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Patch Poll: Should The City Have Removed The Alhambra Avenue Oak Tree?

A long-time landmark was removed without notice or warning of any kind, apparently based on a safety concern. Should there have been some word to residents about it? Take the poll, and tell us about it in the comments.

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? 

Kerry Kilmer April 11, 2012 at 07:08 PM
It looked like a murder scene. Someone had aptly placed a sign on the tree saying "WHO butchered this tree?". The next day the whole thing was down. Despite PGE's horrific trimming job, it was still a beautiful, majestic oak tree and didn't deserve the ending it got. I dissagree with Mr. McNamara, I have not been impressed with many horticulturists who "care" for trees like your standard tree trimming companies. Their work is painful to the eye and heart.
Chris Kapsalis April 11, 2012 at 07:45 PM
We hired a tree service once ( Not C&W, they are pretty good) and the guy put on spikes and just tore his way up our tree putting huge holes in it and it bled, got sick, horrible. Also people in trucks drive in here and there is plenty of room, yet they think nothing of nailing my one tree over and over, tearing branches off. I think a good point in this thread is the lack of respect many show trees in general. They are very slow growing, and are treasures, wild life, not to be trashed but respected as much as possible. I do some tree work and also here on the property and have changed my whole outlook on trees. I want the Eucalyptus out of here, giant weeds imo. You can rip those out everywhere please. But native trees, especially ones that are ten to 100 times older than any living human, been here before the Spanish came in the 1700's, what are we thinking? In this case, you build a road next to an old oak tree, house, anything, disturb it, the ground around it, aggressively clean under it, pave over the root spread, it will begin to die anyway. Nothing you can do to save them, and sadly they have to come out eventually or become a hazard.
Robert Gotz April 11, 2012 at 09:43 PM
That tree was an accident waiting to happen.i was wondering how long it would take to cut it down.especially on a main avenue to martinez
Patrick J. McNamara April 12, 2012 at 12:15 AM
All too many of their efforts are equally painful to my eyes and heart as well, Kerry.
marian broadhurst April 12, 2012 at 07:16 PM
The picture in the Gazette told the tale. It was time for the tree to go. It appeared to be leaning almost entirely horizontal over the roadway, and with the rain saturating a heavy trunk, budding leaves and the soil around the roots, the whole thing could have toppled, or a large limb broken off. It was for the best.

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