Allow me to quote from the City of Martinez website:
“Beautification projects are an essential component of quality of life in Martinez. Whether restoring and upgrading tree-lined street medians, or expanding and enhancing landscape areas off the City's major roadways, these projects serve to augment the pride citizens take in their scenic locale. The City's recent designation as a "Tree City USA," signifies the value the community places on its history, identity and environment.”
Now read this story in yesterday’s Martinez News Gazette.
It’s not clear to me how removing one of the city entrance’s primary landmarks without a word of notice to those who actually own it (that would be us) “expands or enhances the landscape areas off the City’s major roadways.”
It is clear that the intentions were good. There was no cabal of evil, tree-hating city employees sitting at a table plotting ways to chop down yet another tree in town. That particular oak has been hanging over Alhambra Avenue for quite some time.
In fact, I remember calling a Public Works director back in the late 1980s about that very tree, and its relationship to the road. I was assured that the tree was in fine condition, and though it might have looked precarious, posed no threat to traffic.
There may well have been some very good reason to take down that particular tree. If there was, it was not explained very well in the Gazette story. An incident on Highway 13, in which a driver was killed as a result of a tree that fell across the road, is certainly a cautionary tale, but should it prompt the kind of immediate reaction that was done here?
I’m asking because perhaps I’m biased – I have been driving past that tree for more than 35 years, and have grown to consider it a kind of friend, wishing me well on my way out of town, and greeting me home when I’m heading back. I don’t notice each and every tree on the side of the road, but that one was hard to miss. Clearly an old growth oak tree, it was, in fact, a city landmark.
As such, it seems to me that it deserved a little more of a dignified departure from this planet than a simple last-minute staff decision to take it down. If it truly posed a safety problem, then why not schedule some kind of notification at a council meeting – a City Manager’s report or a staff briefing of some kind, just a heads-up to the community that a city landmark was coming down?
It harkens back to the – sure, there were only a few of those trees that came down, and many more remain. But those were trees with history, planted by a historic figure. Their removal (allegedly due to some “illness,” according to staff) was done in a similar fashion, with no notice to the community.
A few years ago, county staff brought down some historic redwoods to create more parking spaces in the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. The “notice” was a tiny mention in some planning document several years prior to the actual removal of the trees.
Things have to get done, projects have deadlines, public safety is always a concern. These are facts, and most of us understand that. But we, the community of Martinez, are the collective owners of the city’s assets. While we trust city staff to watch out for our interests and safety, we also need to trust them to protect those assets.
What, exactly, does our designation of "Tree City USA" entail? How do we as a community receive such a designation, and on what grounds do we get to boast about it?
A highly visible natural landmark like the Alhambra Avenue oak tree cannot be replaced. A tree that’s been greeting visitors and residents alike for over 100 years is gone, with no warning, no notification. Someone apparently decided it was a safety issue, and took it out.
Is that ok with you?