Claremont Insider: Oh, Shenandoah, I Love Your Bowers

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Oh, Shenandoah, I Love Your Bowers

Claremont, AKA Tree City, has a love-hate relationship with its woody friends. On the one hand, the trees gracing the Claremont Village and the various neighborhoods around town create an urban forest ambiance that makes for nice photos and summer evening strolls.

On the other hand, the city's trees - many non-native species - suck up increasingly costly water and wreck havoc on underground utilities. Citizens who've had a tree root from a city-owned parkway tree break a sewer line can attest to the troubles they have historically had collecting any compensation from the city.

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The residents of Claremont's Shenandoah Dr. area that surrounds the Claremont Club recently had to confront both aspects of our tree policies in trying to work with the city to deal with damage done to streets and sidewalks in their neighborhood.

Shenandoah Dr. and the cul-de-sacs that run off it were planted with Calabrian pines when the area was originally built. The trees have matured beautifully, but the pines turned out to be a poor choice for an urban area because many of their root systems have destroyed the curbs, sidewalks, and streets around them.

Shenandoah Dr. and Claremont Blvd. facing west.

Those uplifted sidewalks and streets have created a liability nightmare for the city, making for trip-and-fall hazards throughout the neighborhood. In April, 2005, the city put out to bid a three-phase plan to deal with the Shenandoah trees. Phase I called for the removal of 22 mature pines, the repair of the road, curbs and sidewalks around those trees. and the replacement of the old trees with less problematic species. The total cost of that first phase was $109,803.94. All three phases were expected to take six years to complete.

Phase I of the Shenandoah Tree Mitigation Project, as it was called, went through. However, a number of Shenandoah area residents, however, took exception with the destruction of the existing trees and sought to have the city implement an alternative plan to save the trees and rehabilitate the streets, curbs and sidewalks.

The residents who wanted the trees saved had a couple main arguments:
  • They felt the city was looking only at the cost of infrastructure damage and litigation and not considering the value mature trees worth thousands or ten of thousands can add to property. Older, upscale neighborhoods (the San Rafael area of Pasadena, for example) often possess older, fully-grown trees that give those neighborhoods their distinct feel, as opposed to seemingly sterile neighborhoods - urban, industrial areas and newer, suburban ones -that don't have mature trees.

  • Large, mature trees are more cost effective than small trees because they absorb moisture more efficiently, reducing soil run-off. Larger trees also contribute more to reduction of carbon dioxide and also save residents money by cooling neighborhoods with their canopies, leading to lower summertime electric bills.

The city, the argument went, should include the above savings and benefits in their cost analysis for the tree mitigation.

Shenandoah Dr. and Gettysburg Cir. facing south.

In response, the city came up with three alternative plans (Plans A, B, and C), and those were laid out in a city staff report on July 8th. Plan C was the original plan from 2005 that called for the removal and replacement of 66 trees. Plan B was a plan staff came up in response to Shenandoah area residents who wanted to see the area's trees maintained. It removed the fewest trees but was the most costly because it required narrowing the street and reconfiguring driveways and sidewalks. It also included a proposal to use rubberized pavers around that could be easily removed to inspect tree roots. Estimates for Plan B ran between $365,692 and $511,100, depending on if the pavers were used or not.
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In the end, the council unanimously selected Plan A (right), which would allow for most of the remaining trees along Shenandoah to be saved. The plan approved called for the use of the rubberized pavers but did not require any reconfiguration of the street. Plan A also calls for removing portions of the sidewalk and moving them away from the existing trees. Plan A was also endorsed by The Club Homeowners Association, the neighborhood's HOA, which seemed to be very much opposed to the more costly Plan B.

The approved replacement tree for the pines on Shenandoah Dr., according to the staff report, is the California Black Oak. The replacement trees will be in 24-inch boxes, so it will take quite some time for them to fill in. Plan A requires that in the future the city to have an independent certified arborist examine trees deemed candidates for removal to see if the trees can be saved.

Some called the compromise plan a "Band-Aid fix" according to the July 12th Claremont Courier (that article is not available online). The tree damage problem for Shenandoah will be back before the City Council in another 5-10 years, this thinking goes, and that's probably an accurate assessment.

The Courier article, incidentally, was accompanied by a a large photo of a pine that fell onto the street at the southwest corner of Shenandoah and Stanislaus Cir. the day after the City Council approved the tree mitigation plan. The photo may have been a bit misleading, however, because the tree appeared to be on private property. If so, it would have been up to the homeowner, not the city, to maintain that particular tree, which wasn't even listed as a candidate for removal on the approved mitigation plan.

It was still an interesting debate, occurring as it does at a time of municipal belt-tightening. The city had to conduct it's cost-benefit analysis, which was disputed by a number of resident who wanted an alternate plan.

This instance was really the perfect situation for an assessment district, a funding mechanism originally designed to allow neighborhoods who want specific improvements limited to their own specific area to vote to tax themselves to pay for those improvement. With the assessment district costs aren't bourne by an entire city, just by the neighborhood receiving the benefit.

Claremont, however, with its Landscaping and Lighting District (LLD) and the failed 2006 Parks and Pasture measure, abused that funding mechanism to the point that they've probably poisoned that well for the near future. And, in any case, the majority of homeowners around Shenandoah do not seem attached enough to their neighborhood trees to approve an assessment on their homes, so that possibility was never considered.

Claremont, the City of Trees and Ph.d's, will no doubt be wrestling with this one for a long time to come.

Shenandoah Dr. and Stanislaus Cir. facing northeast. The tree that fell and was photographed for the July 12th Claremont Courier is the one nearest the street corner on right side of the photo.