News

Developer fined for tearing down heritage trees

Neighbors balk at series of mistakes

Just months away from completion, a new El Camino Real apartment project has already created bad blood with its neighbors after workers tore down a pair of heritage trees before they were supposed to. The turmoil over trees only got stormier last week after the developer sought permission to chop down a third heritage tree that may have suffered root damage from the construction work.

The project by Prometheus Real Estate Group is a 66-home apartment complex at 1616 W. El Camino Real, slated to be finished by this summer. As proposed about two years ago, sketches for the new building showed a canopy of trees along the street, including both older heritage trees and new ones planted as part of the project, according to neighbors.

But the finished project apparently won't resemble that vision, said Kristina Pereyra, a nearby resident. She still remembers the day in late 2014 when she witnessed workers throwing two heritage-sized eucalyptus trees into a wood chipper.

"We looked out our window to see their machinery crunching these trees up," she said. "For me, it's that these are 50-year-old trees, and it's going to take another 50 years to grow another one."

For their part, Prometheus representatives have formally apologized for the slip-up; however they also offer a different take on the story. The company told city officials that a demolition subcontractor was to blame for accidentally removing the trees prematurely.

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But in the large scheme of things, those trees were going to be removed anyway, said Jon Moss, Prometheus vice president. Two years ago, city officials had agreed those two trees would be taken down during a later excavation phase, he said.

"It was done by the contractor a month or two earlier than when (the trees) would normally would be down," Moss said. "It was a timing issue."

Prometheus will be required to pay a $500 fine for the removal, along with the cost of planting two new trees as replacements, said Lindsay Hagan, a Mountain View associate planner.

But trouble sprouted up again last week after Prometheus officials came back to Mountain View officials for permission to remove a third heritage three. That tree a cedar along Mariposa Street has begun to tilt to one side, leading arborists to conclude it could someday topple into the street. The cause for this was likely trenches dug for the new apartment's storm drain, Hagan said. An arborist hired by Prometheus suggested the tree needed to be removed for safety reasons.

At an Administrative Zoning Administrator hearing last week, multiple neighbors reportedly complained about the developer's actions, and city officials decided to take further action. City staff granted approval to remove the cedar tree, but they imposed what they described as a much heftier fine on the company.

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That exact penalty amount remains undetermined, but Mountain View will be consulting an arborist. The developer will need to pay a fine based off the tree's age, maturity, species and possibly other factors, Hagan said.

"In this case there was the feeling that our trust was broken," Hagan said. "They went beyond what they had said they would do."

Email Mark Noack at [email protected]

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Developer fined for tearing down heritage trees

Neighbors balk at series of mistakes

by Mark Noack / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, May 10, 2016, 8:59 am

Just months away from completion, a new El Camino Real apartment project has already created bad blood with its neighbors after workers tore down a pair of heritage trees before they were supposed to. The turmoil over trees only got stormier last week after the developer sought permission to chop down a third heritage tree that may have suffered root damage from the construction work.

The project by Prometheus Real Estate Group is a 66-home apartment complex at 1616 W. El Camino Real, slated to be finished by this summer. As proposed about two years ago, sketches for the new building showed a canopy of trees along the street, including both older heritage trees and new ones planted as part of the project, according to neighbors.

But the finished project apparently won't resemble that vision, said Kristina Pereyra, a nearby resident. She still remembers the day in late 2014 when she witnessed workers throwing two heritage-sized eucalyptus trees into a wood chipper.

"We looked out our window to see their machinery crunching these trees up," she said. "For me, it's that these are 50-year-old trees, and it's going to take another 50 years to grow another one."

For their part, Prometheus representatives have formally apologized for the slip-up; however they also offer a different take on the story. The company told city officials that a demolition subcontractor was to blame for accidentally removing the trees prematurely.

But in the large scheme of things, those trees were going to be removed anyway, said Jon Moss, Prometheus vice president. Two years ago, city officials had agreed those two trees would be taken down during a later excavation phase, he said.

"It was done by the contractor a month or two earlier than when (the trees) would normally would be down," Moss said. "It was a timing issue."

Prometheus will be required to pay a $500 fine for the removal, along with the cost of planting two new trees as replacements, said Lindsay Hagan, a Mountain View associate planner.

But trouble sprouted up again last week after Prometheus officials came back to Mountain View officials for permission to remove a third heritage three. That tree a cedar along Mariposa Street has begun to tilt to one side, leading arborists to conclude it could someday topple into the street. The cause for this was likely trenches dug for the new apartment's storm drain, Hagan said. An arborist hired by Prometheus suggested the tree needed to be removed for safety reasons.

