Devouring trees and doughnuts

City Council denies appeal of sycamore removal in northwest Chico neighborhood

Uprooted sidewalks are one of the reasons residents in the Mission Santa Fe neighborhood want sycamore trees removed.

Uprooted sidewalks are one of the reasons residents in the Mission Santa Fe neighborhood want sycamore trees removed.

PHOTO By Tom Gascoyne

About a half hour after Chico City Council members were handed complimentary Krispy Kreme doughnuts Tuesday night (Nov. 4)—the vendor had been recognized by the Chamber of Commerce—they tackled the fate of 25 trees in a northwest Chico neighborhood that a homeowners association wants removed. In the end, they decided to give the trees the ax.

The council was considering an appeal filed by the Butte Environmental Council (BEC) of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission’s approval of the tree removal last month.

A total of 100 Yarwood sycamores were planted 14 years ago in the Mission Santa Fe neighborhood, which is located along on Holly Avenue and Mission Ranch Boulevard, west of The Esplanade and south of Raley’s shopping center on East Avenue. The neighborhood association said the trees are damaging sidewalks and irrigation systems, and falling limbs are endangering residents.

BEC’s appeal asked that, before approving the tree removal, the city develop a tree-replacement plan, set a date for hiring an urban forest manager—a position that’s been vacant since Denise Britton retired 18 months ago—and set a deadline for adopting a new Urban Forest Management Plan.

“We base our appeal on our belief that the project has undergone inadequate environmental review because the cumulative effects on the urban forest have not been discussed,” said the BEC request, which was written by Executive Director Robyn DiFalco.

“Last year about this time we appealed to council a decision to remove another set of trees,” she wrote. “We withdrew the appeal, in part, because the city committed to completing the Urban Forest Management Plan within a year. Almost a year later, the plan is not much closer to completion.”

Dan Efseaff, the city’s parks and natural resources manager, told the council that the trees have demanded a “disproportionate amount of city maintenance” over the years and do not fit into the city’s policy of “the right tree in the right place.”

He called the Yarwood sycamore, the “poster child of undesirable trees.” The species is not included on the city’s list of acceptable street trees and was planted because it was a favorite of a former urban forester.

Efseaff said the matter of hiring an urban forest manager and developing the Urban Forest Management Plan were not really connected to the issue at hand. A plan “provides a toolbox, not the nitty-gritty of individual permits.”

Public Works Director Ruben Martinez said his office is working on hiring an urban forest manager, but the process is moving slowly because the department is overwhelmed with the demands of working with limited resources. Public Works started crafting a forest management plan in June, he said.

“We’ve never had an urban forest plan,” he said. “And it does have its own demands. The Bidwell Park and Playground Commission has scheduled a meeting for the end of November to discuss the plan.”

When the matter was opened for public comment, 11 speakers weighed in, most asking for the trees be left alone. Chico State geography professor Mark Stemen, who is also the president of the BEC board of directors, said the “city has lost sight of the forest for the trees.”

Stemen urged moving forward on adopting the management plan and pointed out that the city’s tree committee had canceled nine of its last 12 meetings, further stalling any progress on the plan.

Kristina Schierenbeck, a Chico State biology professor, said the removal was not yet necessary and the problem is being caused by the irrigation systems.

Speaking for the neighborhood association, Deborah Horton was mainly concerned about safety issues. Three residents have tripped over fallen branches, she said, and another’s vehicle was damaged by a fallen limb. She said the residents had the money to pay for the removal and replacement.

Public Works Director Martinez explained that the estimated $30,000 to remove and replant will come out of a maintenance district fund that serves the neighborhood. There are about 110 such districts within the city and the money is gathered through property tax revenue.

The council voted 5-2 to deny the appeal with Councilwoman Tami Ritter and Mayor Scott Gruendl dissenting.

BEC’s DiFalco said there was an upside to the council’s decision to allow the tree removal and that was bringing the plight of the city’s trees to the public’s attention.

“This is what was needed to get to the bigger picture and start moving forward,” she said.