City rejects bid to remove downtown redwoods | News | Mountain View Online |

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City rejects bid to remove downtown redwoods

Appeal by developer denied by Parks Commission

A developer's plan for a large house on Sierra Avenue was defeated after dozens of Old Mountain View residents rallied to save a grove of redwoods on the property. On Wednesday night, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously voted to deny a request to remove most of the trees.

Saving the trees on Sierra Avenue became a cause célèbre among Mountain View's downtown residents who say the city's rapid development is eroding its charm and livability. The Sierra Avenue property has 10 heritage trees, including seven redwoods, each around 80 feet tall.

An investment firm, Sage Capital Management, acquired the property last year and filed plans to remove nearly all the trees to make way for a 3,100 square foot house. After several reviews, city officials found the trees were healthy and worth saving, and they urged the developer to find a way to reconfigure the project. Sage Capital later appealed that decision.

The redwood trees are all situated along the southeast portion of the parcel, essentially blocking the site from being built out, explained Sage Capital's attorney Pat Kelley. Trying to build a development around the trees would eat into his client's profits, costing them "millions of dollars," he said.

"It's not that we don't like trees, it's just that these trees are dead center in the middle of the lot," he said. "We know that everyone in the community is troubled by the idea of doing this development and removing these trees, and that's something we're trying to address."

Kelley was speaking on Wednesday night in front of what might have been the most well-attended Parks Commission meeting in recent memory. He urged the commission to table the discussion for another night, giving his firm a little more time to find an alternative that would save the trees. In the last day, he said, they had hired a new architect who could resolve the issue.

But the 80 or so residents at the meeting overwhelmingly opposed anything short of a denial. Many speakers, who own their own single-family homes nearby, said the redwoods were too precious to lose for this project.

"The developer bought the site knowing there were nine heritage trees; they knew those trees are protected," said Kim Copher, a nearby resident. "They hoped they could get swift approval for this design without any thought for the trees."

Was this a crowd of NIMBYs? Many opponents took pains to explain they weren't opposed to development in general, but this specific project crossed the line. They described the Sage Capital plan as bloated: At 3,100 square feet with a maximum-sized basement, it would be more than twice as large as the average house in the neighborhood.

The Parks Commission sided with the residents, saying they would reject the appeal.

"A 3,100 square foot housing isn't what we could consider conforming for this neighborhood," said Commission Chairman Jonathan Herbach. "This is a property where it's possible to build something reasonable and conforming in a way that preserves the trees."

Sage Capital could take legal action if it wished to further pursue its project, or the firm could reapply with a smaller proposal.

Following the meeting, Kelley could not immediately say what his clients might do next.

Community.
What is it worth to you?

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 14, 2018 at 8:24 pm

Just wait until one of the trees falls over onto house: will the neighborhood activists still like them then? Redwoods don't make sense in the dense downtown and aren't native to the area.


24 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jun 14, 2018 at 8:58 pm

mv-voice, your editorializing really crossed the line here. If "NIMBY" means that you have to build a 2800 sq ft house instead of a 3100 sq ft house in order to save a dozen protected 100 year-old trees then yes, I'm a NIMBY. You cannot chop down Redwood trees in my backyard so you can make a few extra dollars, sorry.


22 people like this
Posted by Not native?
a resident of another community
on Jun 14, 2018 at 9:14 pm

El Palo Alto (a coast redwood) was 165ft tall in 1814 and is over 1000 years old. What is that, six miles away maybe?

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by b
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 14, 2018 at 9:59 pm

El Palo Alto has a water pipe to transport water up the tree so it wouldn't die. I'm not sure that is a great example of a redwood tree surviving in this biome.


21 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jun 14, 2018 at 10:17 pm

El Palo Alto was around 900 years before waterpipes were even invented.


2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 14, 2018 at 10:30 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


36 people like this
Posted by B. Minkin
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 14, 2018 at 11:13 pm

For those posters who complain of meddling: Mountain View has an ordinance and policy to protect trees of a certain size. It looks like those whom you call NIMBYs asked that the city follow its own rules.


