As part of the preparation for the Highway 12 sidewalk and streetlight project that’s expected to go out to bid the first part of March, a sizeable number of trees are going to be felled.
And that’s got some Springs residents riled.
According to Tom O’Kane, the county’s deputy director of Public Works, there are 31 trees that are six-inches around or bigger – including 20 oaks and a 72-inch eucalyptus – along with about 45 smaller trees and shrubs that will be removed.
But the trees won’t be felled this week, as originally planned. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said she’s talked with O’Kane and had him talk to the contractors and the trees won’t come down until next week. She’s going to meet with O’Kane and take a walk through the affected area with him along the Highway 12 corridor. And Gorin said the discussion will also include opportunities for tree replanting along the corridor.
The trees in question are north of Boyes Boulevard to Agua Caliente Road.
Gorin said the trees need to come down soon – before bird nesting season starts, or it could further delay the Highway 12 project by six months or even a year.
“We knew these trees were going to have to come down,” Gorin said. “It’s always a shock to see oaks with big ‘Xs’ on them.”
“The pace caught me by surprise,” she added.
Springs residents were caught by surprise too.
Caitlin Cornwall, a biologist and a Sonoma Charter School parent, said she saw one of the engineers marking the trees about two weeks ago and chatted with him about the removal.
“I’ve left messages with Public Works but I haven’t heard anything back,” she said.
She said there are ways to design around the trees.
“There are simple design considerations that they can do to save these iconic trees,” she said. “We’re taking trees out of a neighborhood that could use more trees.”
Cornwall said she was told the trees need to come down for the Highway 12 project, but she said there shouldn’t be a choice between safety and trees.
“Those trees are older than any of us will ever be. To design a very wide roadside without deploying any of the simple ways to preserve these trees shows a wrong-headed ordering of priorities,” she said. “Yes, the Springs needs sidewalks. But this is not a black-and-white decision. There is a whole expertise called landscape architecture for layering multiple functions into one design. Preserving large, iconic trees in a public landscape – particularly in a landscape as devoid of trees as Highway 12 in the Springs, is the right thing to do, and it’s not hard.”
But O’Kane said that during Phase I, an arborist surveyed the highway to see where trees could be saved and said there were several in Phase I, but none in Phase II.
“There is at least one location in the first stage where the sidewalk was narrowed to try to accommodate the large tree. The sidewalk is not in compliance with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. The state allowed it there, but everything must be in compliance in the second phase,” he said. “I doubt that there are any locations where we could pass the five-foot sidewalk behind an existing tree and expect it to survive the trauma of construction.”