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? 

Barbara Glenn April 11, 2012 at 01:42 PM
I believe that the reason the tree was taken down is that it was a ' pre-emptive strike', if you will. The City is planning on widening that stretch of road between McCalvey and Truitt, and the tree would be in the way. If the Neighborhood had gotten wind of the murder of that tree, I'll bet that more than a few of us would have chained our selves to the trunk and refused to let it happen. As in most things, the City is secretive when it knows it is doing wrong. Just one more example of the dis regard they have for the ones who pay their salaries-US!
Olen,H Stilwell Jr. April 11, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Tobin Davis April 11, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Let me preface this comment by saying that generally speaking, I am against ever cutting down trees, and it is sad that they cut down this one. However,... The tree had been, in my opinion, severely abused by PG&E, and, as a result had become rather unattractive and seemingly unhealthy. More importantly, it posed a safety risk. Every time I drove by that tree, I wondered when it was going to go down. When it did, would it fall on a car driving by? I know of several cases of this happening, which resulted in the death of the driver. A block from where I live, a very large older tree, leaning severely, fell into power lines next to homes, and that caused a hazardous situation. My wife always commented how that one was going to fall whenever we'd drive by. It should have been removed by the city before it fell. Seriously, being designated 'Tree City, USA' doesn't mean the city should never cut down any tree. This particular tree seems to have been removed for good reasons. Responsible tree removal is the right thing for the city to do. Spending city revenue on debate for every tree that is cut down within our jurisdiction is wasteful and foolish. A better deal would be to have a tree replanting agreement with the city in which every tree that is removed must be replaced by three. That would serve to enhance our honorable designation as 'Tree City, USA'.
Patrick J. McNamara April 11, 2012 at 03:31 PM
While it may have continued to hang on for years to come, this tree's removal was a wise and merciful call. It was likely much older than the 100 year estimate, but the moment PG&E ran wires through it's canopy airspace, the tree was doomed. Unlike many street tree species, Quercus lobata (Valley Oak) is notoriously intolerant of severe pruning such as was done by PG&E's line clearance contractors. Unmolested, these trees will self-prune over the decades into open, well balanced monuments to patient adaptation. However, unbalanced and laid open by sudden mishaps, disease or public utility, decay and death comes comparatively fast. In the meantime, it is a hazard best abated. Having a career in horticulture, I have necessarily developed a healthy detachment from the emotional lure of my patients' plight. Those of us who do this for a living must diagnose, prescribe and treat when possible; and have the courage to say good-bye when necessary. To those of us who study and truly love these giants, this was euthanasia.
Jacquelyn Jennings April 11, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Yes, we have all become a custom to seeing that amazing Oak Tree. You cannot tell me that everytime you pass the Oak your first thought is not "How much longer can that tree possibly defy gravity?" All of you know why nothing was said. It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission especially in the town if you need to get something done. There is always the one percent that fight EVERYTHING. These folks cannot live happily unless they are in fighting mode. It obviously had to be done and at least it was done before someone was seriuosly hurt or even killed.
Chris Kapsalis April 11, 2012 at 04:58 PM
How close to the road was the tree. If an Oak Trees root base spread is covered, cleaned too much of it's own leaves, it is only a matter of time until it gets sick. Also next to a road lots of oils, anti freeze, gas, and other toxins run off and hurt the tree.
Elaine Jackson April 11, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I agree, this was a mercy killing. This was a beautiful oak that got butchered to make way for power lines. We can learn from this.
Eric Akeson April 11, 2012 at 05:09 PM
I also don't favor cutting down trees, but that one tree in particular, looming over the roadway, unbalanced and precarious over the traffic, did call to my attention whenever I drove under it in my car or on my bike. As the above commenter noted, I think it was euthanized for safety reasons, not murdered.
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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