Tag Archives: trees

Estrangement: Oakland’s Toxic Tree Services Versus The Environment

Over the last four years, Americans have experienced firsthand the destruction done by a party devoid of empathy and motivated only by greed and profit. Major climate policies governing clean air, water, wildlife, and toxic chemicals were rolled back or dismantled.

It wasn’t only our environmental policies that took a beating. By 2020, Covid 19  had brought a staggering amount of deaths to family, friends, communities, and finances. When you are this beaten down it is easy to give up. Often it is the time when predators become the most vicious and we need to fight back the most.

Allow me to share with you my private battle over the last year trying to save a grove of old-growth trees. Four Acacias and three Elms. They live on a small private lot that, until a couple of years ago, was owned my building. The grove is fenced off to public access but is loved by nearly a hundred residents in the four buildings that grace our street. They are the only adult trees left on our street and provide a home to dozens of birds, squirrels, and raccoons. It is home to a nest of rare hummingbirds, doves, crows, and the occasional Nightingale.

During the California fires of 2020, our air became un-breathable. Each one of these trees became a sentinel to feed our lungs. Each mature tree can remove 120-240 pounds of hazardous air pollutants per year, absorb 48 pounds a year of carbon dioxide and absorb gaseous pollutants. My lungs and immune system were damaged during my time as an Air Force Veteran during the Vietnam era. I’m not sure if I would be breathing today without the help of these trees working as hard as they did producing carbon and oxygen to protect us all.

Privately these trees also have helped protect my mental health during a personal time of great despair. For nearly a year I was confined to my apartment after skin cancer forced the amputation of a third of my bottom lip. Treatment was painful and disfiguring. Reconstruction took twelve hours of surgery and three surgeons. I did not recognize myself. The beauty and calm of our grove and its wildlife gave me hours of comfort. Not a day has gone by in my 18 years living here that I have not felt profound love and gratitude for these trees. It is for them I speak, I fight, I grieve.

When cities remove trees there is a process that is to be followed. This is legal policy, as well as new environmental concerns For example, the City of Oakland, received a $1,000,000 grant from CALFIRE, California’s forestry organization to manage its urban forest. This comes directly from California’s Climate Investment Fund. The City has taken the grant but seems to have ignored the prime directive of those grants.

Residents often are shocked to discover treasured old-growth trees removed without notice, parks destroyed with little or no regard for their resident’s objections. This article is to help people understand their rights as residents. The City of Oakland repeatedly ignores the ethics and guidelines for the International Society of Arborists (ISA) as well as its own Protected Trees Ordinance by the Tree Services Department. It is so bad that the Director of The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic wrote to the city of Oakland, expressing serious concern over Oakland’s Urban Forest Practices. Oakland residents refer to Tree Services as the Grim Reapers.

The first part of this process requires the city to legally notify every resident affected by a tree’s removal, in writing, 20 working days ahead of their destruction. (Ordinance OMC 12.35.080 Subsection H).

In the case of the Carroll Street Grove, this ordinance was violated twice. Our building’s owner was notified by mail (he lives several counties away and owns multiple buildings) and he personally put up a notice to the tenants. This violation ignored sixty residents’ legal right to be given the opportunity to comment on the removal of these seven trees during a public consultation period.

For example, with the Carroll Street Grove, a surveyor had been spotted and spoken with by residents. He had bragged about how the lot was to be developed and yet the permit was for non-development. We were able to present compelling evidence to the Head of Tree Services, David Moore, that the applicant was cutting down the trees for development using a non-development permit in order to bypass stricter California Environmental Quality Regulations. (CEQA). Our evidence was ignored, even though other members of Oakland Tree Services thought it was suspicious that seven trees needed to be removed at one time for property not going to be developed.

By refusing to investigate the evidence of development, we were told by another Bay Area senior arborist that Oakland was complicit in allowing the permit applicant to break California State Law: the Unfair Business Practices Act/Unfair Competition Law.

 The second part of this process requires that trees to be removed must be red-tagged. Our trees were not tagged until we forced the issue.

 The city is required to notify each resident in writing, tag each tree to be removed, and verify these actions to ensure the public consultation period.

 The Permit of the Carroll Street trees to be destroyed was approved by Oakland Tree Services David Moore and Tod Lawsen, Senior Tree Inspector before they had read the letters submitted from the public consultation period.

 The consultation with the public had to be done on Zoom due to the pandemic. Residents were allowed only a two-minute brief statement but the permit applicant was given a very wide berth, speaking first and last with no opportunity for correction of incorrect data.

 It’s important to know that residents do have the right to appeal but it will cost $695.00 and you will only have five days to come up with the money and complete the required paperwork. Personally, our appeal felt more like a required bribe as the permit had been approved before any arguments could be made. We did, however, appeal our case to the Oakland Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission.

 In our appeal, incongruities in the application to remove the trees were underlined by the residents. The lot owner changed his tactics. We were now told that our old-growth trees were a danger to everyone. The applicant fraudulently claimed the trees were damaging the foundations of the building we live in adjacent to the lot. We were able to prove this was not true. The foundations had been checked prior to its sale 18 months earlier and checked a second time when the building was recently seismically retrofit to California standards. We learned that any damage done by any tree is covered by the insurance of the building it falls on, not the lot owner. In an almost extreme act of nature to prove the stability of the trees, we experienced 3 high wind events with gusts of over 60mph during this time. Not a single branch fell.

 Local residents presented evidence to the City of Oakland in appeal documents that the removal of these trees would cause significant harm to our health. The location of the lot is in an area that suffers from a medium-high air pollution burden, as defined by the California EPA.  I learned that racist housing practices are directly connected to tree removal and that redlining is not just about voting.