91 people like this
Posted by Ha, ha, and HA
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2018 at 5:25 am

I love the sweet salty goodness of a greedy developer's tears :)
Build a smaller house and move on.


37 people like this
Posted by Double Standrd
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 15, 2018 at 5:48 am

And yet Council is on the verge of approving the Greystar development on the old Safeway site near San Antonio where over 70 heritage trees will be chopped. Even though over 250 people signed a petition to save them

Web Link

I guess the City only cares about certain neighborhood's trees.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2018 at 8:11 am

Congratulations, neighbors. You saved some big trees on someone else's lot, leaving them with the responsibility of caring for them, and interfering with their own plans for their own house. Shame on you. I wish that when you want to do something to your home, that your neighbors give you a taste of your own medicine.

I happen to like big trees, it gives the place character, but this is a gross violation of property rights. I grew up in a place without those, and it's awful. I'm sad to see it happening here.


49 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 15, 2018 at 8:50 am

That’s a really unfair comment. When the owner purchased the property they knew of the ordinance. The ordinance must be disclosed during the process.


2 people like this
Posted by M.O.
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 15, 2018 at 12:07 pm

> Was this a crowd of NIMBYs? Many opponents took pains to explain they weren't opposed to development in general, but this specific project crossed the line.

"I'm not a NIMBY, I just oppose development in my backyard."


4 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2018 at 12:12 pm

@ B. Minkin

There are plenty of terrible laws in the city that caused the current housing crisis. It's the law doesn't mean it is right.


45 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

"Resident" wrote: "You saved some big trees on someone else's lot, leaving them with the responsibility of caring for them, and interfering with their own plans for their own house..."

I don't think you understand the situation, even slightly.

First: This wasn't someone's "plans for their own house," but a speculative redevelopment by a purchaser (from article: "An investment firm, Sage Capital Management, acquired the property last year") that clear at the start it was a project to redevelop the property for profitable resale. In other words, NOT by an owner who'd live there and wish to do without the trees (Kim Copher has been making that point clear, publicly, since the case first surfaced late last year). If it were even someone planning to stay there and customize the property, the implications would be different, and nearby residents far more sympathetic to the plan!

Secondly, the city's whole handling of old trees in redevelopment projects by absentee purchasers contrasts disturbingly from the procedure for residents. If you live on a property and want (for whatever reason) to remove an old tree, the request is closely reviewed and often denied unless an (expensive) professional assessment finds that the tree is dying or in danger of disastrous collapse. But if an out-of-town property developer proposes to take existing property and clear-cut even several mature trees, simply to expand the size and profitability of the new construction, the request goes through a different City department and can get rubber-stamp approval! THAT policy contrast (which badly needs to change, and may do so now) added to the outrage of so many locals, and brought out the defense of this rare large healty old-redwood grove from destruction for entirely cynical business reasons.


2 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 15, 2018 at 2:24 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

Here is a good example of the "clear cut 'heritage' trees for developers convenience/profit"
Web Link
[E. Evelyn Ave - decade ago development ctr. on Gala Ave. and new developer's brown dirt patch ]

The residential developer from a decade ago removed dozens of heritage oaks (native to Mountain View) some which must have been over a hundred years old.

Here is a view of a few more century+ heritage oaks, from near the old Bubb farmhouse area of Cuesta Park (thanks Cuesta Park Neighborhood Association for the recent "Bubb history" article) The four largest-canopy trees south and east of the building with solar panels.
Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by @ha, Ha, and Ha
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2018 at 2:34 pm

You make an issue of 10 Redwoods trees here but say nothing about the 98 Redwoods at the Greystar apartment development at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street.

And yet you say you are not NIMBYs. Right.


2 people like this
Posted by Read his post again
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Then point out what you IMAGINED he said once more for us all. Please, copy and paste it from his post. I'll wait.

(sigh)People are now arguing with what they imagine someone is saying.
All hope is lost.


5 people like this
Posted by Greg David
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2018 at 5:12 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

This is a gross violation of property rights. The redwoods are out place and the property does not belong to the people saving them. It really is that simple.

