http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2009/05/22/year-of-the-tree


DanvilleSanRamon.com

Perspective - May 22, 2009

Year of the tree

In a time when people are trusting their government less and less, it was heartening to see the system work in Danville the way it is supposed to. One fine example of this is the recent interactions between the Town Council and the Planning Commission in regards to the town's strongly debated Tree Ordinance.

The discussion about the Tree Ordinance sprouted at a recent Danville Planning Commission meeting that addressed two different tree issues in one evening - with widely different results.

That night a couple was asking for permission to cut down a coast redwood tree on their property line that blocks the sunlight. Their yard is ringed by several redwoods and they were requesting permission to remove one. The commission listened to the testimony and debated this issue for one hour and then voted against letting them remove the tree, saying the town's Tree Ordinance prevented them from doing so. They decided there was no reason to overrule the staff's interpretation of the law when it first denied the couple permission to remove the tree.

Also on the agenda was final approval for development of the Weber Property, which included the necessity of cutting down 97 trees from the 15 acres in order to carry out plans for the Davidon project. It only took about 15 minutes for the commission to approve the development. Commission members explained that the ordinance allows trees to be removed to allow development of a property.

The timing of the two issues on the same planning agenda was perhaps unfortunate, putting the developers' tree cutting in the worst possible light. But it was fortuitous because the Planning Commission saw the discrepancy and began to rethink the tree removal issue.

But the story didn't end here. The couple next pleaded their case to the Town Council, whose members also sympathized. When Planning Commissioner Bob Nichols presented the issue to the council members, he commented that this seemed to be the year of the tree.

The council asked the Planning Commission for a change in the town's Tree Ordinance, to remove coast redwoods from the list of protected species since they are not native to Danville and have extensive root systems that can cause damage to nearby buildings. The ordinance already prohibits removing mature trees, based on their diameters.

The issue went back to the Planning Commission last week where they were expected to remove coast redwoods from the protected species list as directed by council. But in a surprise move, the commission members decided that the problem was not just the coast redwoods but the inflexibility of the ordinance itself. They continued their discussion on the matter and asked town staff to suggest ways of reworking the law so they could use common sense in addressing appeals to it.

The commission is to be commended for its handling of the issue. Town Council members knew they wanted to be able to help the couple, and the Planning Commission accepted this responsibility. They were proactive in looking for a solution not just in this case but in future interpretations of the Tree Ordinance.

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