 In the end, Oakland Tree Services only restarted the public consultation period after they had approved the permit to destroy the trees. In what can only be defined as Trumplican-like guidelines for the rape and pillage of the environment, the Carroll Street Grove will be removed violently on Friday, March 12, 2020

The owner of our building did offer to buy the lot when he bought the building but the price had been jacked up over its original asking price. Because of Covid and people being in lockdown, residents tried to negotiate the trees coming down in stages but it was denied. I personally wanted to try and create a go fund me, using my own artwork as a fundraiser to buy the lot and turn it into a wildlife sanctuary. The lot owner said he would give me ten days to raise $375,000. This is what greed looks like.

 My own estrangement with Tree Services for the City of Oakland has left me feeling abused by a parent. I no longer feel safe or loved in my home. Heartbroken and ashamed, I leave you with an excerpt from our Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman:

We will not be turned around

or interrupted by intimidation

because we know our inaction and inertia

will be the inheritance of the next generation

Our blunders become their burdens

But one thing is certain:

If we merge mercy with might,

and might with right,

Header image: Photo by Sara Silva, Carroll St Resident


Uriél Danā on Film ShootUriél Danā has been a Professional Fine Artist 38 years and is a Contributing Editor on the arts and other subjects for two online arts magazines.

She is an Air Force Veteran and former USIA (State Department) Ambassador to the Arts. She is a graduate of the 2016 Writers Guild of the West (Los Angeles, CA) Veterans Writing Project.

A Contributing Editor on the Arts, Buddhism and Culture, Uriél contributes regularly to online and print magazines in addition to international journals. She has won many awards for her poetry and has been included in two anthologies. For National Poetry Month, April 2020, her poems will be featured on San Francisco’s public radio station, KPFA.

A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, Uri has lived on three continents and visited 44 countries.

Climate Evolution Is A Choice; It’s Time To Stop Cutting Living Trees For Sport

Pain and disgust filled my body as the long bed truck pulled up beside my car at the light. The corpse of a glorious tree, at least nine feet tall, extended over the cabs top, making it at least 12 years old. My only thought was, “how can anyone be that unconscious?”

In 2020 alone, 4.2 million acres of trees have burned in California. Another million acres of trees burned in Oregon, and nearly another million acres of trees have burned in Washington State. These are acres of trees, not individual trees. With an average of 500 trees per acre, that’s at least 2.1 BILLION trees in California alone. Reflect a moment on the loss of birds, squirrels, raccoons, deer, skunks, bears, elk, moose, coyote, rabbits, and owls that died painfully.

Fires raged around the world in 2020, not just the West coast of the US. Siberia, Indonesia, Brazil, and Australia experienced devastating fires. In Australia, “thousands of homes were lost and millions of acres burned. At least 30 people died. Estimates of the number of animals killed range between a few hundred and a billion.”

Trees feed our lungs. A single tree can absorb 48 pounds a year of carbon dioxide and clean the air by removing gaseous pollutants through absorption. A single tree gives back enough oxygen to support two human beings. Anyone who experienced the red skies of these fires and needing air purifiers to breathe indoors truly understands the level of work trees contribute to our planet.

If you believe the fires of the West coast are our problem and not yours, our scorched air blotted out the Sun as far as Washington DC.

It is not as simple as planting new trees to replace those that are lost. Old growth trees store more carbon than younger trees and produce about 6,000 pounds of oxygen. Carbon plays a major role in keeping the earth stable. (When carbon is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels it creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas).

A mature tree removes 120-240 pounds of hazardous air pollutants per year. In fact, a mature tree will remove sixty times the hazardous air pollutants as a sapling.

Some people rationalize that cutting living trees only effects trees grown only as Christmas trees. My response is, why cut them at all? Why not buy a planted tree and reuse it as homeowner or donate it to a park to be planted if you are a renter? Synthetic trees are no longer the cheap or nasty eyesores and can be used year after year without the threat of fire. (I’m speaking as someone whose mother had an aluminum tree with a rotating red, blue and green light flashing on it in her place of business).

Those who claim it’s tradition to have a live tree should study the history of holiday tree rituals. A Cherry or Hawthorn plant was potted and brought inside in Northern Europe so it would flower at Christmas time. Pagans only brought branches in during the winter solstice to remind them that Spring was coming.

Ship owners in Estonia and Latvia put up the original living tree in a town square for everyone to dance around and then be burned (It gives me the shivers). Most cultures used a tree shaped wooden candelabra known as a Paradise Tree, not an actual living tree.

We cannot be awake to climate change and continue being part of a system artificially created by advertising and movies. Advertising has made the winter solstice a billion dollar industry. It’s time to make a choice to no longer do harm to the earth.

Organizations making a difference if you want to help:

https://californiareleaf.org/

https://www.sierraclub.org/

Header image: Nature Spirit by Uriél Danā


Uriél Danā on Film ShootUriél Danā has been a Professional Fine Artist 38 years and is a Contributing Editor on the arts and other subjects for two online arts magazines.

She is an Air Force Veteran and former USIA (State Department) Ambassador to the Arts. She is a graduate of the 2016 Writers Guild of the West (Los Angeles, CA) Veterans Writing Project.

A Contributing Editor on the Arts, Buddhism and Culture, Uriél contributes regularly to online and print magazines in addition to international journals. She has won many awards for her poetry and has been included in two anthologies. For National Poetry Month, April 2020, her poems will be featured on San Francisco’s public radio station, KPFA.

 

A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, Uri has lived on three continents and visited 44 countries.