News Release News Release The City of Palo Alto
Communications Department
250 Hamilton Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301


PRESS RELEASE 09/25/2009
Subject :

City Temporarily Halts Work on California Avenue Streetscape; Public Meeting on Project Scheduled October 8
Contact : Mike Sartor, Public Works Department    650-329-2270
Palo Alto, CA – With the exception of emergency maintenance, all work has stopped on the California Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project, pending a public meeting on October 8 to solicit input on tree selection and the formal Architectural Review Board hearing scheduled for October 15.

On September 14, 63 trees were removed on California Ave. between El Camino Real and the Caltrain Station in accordance with a streetscape improvement plan in the City's Capital Improvement Program. Although there was an overall design plan in place that had been developed over a number of years with input from numerous stakeholders, implementation of the street tree replacement element of the project began without proper public engagement to ensure community awareness and support for the project.

"We sincerely apologize for the mistakes made during the process that led to the unfortunate result," said Glenn Roberts, Director of Public Works. “There were certain steps that typically occur during the project development and implementation stages that unfortunately did not occur with this project.”

In response to the concerns of the community and business owners on the project, the City is taking the following actions to address those concerns: 

  • Staff has halted work on this project until further outreach on a number of project elements can occur; however, new trees are expected to be planted in November pending Council approval.
  • Canopy, a Palo Alto-based urban forestry nonprofit organization, is meeting with staff members on replacement tree choices and the project scope.
  •  October 5, City staff will return to City Council and respond to Council’s request for action on a number of items including street tree selection, protocols and  process changes to ensure this cannot happen again, and other matters.
  • October 8, City staff will hold a public meeting on October 8 at the Escondido School Auditorium (890 Escondido Road) at 6:30 p.m., to discuss the proposed project and gather public comment on replacement tree selection and other project elements.
  • October 15, staff will go to the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to gather input on further implementation of the design plan.
  • October 28, staff will return go to the Planning & Transportation Commission (PTC) to gather input on further implementation of the design plan.
  • In November, Staff will return to the City Council with a summary of the public comment received along with recommendations from the ARB and PTC.
  • The City has created a webpage ( to keep the public informed on the project. There is also the ability for the public to subscribe to receive regular project updates.

The existing street trees were reaching the end of their life span, some were conflicting with street lights and store fronts, and some had previously been removed because of disease. The California Avenue Streetscape plan called for a complete and more uniform tree canopy, street improvements and other amenities. Street improvement projects in cities use simultaneous tree removal and replacement or staged replacement and the approach can vary based on different conditions and factors.

Although staff received staff-level Architectural Review approval on September 14 and a subsequent 14 day appeal period was required prior to the start of work, staff proceeded with tree removal immediately. This is NOT standard procedure for City construction projects. If the appeal period had been provided, there would have been opportunity for public comment. In addition, staff could have sought full ARB review of the project which would have provided further opportunity for public input.

“Anticipating the impact that simultaneous removal of trees can have should have engendered more public outreach and review regardless of existing procedural requirements,” City Manager James Keene said. 

The Public Works Department management is actively taking steps to ensure that this type of situation does not occur again including increased staff training and a more stringent approval procedures prior to the start of construction.

For additional information, contact Mike Sartor at 650-329-2270.