At an Administrative Zoning Administrator hearing last week, multiple neighbors reportedly complained about the developer's actions, and city officials decided to take further action. City staff granted approval to remove the cedar tree, but they imposed what they described as a much heftier fine on the company.

That exact penalty amount remains undetermined, but Mountain View will be consulting an arborist. The developer will need to pay a fine based off the tree's age, maturity, species and possibly other factors, Hagan said.

"In this case there was the feeling that our trust was broken," Hagan said. "They went beyond what they had said they would do."

Email Mark Noack at [email protected]

Comments

Toothless
Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 11:11 am
Toothless, Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 11:11 am

The heritage tree law is toothless if you can chop down two 50 year old trees and only pay $500 plus maybe $200 for two "replacement" trees. People often cut off all the limbs of a heritage tree and then a year later they ask for a permit to cut it down because its not healthy.


Resident
Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 11:14 am
Resident, Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 11:14 am

Trees grow back. Making a giant fuss over building anything because it may impact trees is one of the many reasons we have such expensive housing here. Don't get me wrong, I like trees, but look at that photo - that poor tree would likely have withered anyway, and it remained clearly just to appease the anti-development people using trees as an excuse to make building more difficult.


eucalyptus be damned
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 11:31 am
eucalyptus be damned, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on May 10, 2016 at 11:31 am

Eucalyptus is a nasty invasive species, I'm not so broken up about those ones. Sad news about the cedar, though.


BD
Cuesta Park
on May 10, 2016 at 11:57 am
BD, Cuesta Park
on May 10, 2016 at 11:57 am

One of the ways I can usually tell I've crossed the boundary into Los Altos is the different feeling its neighborhoods have vs. Mountain View. I've been trying to figure out what it is, exactly, and I've realized that large mature trees account for a lot of it. Walk along Mountain View avenue and you can see this pretty dramatically. Some blocks (the Los Altos blocks) are greener than others. Personally I prefer the greenery and hope the city council imposes measures significant enough to dissuade developers from making these kinds of mistakes again.


vonlost
Cuesta Park
on May 10, 2016 at 2:06 pm
vonlost, Cuesta Park
on May 10, 2016 at 2:06 pm

Our Heritage Tree program is a sham if the fine is only $500; that's a penny to Prometheus. A fine of $500,000 might slow down purposeful damage to and removal of our significant trees. We need to fix this fake regulation.


old mountain view
Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 2:37 pm
old mountain view, Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 2:37 pm

I seriously doubt it was a mistake, more of a "it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission" type of thing. It's a shame our city cares so little for what we want & constantly caves in to the developers wishes


Rossta
Waverly Park
on May 10, 2016 at 3:40 pm
Rossta, Waverly Park
on May 10, 2016 at 3:40 pm

A tree for a tree isn't really the right mitigation formula or penalty for these violations. How many pounds of carbon was that cedar sequestering and how much oxygen was it producing? That should be the metric used for mitigation - pretty obvious and I have read of other cities moving to this approach. Given the size of that cedar, I would guess it would be at least a dozen 36" box trees. Hopefully our P&R which is also our Urban Forestry, can use this incident as impetus for revising the mitigations and penalties.

These are not anti-developer rules. We just cannot allow developers to degrade our city and exploit our existing resources while they make their money under the guise of providing us with a housing supply.


the_punnisher
Registered user
Whisman Station
on May 10, 2016 at 4:04 pm
the_punnisher, Whisman Station
Registered user
on May 10, 2016 at 4:04 pm

Make sure Prometheus NEVER BUILDS AGAIN IN MOUNTAIN VIEW! That may be " shutting the barn door after the horse escaped ", However that statement has teeth in it more than any Heritage Tree ruling.. If that statement is not created, it WILL be time to seek more leadership in the City Council.
It's time to put up or shut up, City Council. [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Mountain View resident
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 10, 2016 at 5:00 pm
Mountain View resident, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 10, 2016 at 5:00 pm

Why not fine Prometheus by forcing them to buy three 50year old trees? There are nurseries that purchase very large trees, and replant them. They cost about $50k each, and while they probably wouldn't be cedar, they might be 50y old olive trees, or palms or other old trees that would give character.

