OAKLAND -- Some neighbors and patrons of Dimond Park in the Fruitvale district are up in arms against a proposal to cut down a grove of trees along the creek as part of the city of Oakland's Sausal Creek Restoration Plan.
In all, some 79 trees would be removed, including 32 natives and 21 redwoods.
"The trees might have been cut down already, if we hadn't made noise about it," says John Slaymaker, who started a Facebook page called Save Our Dimond Park Trees and has gathered nearly 600 signatures on a petition against the tree cutting.
The $2.9 million restoration plan, which is a collaborative effort between the city, Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District and the Friends of Sausal Creek (FOSC), also includes removal of 250 feet of underground culvert and concrete spillway; moving the creek away from the bank on the Canon Avenue side; bulldozing and re-grading the banks to a gentler slope; removing non-native vegetation; and replanting the area with native trees such as willows.
The city says the project is necessary for many reasons.
"We have to protect habitat, trout passage, water quality and stop the erosion of the creek banks that's endangering infrastructure and homes," said Lesley Estes, Oakland's Watershed and Storm Water Management supervisor. "Water has eroded far behind the concrete retaining wall on the right bank adjacent to homes on Canon Avenue."
She said the city doesn't like having to cut down trees, especially redwoods, and has designed the project for minimal tree loss.
"We're looking at this as a holistic problem and trying to solve it in a holistic way," Estes said.
Kimra McAfee, executive director of FOSC, which supports the restoration project, said that since the creek flows through Oakland-owned property, the city is liable for any damage that might occur to homes on Canon Avenue as a result of flooding or erosion. She said erosion -- largely due to water barreling out of the culvert -- is the main problem and the primary reason that FOSC supports the project.
"We're not happy with cutting down the trees," McAfee said. "But we see that it's not possible to have the creek in its current location, without reconfiguring the banks."
She said that when you undertake a major restoration project such as this, there are always conflicts.
"You have to balance the long-term benefits and sustainability of the ecosystem with the cost of cutting down trees today," McAfee said.
Slaymaker, who is a member of FOSC and holds a degree in forestry from UC Berkeley, said he feels "viscerally" that cutting down the trees is wrong.
"The city says it's going to replant with fast-growing trees, but the 1,000-pound elephant in the room is that 80-year-old redwoods won't grow back," Slaymaker said.
He agreed that everyone supports removing the culvert and "daylighting" the creek, but said a much simpler and cheaper solution would solve the primary problem of erosion along the banks.
"Once the culvert is removed, that strong jet of water that comes out of the pipe will be eliminated," Slaymaker said. "That's the main cause of the erosion."
After that, he said, the city could take whatever steps necessary to shore up the bank and ensure the safety of homes, without taking out trees and at far less cost.
"They're going to fix that bank whether they take out trees or not," he said.
Slaymaker also disagreed with the city's portrayal of improving wildlife habitat.
"For example, there are dozens of birds that use that grove to nest or as a migratory stopover," Slaymaker said. "If you take away the nesting habitat, you take away the birds."
Meredith Noble has lived on Canon Avenue for 24 years and said she's never seen any problems with the creek, even during heavy storms. She said the trees are beautiful and also provide a noise barrier for her neighborhood.
"It's very distressing," said Noble, who said the scope of the project was not clearly communicated to the community.
"It was only when the trees were visibly red-tagged for removal at the beginning of October that the whole thing blew up," Noble said. "I've talked to my neighbors and nobody had any idea the project involved cutting down 79 trees."
She said she attended community meetings and read notices posted at the library, but that the tree removal was never made clear to the public.
McAfee asked that people visit the city's website to see the outreach that was done.
"We feel we made multiple attempts with public outreach and public communication," she said. "But we know that we can't reach everyone."
Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who represents District 4 where Dimond Park is located, said she can't take a position on the project until it comes before the City Council.
"It has been presented to me by city staff that we have to address the bank erosion problem," said Schaaf, who lives a block from the park. "At the same time, we are addressing the ecological issues from the old undergrounding of the creek.
"We have to balance the city's liability issues with the needs of people and animals who enjoy that piece of land."