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Petaluma is sticking up for its trees

Trees are removed from the Highway 101 and Petaluma Boulevard North interchange for the rebuilding project in Petaluma, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Published: Monday, September 16, 2013 at 7:59 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 16, 2013 at 7:59 a.m.

Petaluma is sticking up for its trees.

The removal of hundreds of oaks, redwoods and eucalyptus trees as part of the ongoing Highway 101 construction is creating what some say is a stark landscape through much of Petaluma.

A city honored as a Tree City USA every year of the first decade of this century for its protection of urban greenery isn't taking the mass removal lightly.

At Monday's meeting, the City Council will discuss sending a missive to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority asking for an accounting of the number of trees already removed, what still remains to be cut down and detailed plans for replacing them.

Specific information from the SCTA about the number of trees cut down has been scarce and at times contradictory. Petaluma first sought an accounting of felled trees in 2011 and a commitment from Caltrans and the SCTA to replace them all.

Councilman Mike Harris, who sits on the tree committee and is the council's liaison to the SCTA, said the city would like to be informed about the agency's replanting plans.

“There is important 101 work going on and that's understandable,” he said. “We just want to be kept in the loop in terms of the tree loss and timing elements about when they will be replaced.”

Environmental documents related to the construction projects estimate from 700 to 900 trees in Petaluma have been or will be removed for widening and safety zones near the roadway.

But Petaluma's own survey shows about 2,050 trees along 101 within city limits.

Caltrans said it will replace trees whose removal causes a “visual impact” on a 1-for-1 ratio “when feasible.” But its policy is tied to the county tree ordinance, which recognizes oak trees for one-to-one replacement, but not redwoods or nonnative species like eucalyptus trees.

Caltrans is not bound by local ordinances that protect additional trees and have broader replacement provisions.

The SCTA has said it won't complete a landscaping plan until all the highway work is done. A major widening segment from Highway 116 to Old Redwood Highway remains unfunded, so tree planting could be years out.

“We believe that a landscaping plan is critical to understanding the project as a whole as well as being able to plan for the future,” a draft of the letter states.

The letter asks the SCTA to provide an updated count of trees removed and “updates in a timely manner when the counts change.” It also asks the agency to advocate for a landscaping plan that defines where and how many trees will be replaced on-site.

SCTA spokesman James Cameron couldn't be reached Friday for more information. A 2012 memo to the transportation board estimated total re-landscaping costs for the entire 101 corridor at $14 million.

“Currently there is not sufficient funding identified for planting trees to offset the Highway 101 projects' visual impacts,” Cameron wrote.

“We want to work with them and say, 'We're here, we're watching this,'” Harris said. “We take this seriously. We've won awards and we're proud of that.

“We don't want to get in the way of progress but we want to be in the loop.”

The SCTA hasn't agreed to do any “enhancement beyond regulatory requirements” to replace Petaluma trees. It also has said it expects to fall short of a 1-to-1 replacement ratio because of space limitations.

Petaluma's draft letter asks the SCTA to advocate for grant funds to pay for planting trees elsewhere for those that can't be replaced along the highway.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 11 English St.

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