Council to debate Dougherty Valley tree damage, marijuana cultivation ban

New commercial recycling services, 5-year budget forecast, senior committee report also on agenda

The San Ramon City Council is set to discuss options for dealing with thousands of trees in the Dougherty Valley that city staff say could cause millions of dollars in infrastructure damage over the next 20 years if not addressed.

The councilmen are hosting a public workshop to receive a report on the recommended tree and turf management action plan and provide feedback to city officials about their proposal Tuesday evening.

The Dougherty Valley tree workshop is scheduled to occur right before a regular council meeting with a crowded agenda that includes a proposed citywide ban on medical marijuana cultivation, new commercial recycling services and San Ramon's five-year financial forecast.

Some of the trees planted during Dougherty Valley development in new turf planting strips between curbs and sidewalks have started damaging underground utilities, irrigation, sidewalks and curbs, according to Jeff Gault, city operations division manager.

Additionally, much of the grass in those planting strips requires heavy irrigation that isn't sustainable during the drought, Gault wrote in a staff report to the council.

So, San Ramon officials have developed a plan to remove an estimated 3,000 trees and up to 2.8 million square feet of grass over the next five years, and beyond, "to mitigate current and future infrastructure damage, promote sustainability and water conservation, and reduce long-term maintenance costs," Gault said.

"The plan identifies and prioritizes tree removals, tree replacement planting, and the conversion of turf strips to low water-use plantings and/or mulch," he added, saying the 3,000 trees would be replaced with about 2,000 new, more-suitable ones.

The city has spent more than $455,000 over the past three years fixing damage in and near the roadside planting strips, plus nearly $300,000 removing 441 troublesome trees and replacing them with 301 smaller tree types, according to Gault.

He contended San Ramon officials may have seen such a problem coming in the Dougherty Valley development-planning process, saying, "Staff objected to the number and location of trees and the use of turf in the narrow planting strips in the original design, but was met with resistance from the developers and the county."

Now, city officials estimate the damage over the next two decades has the potential to cost up to $20 million if the tree problem isn't addressed, he said.

Gault noted that there would be a "significant upfront expense" to implement the proposed action plan, but "the cost is offset over time by reducing future infrastructure repairs and significantly reducing maintenance and water costs."

Funding options are among the issues city staff is looking for council and public feedback about Tuesday evening.

The workshop is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. inside the council chambers at San Ramon City Hall, 2222 Camino Ramon.

In other business

* During the regular meeting starting at 7 p.m., the council will consider giving initial support to a proposed ordinance to ban all marijuana cultivation and delivery services in the city, including by residents considered as "qualified patients" or "primary caregivers" with marijuana used for medical reasons.

The council's Policy Committee recommended the new prohibition ordinance last month -- less than two months after the council adopted a local law to ban marijuana dispensaries in San Ramon.

The city currently has no laws explicitly addressing medical marijuana cultivation, according to deputy city attorney Alicia Poon. The prohibition proposal stems from health, safety and welfare concerns regarding negative impacts and secondary effects from marijuana activities, she said

Violations would be punishable as a misdemeanor and subject to other available remedies, including civil penalties enforced through administrative citation provisions in the city code.

If given initial support Tuesday, the prohibition ordinance would return to the council for final adoption in January.

* Council members will consider approving agreements with Waste Management of Alameda County, Inc. to add new recycling services required by state laws set to start taking effect next year.

Waste Management, the city's garbage hauler, would see its current services expand to recyclables and organics for commercial customers, as well as school organics collection, to be implemented between January 2016 and September 2019, according to city program manager David Krueger.

The discussion will also include approving associated compensation rates, increasing the franchise fee on commercial solid-waste services by 5.5% and appropriating $126,250 from the solid waste fund for commercial recycling services in the current fiscal year.

* Council members will hear a report on San Ramon's five-year financial forecast.

* They will also consider the annual report of the city's Senior Advisory Committee.

* The council will receive updates on construction of the new City Hall, San Ramon City Center and San Ramon Library renovation.

* Following the open-session meeting, the council will adjourn to closed session to conduct performance evaluations for City Manager Greg Rogers and interim city attorney Robert Saxe.

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Like this comment
Posted by C. R. Mudgeon
a resident of Danville
on Dec 8, 2015 at 10:02 am

Interesting situation, where trees that were probably planted not that long ago, now have to be removed.... The article doesn't really say, but I assume this is mostly concerning "median trees" along Dougherty Valley Road, and/or the portion of Bollinger Road that connects.

When these trees were first planted, it seemed obvious that way too many trees were being planted. This seems to be typical practice in this area - the excessive number of plantings seems nice at first, when the trees and other plantings are little. But as the trees and plantings grow to their normal mature size, it is soon clear that they are spaced much too closely. So large amounts of money are wasted, on a continual basis. That's why I was surprised at the statement in the article that the city of San Ramon was always opposed to the quantity of trees, but was fought by both the county and developers, who apparently fought to have an excessive number of trees planted.... You would think that both the county and the housing developer would also want to avoid wasting money on excessive trees, and that it is only the nursery and/or landscaping contractor that benefits... So I am missing something in the motivations and reasons for the poor planning.

One other comment is that if there are underground utilities in these medians, and tree roots are causing problems, then the use of trees with known "invasive root" characteristics should be avoided.

None of this is rocket science, BTW, just common sense.... I am no landscaping expert, but even I know that when you get a landscape plan from a nursery or landscaping firm, the very first thing you do is scale back on the number of plants that they recommend, since (duh!) plants grow!

5 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 8, 2015 at 10:34 am

I think the planting strips they're referring to are what we used to call parking strips in front of the actual houses.

2 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 9, 2015 at 10:22 am

The problem is in the neighborhoods in the narrow planting strips along the streets. The is 5 feet or less between the sidewalk and the street and there are utilities that cross those strips. The roots have been causing many problems with breaking water lines and similar problems. Too many trees in too tight a space near utility lines and pavement.

Read the staff report for more details.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 14, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Just another example of government planning incompetence. Guess what, nobody will be found responsible or be fired, but we get to pay for this snafu.

Like this comment
Posted by SR resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Jan 15, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Here's to seconding Resident's comment. Why doesn't the SR city council demand the people/department responsible for this fiasco be publicly named, reprimanded and even fired. Money for repairs needs to be taken from the responsible county dept. No one ever seems to be responsible in government, guess that is why incompetents gravitate to government. Properly planting trees is not rocket science.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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