For everyone wondering about the recent chop-job of our trees on Park Street between Central and San Jose Avenues, I have your answers courtesy of Robb Ratto, Executive Director of Park Street Business Association, now for thirteen years. He kindly asks that no more name calling of him or crude comments about his size be disseminated on blog sites.

Robb informed me the project of tree removal had been in the plans for several years, the continuation of tree replacement which occurred five years ago north of Park Street (where was I?) with the Mayor and all sitting Council Members voting for the action last March. Unlike tree removal in a residential area, a commercial project requires no posting.

This current project, Streetscape II, is being funded by a Federal grant, some matching funds from the City, which had been earmarked for several years, and moneys from parking fees and meters. The project includes replacing the trees with a uniform species that shoots its roots vertically into the ground (instead of some of the former trees which had spread their roots horizontally), the removal of the overhanging cobra lights  replaced with the double-lantern Victorian lights which grace Park Street north of Central Avenue, reconstruction of curbs, new bus shelters and bicycle racks, and parking meter kiosks. Sidewalk bump outs are not in the plans, thank God.

There were a number of reasons Robb gave for the removal of the trees. Some posed a tripping hazard, others darkened store fronts making those areas unsafe at night, and now there are claims of some diseased trees. Overall, the former trees were not aesthetically in accordance to an “urban” environment.

As a business owner and member of Park Street Business Association,I have known for many months about this project, having informed my customers about it in my newsletter, “Yes, But Will Make You Money?,” but kept my head in the sand, and no one else made a mirk. I asked Robb how other members of the Park Street Business Association felt and he said the owner of the Starbucks building (not the business) wanted the tree down, as well as the business, Perfect Vision. The owner of Monkey Bars, a woman, was the lone voice of dissent. Robb said the Starbucks tree, which he estimated in age  fifty years, needed to be in Lincoln Park, not on Park Street, and it was the City’s fault for not trimming it back for many years.

I ask again, what is the logic of this Master Plan? Will all of this money and effort be returned by more money being spent on Park Street? The current dozen empty store fronts on Park Street do more to blight its aesthetic appeal and drive to consumer spending than a mishmash of trees that always matched the mishmash of architectural styles of its businesses. And what about the blight of Park Street, north of Lincoln Avenue, the home of the former car dealerships? To me, that is the area that needs real transformation as it is the gateway to the heart of our commercial district. But what really needs to change is the entrance to Park Street off the 880. Yet, as that freeway exit lies in Oakland, nothing will ever be done. Oakland doesn’t give a fuck about Alameda.

For now, we will just have to pull out our parasols, live with Park Street looking as ugly as Webster Street, and train our dogs to use the fire hydrants.