The leading antagonist has a house a couple doors down once described as such:

"There is not a better location in downtown Mountain View. It's one of the largest homes in the area with a fully fenced in yard. The gardens are absolutely gorgeous! Citrus trees, grafted-apple tree (with fuji, golden delicious, gala, and granny smith), extraordinary cherry tree, fig trees and beautiful bougainvillea hanging over rear yard fence making for a dramatic backdrop."

Its 2115 square feet, about the same above ground square footage as the proposed house and it is on a smaller lot. What's the difference? It doesn't' have ten out of place redwood tress smack in the middle of the lot.

I'm still trying to understand what hidden motives there may be for spending so much time, effort, and money on stirring up the neighborhood and convincing them to so steadfastly rally against someone's property rights.




27 people like this
Posted by Steve Old Town
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2018 at 8:22 pm

Steve Old Town is a registered user.

@Greg David,

Nobody told the developer that he can't develop his property, just that it cannot violate the City's Heritage Tree Ordinance, which his submitted design was deemed to have done so both by the city and unanimously by the urban forestry commission. So it went through the established process and it was denied.

However, the developer also signed disclosures stating that there were heritage trees on the property subject to the City's Heritage Tree Ordinance. So he knew full well what he was getting into. From the Heritage Tree Ordinance:

"No person shall cut down, destroy, remove or relocate any heritage tree growing on public or PRIVATE property, or on any city-owned property, unless a valid heritage tree removal permit has been granted by the city pursuant to this
article"

"Heritage tree" shall mean anyone of the following:
...

3. Any quercus (oak), sequoia (REDWOOD), or cedrus (cedar) tree with a
circumference of twelve (12) inches or more when measured at fifty-four (54) inches
above natural grade;

..."

You may think that the Redwood trees are out of place, and you may think that the fact that they are on the owners property means that he can do what they like with them; however the City's Heritage Tree ordinance disagrees with you. It and not your opinion is the law.

In addition, the City was willing to work with the developer and grant his a variance to help him preserve the trees (a rare concession), but he wasn't interested. In fact a 2,200+ sqft property with a partial basement could be built on the site which preserves all the trees, but the developer went for all or nothing and rolled the dice.

Had you been at the PRC meeting on Wednesday night, this would have been known to you.

Unfortunately, and this is a bit of a broken record: No right is unlimited including property rights. They are restricted by zoning ordinances and, yes, heritage tree ordinances.

If you don't like the rules, you are free to work towards changing them. Maybe try running for city council on a platform of repealing the City's heritage tree and zoning ordinances.


24 people like this
Posted by No courage
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 15, 2018 at 11:57 pm

I was at the meeting

The developer didn't even have the courage to show his face. Instead he sent a junior associate and his lawyer and hid behind them.

This developer has and has had numerous law suits filed against him including for alleged fraud and breach of contract (documented on the california superior court website); he has a reputation of being a bully, and bullies don't like being confronted.


9 people like this
Posted by 227
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 16, 2018 at 4:53 am

Way to go, Old Mountain View residents!!!


1 person likes this
Posted by Lan
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2018 at 1:48 pm

Lan is a registered user.

What is it about the education of 'developers' that keeps them blind to a community's culture?


4 people like this
Posted by Greg David
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 16, 2018 at 4:18 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

@Steve Old Town

It's not illegal to cut down heritage trees. It is illegal to cut down heritage trees without a city permit. The city, by not granting this permit, is infringing on his property rights.

It is not illegal, immoral, or unreasonable to cut down trees.

I would bet a dollar to a dime that every single person with a "save the trees" sign in their yard would cut those trees down in a minute if they owned that property.


3 people like this
Posted by Steve Old Town
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 16, 2018 at 7:04 pm

Steve Old Town is a registered user.

@Greg David,


Are you saying that a property owner should be able to remove any and all trees on their property?


3 people like this
Posted by OMV Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 16, 2018 at 8:30 pm

OMV Resident is a registered user.

