Hwy. 12 trees get one-week reprieve

A WOMAN AND HER CHILD walk by one of the trees on Highway 12 that is marked for removal. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

A WOMAN AND HER CHILD walk by one of the trees on Highway 12 that is marked for removal. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune


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.”

And he said that any accommodation that required additional land would push the construction back more than a year.

“Changes of his significance would send us back to the beginning of the review process with Caltrans,” he said.

Anna Pier was equally dismayed.

“This surprised me,” she said. “They accommodated some of the trees in the earlier phase.”

She called the project, “wholesale removal,” and said it would blight the area.

“There’s a long-term effect on nesting birds,” she said. “One property owner told me there are nesting hawks in the eucalyptus tree.”

Pier said she’d like to see as many trees as possible saved.

“It’s so late … nobody knew it was happening,” she added. “We want sidewalks, but didn’t think it would be at the expense of the trees.

“The necessity of sidewalks in this last area of the Springs is unquestionable. But the aesthetic and environmental aspects are also compelling,” she said.“Clearly the wholesale removal of all the big old trees along this stretch of highway disregards both.”

Mike Acker, with the Springs Community Alliance, doesn’t recall receiving any information about the tree removal – nor the scope of it.

“I think there should have been some sort of community input,” he said. “Redevelopment was about safety and removing blight. But removing the trees seems to be going in the wrong direction.”

Acker said he doesn’t think the tree removal does anything for the highway, and thinks the whole thing is a Catch-22.

Gorin agrees that public input was lacking and wants to do something about it during the upcoming construction phase of the project.

“I intend to work on our public outreach,” she said. “We need to do a better job when we get to the bidding, the timeline and the traffic backlog.”

Gorin said she was heartbroken to see the number of trees that will be coming down. “It’s sad to see beautiful trees coming down,” she said. “I love trees. I’ve worked hard to preserve them and I wish I could save them.

“But the first priority is the safety of children and families,” she added.

  • Michael Anthony Donegan

    We watched this happen with widening of 101, now they are not going to replant the Trees that were not suppose to be cut down. What about Boyes..Trees serve a purpose, a lot more than the numerous Taco a Trucks and abandoned Vehicles.

    • vamferrer

      It’s very interesting how you compare a “Tree purpose” with “Taco trucks or abandoned Vehicles” .

      • Michael Anthony Donegan

        Roach Coaches, abandoned Vehicles and no Oxygen Creating Vegetation….. We are not L A not are we the Asphalt Jungles….

    • Celeste Winders

      Trees and taco trucks have nothing to do with one another and I am sure we all clearly understand the “point” you were making. That being said, remove one single taco truck from the Springs and there might be a revolution and I will personally be happy to lead it. There are many wonderful things about the Springs: trees, chickens, corner markets, great people, ice cream vendors, soccer in the parks on weekends and afternoons, kids playing… and yes, taco trucks.

  • dd

    No reason to take out the Oaks. Past tree removal along hwy 12 has
    resulted in more blight. Sweet deal for the tree removal contractors.. a
    equal amount of trees should be removed from the East Side

  • Celeste Winders

    There really was not any community info put out about the tree removal at all. I sat in many sidewalk meetings and the X’s on the trees were the first I really heard of it. After everything this community has gone through to get these sidewalks this tree hacking feels really dirty. There has to be a better solution. My son was really sad today telling me about the trees getting cut down after he walked home from school.

  • Tim Collins

    It does not require great inteligence to comprehend the need, not just this in this instace but in every instance concerning the Greatest concern, living in accordance with nature. The very life we love depends on this. Grimly Ironic is the fact that nature need’s defending is not only disheartening but the belief that this is just a notion makes me greatly empathetic for those in desperate need of empathy for the source of our existence.

  • Giovanna

    Like any need for surgery, one should get at least a second opinion, if not a third. The opinion of one arborist who may not see the trees as valued as the residents do, or may not offer a creative alternative, should prompt the public to seek second or third opinions. If public input was not sought, Cal-Trans should provide an extension for time to seek alternative solutions. Iconic trees that are not easily replaced make this area scenic and beautiful to both residents and tourists. If delaying this project for one year is the “price” of due diligence, it is well worth the wait. Preserving these treasured trees is well worth the time.

  • Deanne DiPietro

    Large trees provide shade, an important service as our climate warms. Maybe there’s a design that both keeps the valuable trees and slows down traffic, making it safer and more inviting to walk or ride a bike. Seems like delaying the project a year to figure it out is a small price for something we’ll all be living with forever after.

  • Jennifer Marshall

    Trees create a paychological atmosphere and create the identity of an area. Trees are inviting to friendship and a shady beautiful place where one wants to go. A sterile “asphalt desert” is not inviting to building community. Building and improving community is what the redevelopment of the Springs area is all about. How is destroying one of the things that creates the Springs identity promote rebuilding of a community? OH and the mention of replanting? What a waste when the best established trees are already there. Just watch, these “developers” will probably plant a non native to Sonoma Valley, or maybe even more toothpick tall palms that create no atmosphere, shade or ambiance other than another LA style landscape.

  • Mario Castillo

    WE NEED BETTER REPRESENTATION WHEN IT COMES TO DECISION MAKING IN THE SPRINGS. hOW IS THAT OLD BUILDING & TREES ARE BEEN DESTROY AND THOSE WHO ARE SUPPOSE TO REPRESENT US ARE DOING NOTHING ABOUT? Yes we need the side walks, but at what cost? Where is the leadership our community leaders, and political leaders? what a joke!!!