Eight street trees in planter boxes were recently destroyed near the public library despite a promise from the city of Berkeley that they would be “relocated.”
Local performance artist Debbie Moore moved from planter box to planter box foiling Bauman Landscaping’s attempts to demolish what was left of the roots. City Council representative Dona Spring was quoted as calling the incident “very upsetting.”
Public Works engineer Sam Lee, described as in charge of the Shattuck Avenue Redevelopment Project, pointed at city forester Jerry Koch as having determined that the trees’ roots had become entwined with utility lines and conduits and could not reasonably be relocated.
But let’s back up. Long before the 1998 “Shattuck Avenue Redevelopment Project” came to the city council for approval, a series of workshops was held to collect “public input” which included some modest public objection to any removal of the existing healthy trees downtown, including my own. The Green Party was not there. The protesters who objected to the plan after it had the council’s approval were not there. The consultant whose pretty drawing was ultimately adopted as the redevelopment plan explained to those present that uniformity of tree made for a better-looking downtown, and that the current crop of trees interfered with lighting and “signage”. This was considered an acceptable justification by the merchants best represented at these meetings and the city council majority that approved the plan.
Then came the protest. The city council revisited the issue and a “compromise” was crafted between the protesters and the city which involved saving some trees, destroying others, and “relocating” others, including the trees near the library.
But let’s back up again. The eight trees in planter boxes near the library were part of a recent improvement at public expense. Only about five years earlier the planter boxes and benches were installed as a part of the Downtown Berkeley Association’s “main street” improvements, which, like many plans, didn’t quite match the glory of the consultants’ blueprints. The lighting was then revamped, but even that didn’t satisfy critics because, you guessed it, these were the wrong trees. These trees were a healthy bunch with a natural halo of branches and leaves which blocked the new lighting as well.
The protesters who finally showed up to object to the near clear-cutting of downtown agreed to a “compromise” which paid homage to the redevelopment plan’s original idiocy, the fallacy that downtown business will improve under the right, as opposed to the wrong, tree. The idea seems to be that people are somehow made depressed and uneasy by a variety of species and more specifically by the tulip poplar, the New Zealand pine, and the pittosporum. The logic follows that these people will buy fewer shoes, books, and lattes unless they are greeted by a calming, uniform row of identical trees.
If the protesters hadn’t agreed to “compromise” which included a dubious “relocation” of the eight trees recently destroyed, they would be standing there today. Consultants are not paid to tell you to honor what you’ve got, they’re paid to draw up a new, exciting landscape. It is the public’s obligation to politely refuse to participate in the idiocy of tree replacement.
As bad as the city looks reneging on its “compromise”, the protesters should accept a share of the responsibility. There should be no compromise with the life of a healthy street tree, which has withstood years of toxic insult and urban vandalism. Any tree that makes it past its first five years on the streets of Berkeley should be hailed as a warrior.