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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Legacy of Emeryville's Urban Forestry Ordinance: 79 Trees Cut, 2 Saved

Public Trees Get Cut Down While Private Profits Rise Up 

Emeryville's Sad Urban Forestry Ordinance

Law Meant to Save Our Trees Has Had No Effect

News Analysis
The recent clashes over public street trees abutting the incipient Sherwin Williams apartment project highlights a persistent and existential problem for Emeryville’s Urban Forestry Ordinance; the law, passed in 2003 with unanimous City Council support, isn’t actually saving our publicly owned street trees it was intended to.  A document recently obtained by the Tattler in a Public Records Request shows the ordinance, often referred to as the UFO, has failed to protect trees with only two out of 79 street trees having been saved, public trees falling to developer’s chainsaws as fast as before the UFO.
The original stated goal to the UFO was to impose fees so onerous on those seeking to cut the public trees, the net result would be the trees would usually get saved.  The real world results have been totally ineffective at that goal, developers simply writing off what fees the ordinance does impose as a cost of doing business.  As a consequence, our city has been transforming into a land of lollipop trees.  

City of Emeryville Public Street Tree Removal Permits by
Private Entities: Proposed Versus Approved
Since 2003
Developers/private concerns proposed 79 trees be cut and the 
Urban Forestry Ordinance saved two.
Note: PG&E originally proposed to remove 30 publicly owned trees and 
after Council member John Bauters intervened, the utility company
reduced their proposed number to nine.
Chart doesn't include 65th Street's 'Glashaus' project; 20 trees removed without permission but later forgiven and fines waived by the City.

Staff Batting .000
Since its inception, the UFO has been under constant assault by developers, as one can imagine but remarkably, it’s been the City staff, specifically the Planning Department that’s stood shoulder to shoulder with the developers in requesting public street trees be cut.  Of the 81 requests received by City Hall, the staff has taken up the interests of the developers with every request and recommended to the Council every last tree be cut, not even one time representing the resident’s interests.  

City Council Bats .025 
It could be assumed the staff, who generally don't live in Emeryville, has less interest in saving public trees than do those residents that serve on the City Council; the final arbiters for requests to remove trees.  However perhaps even more remarkable than the staff’s perfect record in facilitating the tree cutters is the fact that the City Council has moved to protect only two of the 81 trees requested for removal.
Developers save money by cutting trees fronting their projects and planting lollipops after the job is done. Regardless, the UFO as it is written would be perfectly capable of saving Emeryville’s street trees, even against developers seeking good returns for their shareholders and a City staff trying to help them but for its prescriptive deference paid to the City Council, a group of five individuals that has heretofore shown only 2% interest in representing the residents.
The Legacy of Emeryville's Urban Forestry Ordinance
The idea was to make it so developers would tend to not
 cut the public street trees.  

Red=cut trees, green=saved trees.
The real world results of this ordinance are
a civic embarrassment.

It can be assumed an effective ordinance that purports to protect the citizen’s assets; assets that in this case the City itself says promote “community pride”, at least 51% of those assets would be protected.  However, the Emeryville Urban Forestry Ordinance was crafted to protect our street trees and it has an efficacy rate of only about 2%.  Clearly, if the people of Emeryville still desire to save their street trees like they did in 2003, the ordinance that is supposed to help in that endeavor needs to be rewritten, the absolute power of the City Council stripped out.  As it now stands, the UFO record reveals a series of elected officials that haven’t been totally honest with the voters when it comes to their urban forest.

Iconic/Ironic Trees
Bay Area Native
Golden-crowned sparrow
Against this backdrop, the City Council is currently weighing whether to allow the developer of the incipient Sherwin Williams project to cut 14 trees on Horton and Sherwin streets fronting that project.  Ironically, these same trees were the impetus for the writing of Emeryville’s Urban Forestry Ordinance after Sherwin Williams Paint company cut trees at this location some 18 years ago.  This location on Horton Street had a total canopy coverage over the street with trees from both sides creating a tunnel effect, the only such place in Emeryville. The paint company was ordered to clean up the site upon selling the property after more than 100 years dumping arsenic and lead in the soil as part of their manufacturing process and the mature existing street trees were cut down, the soil replaced with clean fill.  Sherwin Williams then planted lollipop saplings and called it a day.  Outraged residents, feeling taken, descended on City Hall and demanded a better deal and the UFO was the result.  It will indeed be ironic if the same trees that stirred the neighbors and forced the writing of the UFO were to now again be cut 18 years later and the ordinance waived as the staff is recommending.

Like the Bike Plan’s putative protection of bicycling with its Bike Boulevards, the General Plan’s ‘Areas of Stability’ meant to save our single family homes and the designation ‘Architecturally Significant’  meant to save historic buildings in town, the UFO is not written to be effective. Like the other legislative edicts in our municipal code, the UFO gives the impression of Emeryville as a real city.  However, the reality is these obtuse laws on our books can only be seen as placeholders for a time when livability and democracy are taken more seriously by City Hall.  Perhaps the sound of chainsaws could be replaced by the chirping of birds in our town; a dream of Emeryville residents from 2003 that has been deferred. 
Earns One Smiling Nora Davis
Nora Davis smiles down on the record of
Emeryville's Urban Forestry Ordinance.


  1. Wow. This is a terrible legacy. Thanks for reporting this. What can be done to start saving our trees? Writing the city council doesn't seem to be something that will work.

    1. Democracy is not a spectator sport as they say. Email, attend meetings, speak out, protest, organize, vote. That's how it's done. You can't rely on the Tattler to do it for you..we're just here to inform.
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Here you go again focusing on saving some dying trees while crime is up in Emeryville. Rents going through the roof, workers are getting fired because of the high cost of the nation’s highest minimum wage and what you and your previous RULE care about are saving dying trees in your neighborhood. You and the grandstanding Bauters are only interested in yourselves. Nobody cares about a few dying trees. Crime is up because of you.

    1. Crime is up because of me? I didn’t know I had such an effect. It’s a little surprising, I must say, that a tree can raise the crime rate. I mean because since all I care about is me and since I care about trees as you’ve noted, then I must be a tree. A weird walking, talking, dying tree that directs criminals to do terrible things.

    2. I’m really getting sick of Rob Arias and his wolf pack of bullying readers. It’s spilling out like a pathogen from his little blog site. This comment is either from Rob himself or one of his copy and paste droids. This is one of the stupidest comments I've read in the entire history of the Tattler. It's obviously been spawned by the cesspool known as the E'Ville Eye.