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Friday, April 6, 2018

Planning Commission Votes to Kill Trees Without Critical Arborist Report

City Hall Staff Withholds Critical Document from Planning Commission 

Healthy Trees Called "Unhealthy" by Staff

Commission Voted to Cut Trees Without Knowledge of Arborist Report

Ten trees fair to good, Two fair to poor = "Unhealthy"

The Emeryville Planning Commission, siding with City Hall's Planning Department staff, PG&E and the developer of the Sherwin Williams project voted unanimously March 15th to overturn the City's Urban Forestry Ordinance and to kill every street tree on Horton Street fronting the incipient apartment project slated to break ground later this year.  The unanimous Planning Commission vote was based on staff recommendation the trees be removed, putatively to accommodate the under grounding of overhead utility wires based on a dubious claim from PG&E and owing to their unhealthy status, a finding counter to an earlier City sanctioned official arborist’s report.  The staff did not inform the Planning Commission before their vote about the document from the arborist that said the majority of the trees are healthy.
The vote prepared by the staff March 15th was to decide if the Planned Unit Development (PUD) agreement earlier made should be amended in order to facilitate the cutting of the trees.  The Planning Commission vote overturns that earlier (unanimous) 2016 vote by the City Council directing the staff to save the trees on Horton Street when they approved the Sherwin Williams PUD. 

Emeryville's Appointed Planning Commission
A majority found the "unhealthy" state of the trees
on Horton Street to be reason to cut them down. 
The staff never told the Commissioners
about the arborist's report that found

a majority of the trees to be healthy.
The final decision about the trees and the integrity of the Urban Forestry Ordinance (UFO) will be decided by the City Council on April 17th when they consider allegations made by the staff at the March 15th meeting that the trees in question are “unhealthy” as well as dubious and not proven claims that PG&E will "not allow" the overhead wires to be placed under the street, necessitating the cutting of the trees according to the staff. 

The PG&E claim is especially questionable owing to the fact that the staff told the Planning Commission that the utility company “does not allow joint trench boxes [wires] in the roadway and it needs to be routed to the sidewalk”, an eventuality synonymous with cutting the trees they said while at the same meeting they also said that it is “likely” that some of the trees will need to be cut.  
Further, PG&E has already been caught lying to the City of Emeryville about cutting our street trees in the past when Councilman John Bauters found the company making false claims in furtherance of the utility company's zealous efforts to cut 30 trees in our town as part of a program to keep roots away from underground utilities last year.  Mr Bauter’s diligence ended up saving 21 of the trees and net an apology from PG&E for their misrepresentations to the City.

From the Official Arborist's Report on the
Sherwin Williams Trees on Horton Street
7 fair-good to good with 2 fair-poor to poor
and 3  fair equals "unhealthy trees" 
status according to the City of Emeryville.
The Planning Commission never saw 
this report before their vote.

Perhaps most damaging for City Hall in this escapade is their insistence that the Planning Commission see the trees as “unhealthy”, a direct contradiction of the professional arborist retained by City Hall who characterized the trees as being in good health and the fact they kept the tree report from the decision makers. The report prepared for the City Council by SBCA Tree Consulting on December 29th 2014 found of the 14 trees along Horton Street four are ‘good’, two are ‘fair-good’ , four are ‘fair’, one is ‘fair-poor’ and one ‘poor’.  Predictably, the Planning Commission seized on the claim of the trees being unhealthy and a majority of Commissioners cited that as a reason for their vote to cut them down. 
The 2014 tree report was conducted to inform the City Council as they voted on the approval of the Sherwin Williams project's PUD and the healthy state of the existing trees as shown by the report was instrumental in the subsequent unanimous Council vote to save the trees. 

The staff also recommended to the Commission the 
fees normally paid to the City by a developer seeking and receiving permission to cut our street trees be waived based on two non-sequiturs: the fact the replacement trees will get "better soil" and inexplicably because the trees on the other side of the street will not be cut.  The Planning Commission found nothing untoward or unreasonable about those two findings.

Regardless of the staff reporting as a fact there's no room under the street, an Emeryville Tattler Public Records Request revealed the City of Emeryville in fact has no documents that would confirm their claims that PG&E says the underground wires cannot be placed in the Horton Street roadway.  Even if the utility company told the staff this, the company's credibility has been damaged due to their previous false claims.  A map of Horton Street showing pipes obtained by the Tattler Public Records Request suggests there may be plenty of room to place the underground utility wires in the roadway but is ultimately inconclusive. 

A group of residents living near the Sherwin Williams site Park Avenue Residents Committee (PARC) also encouraged the Planning Commission to vote to cut the trees because of their "unhealthy" status. 

The Planning Commission, cited in addition to the "unhealthy" status of the trees, their opinion the trees should be cut because the existing sidewalk isn't safe (also cited by PARC) and that replacing them with 24" box lollipop trees would make for a "more uniform street". 

The City Council takes up the issue on April 17th however Mayor Bauters must recuse himself, his residence being in close proximity to the project.
The arborist sees the tree on the left
but the staff sees the tree on the right.


  1. Why won't the E'Ville Eye report on this?

    1. The E’Ville Eye actually did cover this as part of their regular Planning Commission recaps except they did it without the salacious headline, with objective information, photos of the dead/dying trees and links to the city staff report and video discussion so one can make their own determination without being spoon-fed lies and exaggerations by this blog.

    2. Yes, the E’Ville Eye did forward the City Hall Planning Department’s version of the truth. We at the Tattler are interested in the real truth though. So in your and the City staff’s view, the trees in question are dead and dying. But in the Tattler’s view, we give deference to the experts in the field. In this case the science majors at SBCA Tree Consultants…the ones who used the scientific method to determine the health status of the trees and whom the City has retained to determine this. It’s unfortunate for you (and the Planning Department) that the official arborists’ found facts that don’t comport with your idea that the developer should be able to take a pass and not be held to account.
      The documents produced by the arborists about the health of the trees are the “lies and exaggerations” you allude to. In our view and the arborists’ view, the trees are actually healthy (all except two).

      Anti-science….hmmm…where have we heard that before?

  2. This is quite a charge; the staff needs a reckoning. Where do they get off withholding this info from the planning commission? What can we do about this? This shouldn't stand.

  3. Check every one of those pieces of shit bank account for extra money

  4. Great article. This is really a serious matter. It's bad when city hall so obviously wants to let the developer cut the street trees but it's really serious when they withhold information about the trees to help in that. There needs to be something beyond this Tattler story on this. Please keep us informed about this!

  5. The city council has the last say on this if they wanted or cared. It seems that all of Emeryville's laws and regulations are written on toilet paper. Look around, from police enforcement to the city's laxation on regulations, this is the wild, wild west.