Opinion: The need to now cut down 3 redwood trees was predictable and preventable

There have been many instances in which developers in Berkeley damage or kill mature trees they were supposed to protect during construction. There’s a way to prevent this.

The preservation of three full-grown redwood trees at the construction site of an apartment building at McGee and University was required as a condition of the use permit. However, as soon as the project began, it was obvious that the construction crew had no idea how to preserve the trees.

Neighbors initially noticed in July that the construction crew was driving over and parking trucks on top of the roots of the trees. At that point, we suggested to the foreman that this practice was damaging the trees. The foreman said no-one had told him anything about tree preservation; the only thing he knew was that some of the redwood trees would eventually be cut down.

Several neighbors then alerted the Berkeley Planning Department to the problem, but nothing happened — perhaps because the people responsible for the project were on vacation.

So it was no surprise when, a month later, the neighbors noticed that the construction crew had excavated a deep pit a few feet away from the trunks of the trees, severing their roots. Since redwood trees are shallow-rooted, this of course rendered them unstable.

Fast forward to the present situation: evacuations, street-closings, costs of temporarily re-housing nearby residents, and the city insisting that all three trees be cut down immediately.

Since the developers are clearly at fault as a result of their negligence they should be forced to pay the city back for any costs incurred for this fiasco. The redwood trees that they promised to preserve are now doomed (was this the plan all along?). So the developers should also pay for three mature trees (at least 48 box size) to be planted in their stead at the same location, or nearby.

But this is only one of many instances in which developers in Berkeley damage or kill mature trees that they were supposed to protect during construction. The only way to prevent this from happening is to change the code so that developers whose site plans include existing trees are forced to hire a certified arborist. The arborist would develop a tree-protection plan before construction began, and then regularly inspect the site during construction to make sure that the plan is being followed.  This process was followed 20 years ago when the large apartment building at 1627 University Ave. was built. Thanks to the arborist, 80-foot tall existing trees on the lot were not only protected during construction,  but are still thriving.

Judy Stamps is Emerita Professor of Biology at UC Davis. She has been a Berkeley resident for over 40 years.