I've said it many times before, and I'll likely be saying it many times more:
There was no good reason for the City of Salem (Oregon) to approve a request by US Bank to remove five healthy, beautiful, large Japanese Zelkova trees.
All signs point to the decision being politically motivated. That's shameful. Being an avid fan of The Sopranos, I would expect decisions by local officials in New Jersey to be politically slanted. But here in Oregon we expect cleaner city government.
Below you'll find the expert views of Woody Dukes, an arborist for 39 years, 25 with the City of Salem.
Woody testified at the January 9 meeting of the City's Shade Tree Committee, which three times -- three -- recommended that the Zelkovas be pruned rather than removed. Yet Peter Fernandez, City of Salem Public Works director, somehow granted US Bank regional president Alan Allbritton's removal request.
Allbritton is the incoming president of the Salem Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce is a big backer of the City of Salem's crusade to spend $600-800 million on a Third Bridge across the Willamette which hardly anyone other than the Chamber and Realtor's Association believes is needed.
In 2010 Fernandez promised Allbritton that the five US Bank Trees would be removed, even though Allbritton hadn't gone through the prescribed application process.
After Allbritton did, and tree experts (along with the Shade Tree Committee) said "prune, don't kill," Fernandez kept his promise to the US Bank President -- while breaking any promise he may have made upon taking office to put facts and the public interest above special interests.
Here's some information from long-time city arborist Woody Dukes which will strengthen the suspicions of so many tree and bird lovers that the City of Salem and US Bank had no good reason to cut down the trees.
Two remain. They need to stay. Nothing will bring back the three trees which have been killed. Saving the last two trees may restore some measure of good will toward City officials and US Bank.
Excerpts from an email message arborist Woody Dukes sent me:
Hi Brian. I went through the Shade Tree Advisory Committee minutes from the Jan 9, 2013 hearing at Pringle Hall with regard to the Ladd & Bush Bank request to remove the Zelcovas on the State St side of their building.
I also went through the "Background, Findings and Decision regarding the removal of the State Street Trees (302 State Street S: Ladd & Bush Building—US Bank) from March 12, 2013 that came from Peter Fernandez, Director of Public Works for the City of Salem [quoted in red, along with Allbritton quotes].
Here is what I gleaned out of them:
From Peter Fernandez in his "Findings" on March 12, 2013:
"1. Aesthetics. There is a difference of opinion between the tree removal proponents and opponents as to the aesthetic quality of the trees. One faction believes that the mature trees provide a visual appeal. The other believes that the difference in size between the Commercial and State Street trees creates a poor aesthetic."
The City allowed the trees on the Commercial St side to be removed. The differences in sizes directly relates to the removal of those trees, not the remaining ones on State although that is now the case.
"While the aesthetics of mature trees may be debated, the record indicates that “the [zelkova] trees have grown beyond their anticipated design."
How do they know that these trees have grown beyond the anticipated design? I was told by Wilbur Bluhm, one of the committee members that decided on the locations and genus/species of trees to be planted in this program that these Zelkovas were chosen specifically for the bank. He is one of the most respected horticulturalists in the area if not even broader recognition. He was a consultant for the "Sunset Western Garden Book".
(Also Professor Emeritus, Oregon State University Extension Service, and Horticultural Consultant, Board Member, Rhododendron Species Foundation, member of the Native Plant Society and teaches Horticulture part time at Chemeketa Community College.)
"3. Additional maintenance requirements due to leaves and roots. The proponents of removing the trees state that the existing trees create additional maintenance requirements due to dropping leaves in the fall and root encroachment into the stormwater drainage facilities. Any deciduous tree planted in the public right of way, by definition, will create leaf litter in the fall."
The City accepts this basic issue with all trees.
"The record indicates, however, that the Princeton Sentry Ginko trees planted on Commercial Street drop their leaves in a more concentrated manner than the existing Japanese Zelkova trees. ... The record also indicates that staff believes that at least one of the Zelkova trees may, in fact, be impacting the stormwater drainage facilities at this location."
Why not remove all trees and plant Princeton Sentry Ginkgo trees if this particular leaf-drop problem is 'corrected' by such replacement? Does this mean that any and all future tree removals in the downtown core (and elsewhere) will be replaced by these ginkgo trees?
Has it been proven "in fact" that stormwater drainage facilities have been impacted by the tree(s)? What impact? What is the plan to correct this impact after removal of the offending tree(s)? In FACT, there are NO storm drains on the State Street side of the bank.
Are they saying here that the possible impact is to below-ground infrastructure? Can we see in writing what this impact consists of?
If trees are going to be removed, the reasons must be concrete and the tangible damage be shown both in writing and with visual evidence of said damage incurred with proof that the tree(s) is/are all or in part responsible. Permits for any action should not be issued on such 'loose' or speculative language.
From Ryan Allbritton's testimony at the Jan 9th STAC hearing:
"Three years ago they had requested all trees on Commercial Street and State Street (adjacent to the bank) be removed and were told by the City officials to hold off on the State St side for two reasons; one being an issue in the community of having all nine trees taken out at once and that future curb work on State Street would require the removal of the remaining trees. The City replaced the curb along Commercial Street and then replanted small trees. The bank was told they could do half the tree removal now (i.e. 2010) and could do the other half in two years (i.e. 2012)."
The bank, as they stated in their testimony on Jan 9th before the Shade Tree Advisory Committee, said that they "had a deal". From what is written here, it seems to me that there was a "deal" and that Fernandez's decision on March 12th 2013 was actually made in 2010.
[boldface emphasis added by me, because this shameful seeming fact needs to be emphasized]
"They [US Bank] are now asking the City through the STAC's recommendation to let them replace the trees that are on the North side of the building in fulfillment of the agreement they have with the City [in 2010]. The curb on that side has been worked on but is not complete and they state the city will need to remove them to fix the curb; it causes a liability to their customers and the citizens as a whole."
The City has already performed the work of replacing the curb without any major issues with tree roots AND without removing the trees.
From Brian Hines' piece quoting Peter Fernandez in his decision to issue the permit:
I believe that Fernandez should have taken the advice of the STAC [Shade Tree Advisory Committee] and had the trees pruned.
They probably would be improperly pruned by removing more than the recommended maximum of leaf removal of 25% each year because they would have been raised all around, reduced in height by some unknown amount and pruned back from the building. Then, if the work performed was not satisfactory, the bank should have been allowed another appeal to (try and) press their case again.