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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: El Cerrito, the city that hates trees?

Last week the city cut down eight large trees in Canyon Trail Park, plus many smaller trees. A few of them should have been removed, but not till early winter. Several UC experts in plant and insect pathology warned the city that this is the worst time of year to fell trees, since the stumps and debris feed beetles, who then spread to healthy trees. At least twenty mature healthy trees have been destroyed in El Cerrito this year, mostly unnecessarily: 1. All six redbark eucalyptus trees at the club house, yet staff told council only one to three needed to go; 2. All six Monterrey pines by the Ohlone Greenway South of the Plaza BART station, cut even prior to the council being informed, while staff falsely claimed "they dug up the pathway" (possibly only one needed to go); 3. The eight Canyon Trail pines cut last week, in spite of the fact that three months ago the Council asked for a comprehensive tree management plan first, with only dangerous trees cut immediately. Clearly, this approved motion was not followed.

Since last summer when previous City Manager Pokorny announced his plan to clearcut the top section of Canyon Trail Park, our city has been on a rampage to cut trees. Pokorny's former political opponent Mayor Damon, has been working strenuously to further clearcutting. This, in spite of being legally recused from having anything to do with Canyon Trail Park, where he owns a house and six lots he supposedly wants to develop. Unbelievably, the Park and Rec. Commission voted five to one against a motion (mine) to have a proper tree management plan before any, except imminently dangerous, trees are cut, and endorsed the immediate cutting of 47 trees.

We have on videotape the Maintenance Director telling the Council, "I will only cut one to three trees" at Canyon Trail Clubhouse. He then cut six healthy trees. I heard the Development Director tell the Design Review Board that the Park and Recreation Committee was informed about the planned removal of all the beautiful redbark Eucalyptus trees at the clubhouse. Not true. The City Manager only notified the Council about the Ohlone Greenway tree removal after the fact, and became angry when I him contacted on this issue. The city Attorney, did respond, but still has not answered the crucial question "Is it legal and correct process for the maintenance department to undertake major actions without the council's motions being written up, voted on and entered into the minutes?" Was it the Mayor or it is the City Manager who has ordered the City Clerk not to write up these crucial motions? She has written up all others. Will staff and council always cover up and "spin" tree issues? Does this Council care? Do any citizens care?

Yes, I am sickened by what is going on. Being away for two weeks, I saw so many better (and cheaper) ways of handling urban parks. The three council members who are not recused, when reminded two weeks ago that their motion about the trees were still not written up seemed to have forgotten what they said. Obviously they didn't care anymore, else they would have asked the city clerk to write up their motions and they would have stopped the stupid and untimely tree cutting until they had time for further discussion.

During the last year, the two local self styled environmental organizations, the West County section of the of the Sierra Club and Sustainable El Cerrito, have said nothing about the very serious actions at Canyon Trail park. These groups have clearly lost any credibility as caring for the environment. They use "Environmental" as merely a cover for other political agenda. No potential candidate for council has raised their voice to help our trees. Does any El Cerrito "official" care about trees, parks and our environment? At election time, all voters who do care should remember what the Council and staff have done, and whether this town has the competence to spend our tax money wisely.

The worst thing about all this are the multiple violations of decent civic behavior by staff and senior management, and most egregiously by Mayor Damon. We are such a small town: our governance should be open, follow correct process, use common sense, be cost effective and follow the laws. Something very precious, public trust, has been violated by the actions at Canyon Trail Park. Let's hope that the sad sacrifice of over twenty trees will lead to a demand for honest, open and responsive governance. We don't need to "scam" each other in our little city. Let's cooperate.

Rosemary Loubal, El Cerrito Park and Rec. Commissioner, but written as a private citizen

Run dates: 2001-07-15 - 2001-07-29

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