Friends of El Cerrito Trees

"Promoting an environmentally friendly, beautiful and green El Cerrito"

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Below are published articles in Newspapers regarding issues the Friends of El Cerrito Trees are involved in.

New York Times, Published: December 10, 2004
By WANGARI MAATHAI (the 2004 Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize)


WHEN I was growing up in Nyeri in central Kenya, there was no word for desert in my mother tongue, Kikuyu. Our land was fertile and forested. But today in Nyeri, as in much of Africa and the developing world, water sources have dried up, the soil is parched and unsuitable for growing food, and conflicts over land are common. So it should come as no surprise that I was inspired to plant trees to help meet the basic needs of rural women. As a member of the National Council of Women of Kenya in the early 1970's, I listened as women related what they wanted but did not have enough of: energy, clean drinking water and nutritious food. My response was to begin planting trees with them, to help heal the land and break the cycle of poverty. Trees stop soil erosion, leading to water conservation and increased rainfall. Trees provide fuel, material for building and fencing, fruits, fodder, shade and beauty. As household managers in rural and urban areas of the developing world, women are the first to encounter the effects of ecological stress. It forces them to walk farther to get wood for cooking and heating, to search for clean water and to find new sources of food as old ones disappear. My idea evolved into the Green Belt Movement, made up of thousands of groups, primarily of women, who have planted 30 million trees across Kenya. The women are paid a small amount for each seedling they grow, giving them an income as well as improving their environment. The movement has spread to countries in East and Central Africa. Through this work, I came to see that environmental degradation by poor communities was both a source of their problems and a symptom. Growing crops on steep mountain slopes leads to loss of topsoil and land deterioration. Similarly, deforestation causes rivers to dry up and rainfall patterns to shift, which, in turn, result in much lower crop yields and less land for grazing. In the 1970's and 1980's, as I was encouraging farmers to plant trees on their land, I also discovered that corrupt government agents were responsible for much of the deforestation by illegally selling off land and trees to well-connected developers. In the early 1990's, the livelihoods, the rights and even the lives of many Kenyans in the Rift Valley were lost when elements of President Daniel arap Moi's government encouraged ethnic communities to attack one another over land. Supporters of the ruling party got the land, while those in the pro-democracy movement were displaced. This was one of the government's ways of retaining power; if communities were kept busy fighting over land, they would have less opportunity to demand democracy. Land issues in Kenya are complex and easily exploited by politicians. Communities needed to understand and be sensitized about the history of land ownership and distribution in Kenya and Africa. We held seminars on human rights, governing and reducing conflict. In time, the Green Belt Movement became a leading advocate of reintroducing multiparty democracy and free and fair elections in Kenya. Through public education, political advocacy and protests, we also sought to protect open spaces and forests from unscrupulous developers, who were often working hand in hand with politicians, through public education, political advocacy and protests. Mr. Moi's government strongly opposed advocates for democracy and environmental rights; harassment, beatings, death threats and jail time followed, for me and for many others. Fortunately, in 2002, Kenyans realized their dream and elected a democratic government. What we've learned in Kenya - the symbiotic relationship between the sustainable management of natural resources and democratic governance - is also relevant globally. Indeed, many local and international wars, like those in West and Central Africa and the Middle East, continue to be fought over resources. In the process, human rights, democracy and democratic space are denied. I believe the Nobel Committee recognized the links between the environment, democracy and peace and sought to bring them to worldwide attention with the Peace Prize that I am accepting today. The committee, I believe, is seeking to encourage community efforts to restore the earth at a time when we face the ecological crises of deforestation, desertification, water scarcity and a lack of biological diversity. Unless we properly manage resources like forests, water, land, minerals and oil, we will not win the fight against poverty. And there will not be peace. Old conflicts will rage on and new resource wars will erupt unless we change the path we are on. To celebrate this award, and the work it recognizes of those around the world, let me recall the words of Gandhi: My life is my message. Also, plant a tree.

Wangari Maathai, the 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is Kenya's assistant minister for environment and natural resources and the founder of the Green Belt Movement.

