MARTINEZ -- With hundreds of Martinez trees marked for destruction, alarmed residents turned out to urge the City Council to do something to protect the city's identity as a Tree City USA and the former home of John Muir.
About 484 mature trees, 403 of which are old oak varieties, are slated for removal at Richfield Investment's Alhambra Highlands development, and PG&E has a plan to remove another 265 trees, and 241 landscaping plants in its pipeline safety project.
At the April 2 meeting, Bill Nichols, Bill Neu, Tom Griffith, Amy Durfy and many more individuals recognized the significance of John Muir's prior ownership of a portion of the Alhambra Highlands property, and implored the council to take a proactive stance to help form a conservatorship with other agencies to purchase and preserve all or part of the development lands.
Nadine Peyrican asked the council to put a parcel tax on the ballot to acquire the land for park and conservation purposes.
Jamie Fox, of the Save the Alhambra Hills, said the group had talked with other agencies and legislators over the past two years and learned that, "Nothing can happen if you guys don't take this on," Fox said. "We need to ... take the lead."
After returning from closed session, Mayor Rob Schroder and Councilman Mike Menesini said the council had approved $5,000 for an appraisal, and writing a letter to the developer asking that the unique wind-blown oak on property previously owned by John Muir be saved.
A speaker thanked the council for an appraisal and a letter but said, "A single tree is not enough."
Teen speaker Sheila Washburn made an eloquent plea. "Try your best to save the hills. Do it for the youth of the future. Do it for John Muir."
"Why do we have ordinances to protect our heritage trees if developers can receive mitigation to remove them?" Gay Gerlack asked.
Also at the meeting, the council needed no urging to be outraged by the PG&E Pipeline Pathways Project to cut trees for better access to the utility's natural gas pipelines.
Schroder reported that Martinez is in agreement with other area cities in an effort to slow down the process, clarify why removals are necessary, assure PG&E gets permits, and evaluate the environmental consequences of the plan.
A notice has been sent to tree removal companies reminding them that a permit is required of tree removals, according to Schroder. He also noted, "It is not just trees. It is vegetation, hardscape, pools and fences."
Councilman Mike Menesini said, "There is no nexus between this clear-cutting proposal and the safety of their lines."
Barbara Kapsalis objected to PG&E's "drastic measure," naming valuable benefits that will be lost: "Roots that hold soil and moisture, fruits, wildlife habitat, shade, privacy and oxygen."
"I have a 100 year-old olive tree ... I might just chain myself to my olive tree."
There was also talk about the PG&E plan as an effort to save money by using aircraft to surveil suburban and rural lines.
Finally, one person suggested that PG&E demands are not a given, in light of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' change of a policy in March. The corps had demanded that all vegetation, except grass, be removed from levees in order to qualify for federal levee repair grant funding.
A state of California lawsuit claiming that every area is different and wildlife depend on riparian vegetation around healthy stream systems reportedly caused a re-evaluation of the policy.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.