Tree pain: Older elms and pines slated to be chopped on R Street—again

Tree preservation ordinance allowed Sacramento council member to call for removal

This story was made possible by a grant from Tower Cafe.
This is an extended version of a story that appeared in the September 21, 2017, issue.

A battle that tree preservationists thought was won suddenly reignited last week. And this time it didn’t go in their favor.

In 2016, the city of Sacramento had planned to remove 15 adult trees from the R Street corridor, until an outcry from residents put that plan on ice. On September 11, elected officials agreed to get the axes swinging. And it almost happened without public comment.

According to a staff report, the English Elms and Yew Pines were first scheduled for destruction as part of the R Street Phase III Project, a streetscape improvement plan for Midtown. Members of Trees for Sacramento successfully appealed that decision to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

The same year, the city approved a new tree ordinance. It adds new protections for trees and strengthens fines for hurting them, but also gives the final call on tree removal to the City Council.

This policy change, according to the staff report, allowed District 4 Councilman Steve Hansen to ask city planners to revert back to their plan for removing trees on R Street. The $15 million streetscape project calls for ultimately adding 37 more trees to R Street in the coming years. Approval for removing the existing trees was put on the City Council’s consent agenda, which is usually for routine items that don’t merit presentations or public discussion. Tree preservationists found out and started making calls, which forced a public hearing.

“These trees are healthy and make positive contributions to good air quality, heat reduction, CO2 removal, walk-ability, and other positive quality of life attributes,” TFS stressed in a public letter before the meeting.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg disagreed. “The existing trees are dying,” Steinberg said during the meeting. “We can’t accommodate the new trees and the old planting. … In the end you’re going to get more trees and yes there’s going to be a delay.”

Despite members of the public testifying that they wanted to save the original trees, the City Council voted unanimously to remove them.

City Engineering Manager Nick Theocharides backed up the council, telling the public that the project would eventually create a more sustainable tree canopy.