City orders removal of 3 potentially dangerous trees at construction site

University Avenue was partially evacuated and closed off at Mcgee on Friday due to trees that looked likely to fall. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Update, 6 p.m. The city has offered to put University Avenue area evacuees up in hotels, and two people accepted the offer, Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko said. In total, three residential units and seven commercial units were evacuated Friday due to unstable trees at a construction site.

Update, 5:18 p.m.  The city has instructed the contractor at a University and McGee construction site to remove not one, but three redwoods on the property immediately, said Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko.

“What we know is the condition of the trees and the excavation combined mean that the trees need to be removed,” he said. A tree described by the Fire Department earlier Friday afternoon as “in danger of falling” already “had a lean” to it before excavation began, and might not be actively on the brink of toppling, Chakko clarified.

“Regardless, it’s in a compromised situation and unsafe,” he said. “It was clear to us there was an imminent hazard and people needed to leave.”


A representative for contractor A Step Ahead, Erwin Ruiz, said a tree removal company is set to begin work at the site within a few hours.

His construction crews are working on building a five-story, 36-unit, mixed-use property at the 1698 University Ave. site. The project has been in the works for several years, and the preservation of the trees was a condition of its approval, Ruiz said.

Excavation work around the base of one of the redwood trees considered a safety hazard. Photo: Citizen Reporter

Original story, 3:35 p.m. A towering redwood tree that looks poised to topple prompted evacuations and a road closure at University and McGee avenues Friday afternoon.

Berkeley firefighters and police responded to a call from someone concerned about the estimated 100-foot-tall tree, which is in a construction site at the southwest corner of University and McGee, said Deputy Fire Chief Abe Roman. Berkeleyside’s Tracey Taylor is at the scene and spoke to Roman, who said he was unsure what time the call came in.

Roman said the department confirmed “it’s in danger of falling…it’s leaning.”

Authorities evacuated all buildings within 100 feet of the site, including multiple businesses. Included among the evacuees were young summer camp participants at Sticky Art Lab who were brought to Ohlone Park, Roman said. When the Fire Department arrived at the site, construction was ongoing, and was quickly halted. Crews are in the process of red-tagging the site, so nobody can come into it.

The southern, eastbound lanes of University are closed to traffic between McGee and Sacramento Street, and McGee is closed between University and Addison, according to a Nixle alert sent around 4 p.m. AC Transit buses are being rerouted, Taylor reported from the site.


Berkeley police and firefighters responded to concerns about a potentially falling tree at a construction site Friday. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Several Berkeleyside readers commented on the helicopters circling over the site Friday afternoon and asked about the heavy police and fire response.

“Potentially killer tree. I kid you not,” wrote photojournalist David Yee on Twitter. “At least 17 PD vehicles and an FD battalion chief for a potentially homicidal tree (which appears to be in danger of toppling).”