He may not have said it, but I will. A property owner should be able to do anything on his own property. I posted as "Resident" above, but am unable to do so for some reason anymore. Anyhow, we can ask, educate, plead with people not to do something, but if we had real property rights here, the owner is the final decider. I realize that Mountain View has laws which prevent people from doing what they want with their own land and housing, and I disagree with the laws, they awfully busy-body. I guess the city has solved big problems already, like crime, education funding, maintaining infrastructure, so we have the time to worry about trees.

I live downtown, I'm surrounded by beautiful trees, and I'd be sad to see them go. However, I would never oppose a neighbor's decision, since it's theirs, not mine.


2 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 17, 2018 at 9:22 am

Gary is a registered user.

What one pays to buy real estate is largely a function of restrictions on the use of the land and nearby properties. One restriction was and is that heritage trees may not be cut down without getting a permit issued only for adequate cause. This developer bought the property subject to all limitations in the law. Now, whether city councilmembers have as much fondness for heritage trees or redwoods or this street (as EPC members) and might still be tested. Keep track. Developers do not just walk away from money that could be made.


12 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 17, 2018 at 9:43 am

Common sense is a registered user.

"However, I would never oppose a neighbor's decision, since it's theirs, not mine" ("OMV resident").

You still apparently misunderstand (though I pointed this out already, above)! This was not "a neighbor's decision" for their residence. It was not "interfering with their own plans for their own house" as you wrote earlier. It was a speculative property purchase by an absentee developer ("An investment firm, Sage Capital Management"), for the avowed purpose of building a luxury residence and selling it at a profit. The developer sought to remove the trees to allow a big basement, therefore more profit.

Realtor Tori Atwell (who brokered the sale by the previous owners) has explained elsewhere that this buyer, Sage Capital, knew (it was clearly disclosed in the sale terms, a routine requirement) that the heritage trees are protected in Mountain View, and can't be removed just at a buyer's wish (even a resident buyer's, which this wasn't). Therefore, when bidding on and buying the property, Sage had reason to expect that the trees would have to stay. Any proposal predicated on their removal was a gamble by the firm.

I have good regard for Greg David's comments generally, he's a longtime local with insights. But this is one of the cases where he has gotten tripped up by unexamined dogma (despite Steve Old Town's detailed explanation above), therefore he has so far missed what most of his fellow Old-MV residents already understand about this case. Heritage-tree removal permits aren't routine, they're the exception, not the rule. Requests have long been routinely denied even for resident homeowners. This was not even such a homeowner, it was a business investment for luxury redevelopment and sale. And no, those neighbors with "save the trees" signs wouldn't cut down those (or any other) trees "in a minute" for the same, very obvious, reason: heritage-tree removal permits aren't a "right," they aren't decided by the owner, and they aren't routine. (Just what is it about that basic situation that you two keep failing to understand?)


3 people like this
Posted by OMV Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 18, 2018 at 10:09 am

OMV Resident is a registered user.

Property rights don't differentiate between local owner and absentee investor, they're still owners. I'm sad to hear that the city makes it difficult for local residents to remove trees, while having an easier way for absentee investors. Both should suffer the same rules.

I have several giant trees on my lot. One of them is dropping enormous branches on my roof and my neighbors' roof. The root system is cracking the concrete under my patio. This isn't a sufficient reason to remove a tree here. I wish I could sue the city when either my house or my neighbor's house is destroyed. I have to wait until the tree does some real damage, apparently.


Like this comment
Posted by Greg David
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 18, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

Yes Steve, I am saying that. A property owner should be able to start with a clean swept flat piece of dirt, so long as the final outcome contains an appropriate level of trees shrubs and other plants appropriate for and similar to other properties in the area. Trees are renewable. People cut them down and plant new ones. By denying the permit, the city is I. Direct violation of one of the criteria in for granting permits.

SEC. 32.35. - Criteria for removal; Conditions; Findings.
a. Criteria for removal. The determination on each application shall be based upon a minimum of one of the following criteria; however, the decision-maker shall consider additional criteria, if applicable, in weighing the decision to remove a heritage tree, with an emphasis on the intent to preserve heritage trees.