Prometheus will likely make about $800k a month renting the apartments, at going rates. $150k for old large trees is a drop in the bucket for them, as they'll likely make $10m a year on that property. They can pay it.

Web Link carries olives that are up to 500y old.


psr
The Crossings
on May 10, 2016 at 6:48 pm
psr, The Crossings
on May 10, 2016 at 6:48 pm

Honestly, with the horrible new city rules that allow and even encourage building right out to the street, this will keep happening.

It is bad enough that these new multi-story monstrosities are built so close to the street that it is dangerous to attempt left turns. Now we get to have the builders "accidentally damage" a tree and not even get a significant slap on the wrist.

Take a look at that picture. The tree would not have been in danger if the builder had not been allowed to place the exterior walls of the building right next to the sidewalk. So,in addition to packing people into the city like sardines, we get to sacrifice our trees in order to do it.

Bravo, City Council, you have gotten your wish. We are well on our way to paving our quiet city into a concrete canyon. I hope the extra tax dollars you have to waste are worth it to you. Too bad the quality of life of the residents doesn't enter into your calculations.


Trees
Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 6:56 pm
Trees, Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 6:56 pm

Mark Noack, if Prometheus said they had permission to remove two of the trees and just removed them earlier than they were supposed to, where's your follow up to determine if that's true? That's pretty critical to the question at hand.

You can't just write a story that these trees were removed and quote the developer that they had permission to do it just later on, and not check if that's correct or not.


Jeffrey
Waverly Park
on May 10, 2016 at 7:10 pm
Jeffrey , Waverly Park
on May 10, 2016 at 7:10 pm

The city emblem symbol of Mountain View is two heritage trees and here are two of our trees being destroyed by developers - should we change the symbol of Mountain View to two buildings? How sad.
I agree with the Mountain View resident comment - "Prometheus will likely make about $800k a month renting the apartments, at going rates. $150k for old large trees is a drop in the bucket for them, as they'll likely make $10m a year on that property. They can pay it."
and the_punnisher comments. "Make sure Prometheus NEVER BUILDS AGAIN IN MOUNTAIN VIEW! That may be " shutting the barn door after the horse escaped" , However that statement has teeth in it more than any Heritage Tree ruling. If that statement is not created, it WILL be time to seek more leadership in the City Council."
We just cannot allow developers to degrade our city and exploit our existing resources.
We have lost so many old growth trees to the drought and the beetle and development all over the city. I have counted 15 alone in my daily neighborhood walk. Everyone needs to step up to the plate to help protect what old growth canopy we have left.


Mark Noack
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 7:11 pm
Mark Noack, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on May 10, 2016 at 7:11 pm

@ Trees

I completely agree, and I did check with the city to make sure Prometheus' account was accurate. Lindsay Hagan, the planner on the project, told me that the two trees were approved for removal at a later phase of the development.


Mr. G
Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 8:09 pm
Mr. G, Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 8:09 pm

The best thing about a tree is all the things you can do with it once you cut it down.


Mt. View Neighbor
North Whisman
on May 10, 2016 at 8:44 pm
Mt. View Neighbor, North Whisman
on May 10, 2016 at 8:44 pm

Cheaper for construction companies to pay the "fines" than to follow the requirements. It wasn't like they didn't know. They knew exactly what they were doing and it was cheaper for them to pay the fines. Ridiculous. We don't need builders like this.


Greg David
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2016 at 9:26 pm
Greg David, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on May 10, 2016 at 9:26 pm

If the trees had already been approved for removal at a later date, how is this newsworthy? And why would Prometheus be fined?

I'm always bewildered by the level of controversy attached to the removal of so-called "heritage trees". just because its a big old tree, why does it deserve special protection? It's not like most of these trees are in their natural surrounding. They were planted at one point by a property owner and when a property owner no longer wants the tree on their property, why shouldn't they be able to remove it. I mean seriously, we're not talking about ancient Redwoods, Sequoias, or Oaks. People are getting their panties in wad over Eucalyptus and Palms!

Wood products built this nation. If you live in a house made of wood or buy just about any consumer product, you owe this to trees being cut down. They are the ultimate renewable resource. Stop being so selfish and worry about the trees on YOUR property and stop worrying about what others do with theirs....


Jes' Sayin'
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 10, 2016 at 10:42 pm
Jes' Sayin', Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 10, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Dunno why people are surprised. This happens on virtually every big building project in Mountain View, including City Hall back in the 80s. We never even talk about heritage trees except just before and after a removal.


rainbow38
Martens-Carmelita
on May 11, 2016 at 2:28 pm
rainbow38, Martens-Carmelita
on May 11, 2016 at 2:28 pm

This reminds me of Shel Silverstein's book, The Giving Tree. Sad.


