Planning Board and several working sessions with interested citizens, Public Works is moving for final approval and adoption of the plan by council.

The Master Street Tree Plan, a comprehensive, two-volume document created by consulting landscaping firm Tanaka Design, will guide planting, care, removal and tree selection for all trees located in the public right of way, about 15,000 of them. It will apply to new development, and parts of it could influence public park tree selections as well. If adopted, it would replace the 1989 Master Tree Plan, a much shorter document, which does not delve into near the amount of detail the new document does.

In addition to a general policy and street and neighborhood tree recommendations, the new plan provides a detailed tree matrix and a tree cost valuation procedure. It also provides guidelines for tree management and care and a budget allocation tool (levels of service) for planting, removals, young tree pruning (training), and mature tree maintenance. Per the authors of the plan, Volume 1 is written with businesses, residents, utility companies, and the city’s staff and governing boards in mind; Volume 2 focuses on implementation and maintenance and will mostly be of use internally to Public Works.

Since its last presentation to the Planning Board on November 9, 2009, the draft has undergone a number of revisions, reflected in the staff report and the accompanying exhibits. Some of the changes were requested by Planning Board members, and others were hammered out in collaboration with citizens who brought up overlooked issues, such as nesting habitat protection, public trees affected by private construction, and a more clearly spelled tree removal policy.

The major recommendations to council include: funding an on-staff arborist position with the city when feasible; a policy that new tree planting exceeds or at minimum equal removals; a requirement that private developers abide by MSTP guidelines (at Alameda Point, for example); and a request to evaluate the performance of any new and/or experimental species every three years. The report includes a table with species to be phased out from the city’s streets, notably liquidambars (for example, on Gibbons Drive) for severe damage to sidewalks, gingkos (overrepresented on the East End),  and Norway maple (Grand Street) and Modesto Ash (Broadway, High, Mecartney), for poor performance and disease. Last but not least, there is a revised and heavily footnoted table of minimum clearances between trees and sidewalk infrastructure (driveways, street signs, utility boxes, etc.), which strives to reduce conflict yet ensure a minimum of one tree per property.

One Planning Board recommendation not forwarded to council in the report is the posting of mass tree removals in public construction projects. An example of such project is the resurfacing of Fernside Boulevard last year, which resulted in 13 trees receiving removal tags. The notices triggered a public hearing, where some alternatives to removal not previously identified became available. All of the trees potentially affected by the project are still standing. Under the proposed new removal policy, such trees would not be publicly posted.

The staff report is linked on the city’s website. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue, third floor. The agenda item for the Master Street Tree Plan is 6-C.

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