One of the criteria being:


2. The necessity of the removal of the heritage tree in order to construct improvements and/or allow reasonable and conforming use of the property WHEN COMPARED TO OTHER SIMILARLY SITUATED PROPERTIES.


I don’t see any other Recwood groves nearby, other than the one that looms over my bedroom from the neighbor next door that has never trimmed or performed any sort of maintenance on. Every winter when the wind picks up, I fear I might awaken to a branch smashing through my roof...




11 people like this
Posted by Steve Old Town
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 18, 2018 at 4:56 pm

Steve Old Town is a registered user.

@David Greg,

Where do I start?

First of all you show a misunderstanding of the Ordinance in its letter and its intent.

Conforming use is orthogonal to the fact that there are Redwood trees on this property and not on other nearby properties. It has to do with the structure that is build on the property are reasonable and conforming related to other nearby structures. The homes on similarly situated lots ranges from 1,200 to 2,300 sqft with an average of 1,500 sqft. The developer was asking for over 3,300 sqft with a full basement which is clearly not conforming.

Both the City and the Urban Forestry Commission agreed on this point and it is very well argued in the City’s position against the appeal. You may disagree with their verdict, but that is just you saying you are right and they are wrong.

Secondly, you state “…so long as the final outcome contains an appropriate level of trees shrubs and other plants appropriate for and similar to other properties in the area”. You are clearly infringing on the owner’s property rights here. Why can’t they have a fully cemented yard (with the appropriate drainage) if they should chose to do so. It seems that you are fine with infringing on a property owners rights based on YOUR definition of where those rights begin and end.

You also conveniently left the preamble to the cited section as well as the balancing criteria.

SEe. 32.35.

Criteria for removal; Conditions; Findings.

a. Criteria for removal. The determination on each application shall be based on a minimum of one of the following criteria; however, the decision-maker shall consider additional criteria, if applicable, in weighing the decision to remove a heritage tree, WITH AN EMPHASIS ON THE INTENT TO PRESERVE THE HERITAGE TREES

1. The condition of the tree with respect to age of the tree relative to the life span of that particular species, disease, infestation, general health, damage, public nuisance, danger of falling, proximity to existing or proposed structures, and interference with utility services.

2. The necessity of the removal of the heritage tree in order to construct improvements and/ or allow reasonable and conforming use of the property when compared to other similarly situated properties.

3. The nature and qualities of the tree as a heritage tree, including its maturity, ITS AESTHETIC QUALITIES SUCH AS ITS CANOPY, ITS SHAPE AND STRUCTURE, ITS MAJESTIC STATURE AND ITS VISUAL IMPACT ON THE NEIGHBORHOOD

4. Good forestry practices such as, but not limited to, the number of
healthy trees a given parcel of land will support and the planned removal of any tree
nearing the end of its life cycle and the replacement of young trees to enhance the
overall health of the urban forest.

5. BALANCING CRITERIA. In addition to the criteria referenced above which
may support removal, the decision-maker shall also balance the request for removal
against the FOLLOWING WHICH MY SUPPORT OR MITIGATE AGAINST REMOVAL

A. The topography of land and effect of the requested removal on erosion, soil retention, water retention, and diversion or increased flow of surface waters.

B. The effect of the requested removal on the remaining number, species, size and location of existing trees on the site and in the area.

C. The effect of the requested removal with regard to shade, noise buffers, protection from wind damage and air pollution and the effect upon the historic value and scenic beauty and the health, safety, prosperity and general welfare of the area and the city as a whole.

You also state that trees are renewable. This is true to a degree; however, you fail to appreciated that it takes decades to replace canopy and in the meantime you are depriving a generation of the benefits of that canopy.

As @Commone Sense said, I generally agree with much of what you have to say; however on this issue I think you are plain wrong. I can’t help but think that the last paragraph from your post sheds light on why you are seeing this so myopically.


5 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 19, 2018 at 9:20 am

Common sense is a registered user.

Case closed.


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