Above the law
Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2016 at 7:03 pm
Above the law, Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Prometheus is ABOVE THE LAW - well connected at City Hall.


Silly developers
Rex Manor
on May 11, 2016 at 8:42 pm
Silly developers, Rex Manor
on May 11, 2016 at 8:42 pm

I drove by this development today. Holy cow it's close to the street! Why? They barely left the existing trees any space at all. The building even looks comical being crammed so close to the row of trees. People living in some of those apartments won't be able to see anything out their windows except green leaves against their window. Was this really what our council approved? It looks ridiculous.


psr
The Crossings
on May 12, 2016 at 8:23 am
psr, The Crossings
on May 12, 2016 at 8:23 am

@ Silly Developers

ALL the new construction the city has approved has been right up to the sidewalks. Just drive down El Camino and confirm it. Not only is it UGLY, it makes it difficult to make left turns because you have to pull out into oncoming traffic in order to see around the buildings.

That seems to have started with the San Antonio Center revamp. They showed lovely "artist rendition" drawings that made it look as if the street views would be tolerable. What we got instead was a view of service doors, industrial piping and Starbuck's advertising. The only mildly attractive views are at the front of the Safeway parking lot where they put a few plants.

I live here because I DON'T want to live in a concrete canyon. If I wanted views of sheer walls and cement, I would have moved to San Francisco long ago. The city council doesn't care about quality of life, just revenue. Just pack in the square footage so they can tax more.


Steve
Shoreline West
on May 12, 2016 at 1:53 pm
Steve, Shoreline West
on May 12, 2016 at 1:53 pm

"I've crossed the boundary into Los Altos is the different feeling its neighborhoods have vs. Mountain View. I've been trying to figure out what it is"

You haven't noticed that Los Altos doesn't have sidewalks? Really?


Otto Maddox
Monta Loma
on May 12, 2016 at 3:34 pm
Otto Maddox, Monta Loma
on May 12, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Wow.. does anyone here actually vote?

If you don't like the direction the city is heading VOTE for someone else.

If you can't get the votes that means you're in the minority. Your community wants to go in a different direction. Might be time for you to move.

How about Los Altos? They've done a good job keeping the small town "rural" feel.


psr
The Crossings
on May 13, 2016 at 4:06 pm
psr, The Crossings
on May 13, 2016 at 4:06 pm

@ Otto

Voting is nice, but it can be meaningless. The Mountain view City Council (specifically Par Showalter and Ken Rosenberg) both said they were opposed to the crazy VTA BRT idea, yet both of them voted for this insanity when it can to the council for a vote. Ken Rosenberg stood on my porch and lied to my face about that issue.

In short, the city council does what they like. They are willing to say one thing in order to get votes, then do something else when in office. Just because the "city" is going in a particular direction does NOT mean the citizens WANT that to happen.


the_punnisher
Registered user
Whisman Station
on May 16, 2016 at 4:29 pm
the_punnisher, Whisman Station
Registered user
on May 16, 2016 at 4:29 pm

My description was mild compared to other people's descriptions of people in the City Council, yet I get it censored. That in a nutshell is the problem with both M$M and the City Council; both do not want to listen or act with the PEOPLE WHO PAY THESE PEOPLE'S SALARY. Taking people's money and not using it for what the PUBLIC wants is stealing the money.
I think Mountain View has had enough of Prometheus and their behavior. That also applies to members of the City Council that promise one thing and breaks that promise to the taxpayers of this City.


the_punnisher
Registered user
Whisman Station
on May 16, 2016 at 4:45 pm
the_punnisher, Whisman Station
Registered user
on May 16, 2016 at 4:45 pm

For all that say," Get over it, these are trees..

A tree not only gives you shade and " personality ", it also changes CO2 back to 02 that you MUST HAVE TO LIVE!
The amount of trees needed PER PERSON IS 7 ACRES OF WOODLOT. These trees are a renewable resource; you cut them down and you allow trees to grow back and cut them down again. Specially planted woodlots give you the lumber you need; many natural woodlots are only good for firewood. Or Christmas trees.

How do I know this? From coursework in Alternative Energy. Our family owns many acres in both woodlots and cleared pastureland. I HAVE my 7 acres of trees. How about you?


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