Whether a city ordinance aimed at preserving trees planted before San Carlos’ 1925 incorporation will continue to protect eucalyptus trees lining San Carlos Avenue between Sycamore Street and Dartmouth Avenue has sparked concerns among residents hoping the trees will be maintained as a city landmark and key part of the city’s tree canopy.

After heavy storms this winter caused a eucalyptus tree to fall near Arundel Elementary School at 200 Arundel Road in January, city officials have been focused on studying the safety of 44 of the non-native tree species on the 1.3-mile stretch of the corridor. The Planning Commission is now set to consider whether the city’s founder’s tree designation, which protects 30 of the 44 trees from removal, should be removed from the city’s municipal code at its Tuesday meeting.

City planner Lisa Costa Sanders said by removing the founder’s tree designation from the city’s code, officials would not be putting other protected tree species in danger of removal as they would be protected by their size and species. Though 30 eucalyptus trees are believed to have been planted in the late 1800s, prior to the city’s incorporation in 1925, four were removed in July after they were deemed to be dangerous with several others pegged as potential hazards, according to a staff report.

“It’s hard to predict trees, you don’t know when they’re going to come down,” said Costa Sanders. “It’s not an exact science.”

But for Sandra Althouse, who has lived in San Carlos for much of her life, removing the trees will take away an opportunity for San Carlos residents to revisit their city’s history.

“It’s a piece of history that will be gone,” she said.

A member of the San Carlos Historical Association, Althouse is concerned removing the trees will remove a character-defining feature of the corridor commissioned by Timothy Guy Phelps, one of San Carlos’ first land owners who was also a state politician. She is also concerned lifting the founder’s tree designation will signal further removal of trees in San Carlos, where she feels the tree canopy is thinning.

“Our worry is not only for these trees that if they do remove this municipal code, that other people will be able to more easily take down trees,” she said. Though Vice Mayor Matt Grocott acknowledged resident concerns about the trees’ historical significance, he found the safety concerns related to the trees difficult to ignore.

Known to have shallow root systems and long, thin branches that make them susceptible to falling down or losing branches during storms, the trees have been responsible for two instances elsewhere of serious injury and even death Grocott is aware of, which causes him to worry about the dangers the San Carlos Avenue trees pose.

Grocott was supportive of planting trees better-suited for the space on either side of the road instead of keeping the trees and expending resources to maintain them.

“If we take those down and plant more proper trees, they’ll grow,” he said.

Mayor Bob Grassilli said he looked forward to future public hearings on the ordinance to help inform the council’s discussion, which Costa Sanders said is tentatively scheduled for October. Costa Sanders confirmed that while the Planning Commission will review the founder’s tree ordinance Tuesday, decisions on tree removal could only come from the City Council.

Grassilli said there is no sense in keeping diseased trees in danger of falling, but wanted to make sure residents have a chance to weigh in on how the process is handled after he received questions following the removal of the four trees in July.

“We want to make sure we go through the proper process,” he said.

Though Althouse is hoping city officials will consider measures to prune and top off the trees to make them safer instead of removing them completely, she is urging the city to provide a landscaping plan to show how they will replace the trees and fund their replacement if it is ultimately determined they will be removed.

“We would really want them to commit to this and show it with cash,” she said.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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