Dec 102012
 

On Nov. 5, members of the West Sacramento Conservancy gathered for a photo next to some heritage oak trees on the site of an apartment project near the Tower Bridge. (That's the parking lot for the 'ziggurat' building in the background.) The next morning, these oaks were sawed down, and the group is not pleased that city permission was granted. Left to right are Joan Liffring, Lana Paulhamus, Joyce Miller and Jerry Wingfield of the Conservancy. Over a dozen large sycamores along the West Capitol portion of the same project will probably also have to give way for the project -- but an official request to remove them has not yet been received by the City. (News-Ledger photo)

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — NOV 28, 2012 –

Opinions in West Sac differ about when to preserve them and when to replace them –

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

An apartment project near Raley Field has paid the City of West Sacramento about $200,000 for replacement trees after it quite legally removed five “heritage oaks” that stood in the way of development. But not everyone is happy that permission to remove the trees was given.

“We are concerned that these trees are being sacrificed for yet another big development,” Lana Paulhamus of the West Sacramento Conservancy told the News-Ledger shortly before the trees went down. “We were given very little notice that this is happening. It appears that the planning commission and city council all voted in favor of this new development even though it will be cutting these heritage trees.”

The “Tower Bridge Commons” project envisions over 300 apartments in three-story buildings, and some commercial space on property bordered by 3rd, 5th and G streets and the Tower Bridge Gateway. The land has been bought by developer Wolff Enterprises, LLC, out of Arizona.

It’s part of the city’s plans for redeveloping the riverfront district already home to Raley Field, the Ironworks subdivision, the state office ziggurat and the CalSTRS tower – and the emerging “Bridge District” development just south.

“Landmark” and “heritage” trees get some protection in West Sacramento by local ordinance. An oak gets “heritage” status if it measures 50 inches in circumference at a point four and a half feet above the ground, and other trees qualify if they are 75” in circumference. To legally remove such a tree, landowners need a permit.

Dena Kirtley is West Sacramento’s “urban forest manager,” and the request to remove these five oaks landed on her desk a couple weeks before the trees came down on Nov. 6. She did not dispute Paulhamus’s assertion that the permit process moved quickly.

“I was torn, because the arborist’s report didn’t indicate any health issues with the trees, or any rot, although sometimes you can’t see that from outside,” Kirtley told the News-Ledger. “But it was an opportunity to refresh the site with new trees at their expense.”
“The arborist report (paid for by the developer) indicates the trees were previously ‘lion-tailed,’ which means somebody had topped them and trimmed the trees incorrectly. Other than that the health of the trees was good with the exception of (one of them). But on that site at the corner near CalSTRS, we recently had a catastrophic failure of two oak trees into the street. You probably remember that – it was right in front of CalSTRS. One lost a major limb and had to be removed. Out of that tree and the CalSTRS trees, we got no mitigation.”
No one had to pay to replace those trees, Kirtley meant. When such trees are removed through the permit process, there is mitigation money.

So how long might these five remaining oaks at Tower Bridge Common have lived?

“They had reached maturity a long time ago, and because the ones along the street had been trimmed incorrectly, maybe another 10 or 15 years,” she answered. “With oaks, it’s hard to know.”

If the trees were allowed to live, not only would they have caused trouble for the development plan, but if they fell over or had to be removed due to a hazard, no one would have had to pay to replace them.

Kirtley recommended the developer receive the city permit.

Based on the number of total “diameter inches” of oak trees being removed, the developer ended up paying $202,150 towards new trees in West Sacramento.

Meanwhile, a row of about 14 large sycamores appears to be in the way of a parking garage in the same development. These trees are along the southern end of the project, along a piece of West Capitol Avenue no longer used as a city street.

“All I know about the sycamores is that they are slated for removal if the project moves forward,” said Kirtley.

That, presumably, will require more city approval and more mitigation money.

Dan Nethercott, a project manager for Tower Bridge Commons, said the sycamores are not part of the project’s first phase.

They’re on a grade. If and when Phase II is built, there will be a parking garage at that slope that “appears to be subterranean” when viewed from inside the project, with a “brownstone” building on top of it, visually at eye level.

Nethercott said his company is “trying to do the right thing,” and he said there is an inherent tension between new plans and old trees.

“The city has a Bridge District plan,” he told the News-Ledger. “It’s a very positive thing for West Sacramento. As property is urbanized, the decision has to be made by the city where you have older trees that are near the end of their life. Do you replant for the future and maximize the use of the land, or do you allow the (old) trees to dictate their setting?”

“Some of these large trees are located in places incompatible with the best use of the property,” Nethercott added. “That’s why we have planning commissions and city councils to make the decisions.”

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Steve Marschke

Steve Marschke