Letter to the Editor | City should take more time to evaluate Magnolia Ave. tree removal plan

Dear Editor:
I write regarding the proposed Magnolia Avenue tree removal and paving project in which the city plans to remove 47 sweet gum trees (liquidambar) between Hillside Ave and Nova Drive. This massive tree removal is required, say city planners, in order to “install the new paving, curb and gutter, and pedestrian ramps.”

Full disclosure: I live on this route, although the four liquidambar trees on my property are not proposed for removal under this plan. In fact, Piedmont did a beautiful job of installing a new ADA-compliant sidewalk and ramp around my large liquidambar trees last year. But plenty of my neighbors will have their trees removed.

While it is true that the root systems of liquidambars can damage sidewalks, they also have many advantages in an urban environment. These are full grown, mostly healthy trees, some more than 60 feet tall, with thick trunks and offering a great deal of shade. They are a cost-effective way to help clean and cool the air in our city. In fact, if you google “trees that are best for the environment” you will find sweet gum trees among the top two or three species listed as best at absorbing and storing CO2 caused by the burning of fossil fuels and helping to curb global climate change. They are also quite beautiful – resembling a maple tree with their star-shaped leaves that turn bright red in the fall – and are a source of joy to those of us who live here as well as the many pedestrians and students walking to school and the city center on this major access route.

I support a thoughtful, reasonable plan that balances our need for safe sidewalks, curbs and ramps with preserving and planting trees that are not only beautiful but serve important purposes in our community. 

Unfortunately the city is on a fast track to resolve this issue by the end of the school year so that tree cutting and construction can begin June 3 and conclude Aug 12 when the new school year begins. This week’s Park Commission hearing offered a good deal of discussion about the tradeoffs involved with respect to what new species of trees to plant, sidewalk safety, view sheds, aesthetics and shade. Unfortunately there was no discussion about the role these mature trees play in curbing climate change. 

Recent events like the California fires have me rethinking my own complicity on climate change and even revisiting long-held views I opposed in the past, such as nuclear energy. Last October UN scientists told the world that humanity has a mere 12 years to radically slash greenhouse gas emissions or face a world of rising sea levels, droughts, hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters in which hundreds of millions of people go hungry or homeless or worse.

Many of us feel that we are being rushed to a decision on this massive tree removal project without public input, fair consideration of alternative solutions, or real understanding of the tradeoffs involved. Safe sidewalks are important. But so is a safe planet. I strongly encourage the city council to take a step back and think clearly about the tradeoffs we are making here, mostly over a few dollars about how and when to repair sidewalks.

Please give us more time to consider other options and do not approve the one and only bid to begin construction on June.

Piedmont citizens, please consider attending the 7:30 p.m. City Council meeting on May 6 at 120 Vista Ave in Piedmont to express your view.  Or e-mail comments to the City Council at citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us.

Twelve years is nothing, the blink of an eye, really. I know I will always regret not doing more sooner. Can we speak up for the trees?

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