Berkeley Daily Planet Edition Date: Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Zealous Chainsaw Use Proves Lethal to Trees: By RON SULLIVAN Special to the Planet

It’s an unfortunate fact of life in 21st century America: Anyone can buy a chainsaw over the counter, without a prescription, without a license, without a background check or a waiting period or any input at all from the Department of Homeland Security. Most unfortunately, also without any proof of competence. Apparently, fools are buying and using them. I’m interrupting the series of portraits of Berkeley’s street tree species because I have had the consequences of uncontrolled chainsaw ownership by incompetent blunderers thrust in my face. Stupid tree pruning is epidemic, unnecessary, and hanging over my back fence right now. I suspect the landlady next door actually paid for the hideous piece of vandalism that was inflicted on a formerly healthy purple-leaf plum that stands on our fenceline. The basics of decent pruning are not esoteric, and not hard to find out. Anyone who commits the sort of blunders that this poor tree displays—and, to add to the crime, charges for it—is a fraud and a bungler. You can do better yourself, starting now. Trees are not scaffolds, and they’re not animals either. They’re alive and growing; they have hormones and circulation; they wear their vital organs just under the skin. When you cut a branch, cut it at its base where it connects with a larger branch or the trunk, not at some arbitrary point in its middle. Do leave the branch collar. Under the slight swelling, like a turtleneck at the base of the branch, is specialized tissue that the tree can grow to compartmentalize the wound you make. Trees don’t heal like animals; they build internal cellular walls that resist infection. Don’t use tree paint or sealer; it just keeps moisture in and fosters rot. Learn to make a “jump cut.” First slice into the bottom of the branch collar, two or three inches deep. This prevents bark tearing. Then cut the branch at any convenient point; finally, slice down to the first incision to leave a clean wound—a lump, not a flush cut. If you can hang your hat on it, it’s a stub. Stubs look ugly and they act uglier. They rot back to the trunk faster than the tree can compartmentalize, and eventually can kill it. Those branches cut halfway through, looking amputated and unnatural? They look bad because they are bad. They make lots of sprouts, as the tree attempts to recover its food-making ability. You know how you pinch back the tips of a houseplant to make it bushier? That’s just the effect these cuts have on a tree. (It’s all done with hormones. Look up “auxins.”) The new sprouts will turn into branches that are weakly attached—they grow from the cut edges of the limb below them, not the heartwood center. Eventually they will get too heavy to support themselves on that weak attachment. They become a lawsuit waiting to happen. Too many branches were cut off this tree at once; next spring it will put out a flush of sprouts and twigs, draining its reserves and undoing whatever reduction was done last week. This makes all the other problems worse, and adds more weakness to the burden the tree has in recovering from the assault. The tree was pruned completely out of balance. The bunglers cut away most of one side, leaving most of the other side intact. The tree will weigh much more on “our” side of the fence, toward which the prevailing wind pushes it anyway—speaking of lawsuits waiting to happen. And the tree was topped. The central leaders were cut off, throwing the tree’s hormonal systems and its recuperating ability off balance. This is murder. Topping a tree kills it; it dies slowly, so the criminals can make a fast getaway and maybe not even manage to see what harm they’ve done. The wretches who vandalized this tree possibly charged less than a competent arborist would have—but they cost a lot more. What they did was criminal, and anyone who hires such goons is subsidizing crime. Hire an ISA certified arborist, OR call Merritt College, which has a great arborists’ club, or at the very least, never hire anyone who advertises that he tops trees.

El Cerrito Journal, Fri, May 7, 2004 EDITORIAL by Deborah Byrd

FOLLOWING MONTHS OF public meetings and discussion, the El Cerrito City Council has approved a carefully crafted view ordinance that looks likely to lead to more disagreement and possibly a ballot measure that will refer the issue to the city's voters. It looks like a classic example of not being able to please everyone. And in this case, those who are prepared to be displeased appear to have little taste for that cornerstone of successful democracy: compromise. View proponents say nothing short of a clause that guarantees them, as a right, an unobstructed view, will satisfy them. The issue is slippery, legally and, we think, ethically, as well. But we're talking disputes between neighbors here, and anyone who has been annoyed by anything from a neighbor's barking dog to raucous parties knows these disputes can and do get ugly. Often the direction they go in is completely dependent on the sort of relationship the neighbors have and the way they feel about their trees and their views. If we think our uphill neighbors are fine folks and they approach us with respect about trimming our trees to give them back their view, we might consider allowing it. Especially if they were trees we were thinking of trimming or removing anyway. If we think our downhill neighbors are fine folks and their trees have grown to limit our view of the Bay -- which, after all, is the view in question -- we might tolerate that, too. Especially if we knew, say, that the trees had sentimental value or our neighbors simply liked them just as they were. From a community standpoint, as many have pointed out, trees can be considered a public asset even when they grow on private property. A view from someone's window or back yard is an asset enjoyed mainly by that resident. Both trees and views add to property values. It would be nearly impossible to determine exactly how many trees have been trimmed at neighbors' requests, or how many neighbors with views have decided they actually like their vistas framed by their downhill neighbors' trees all without the city ever having to become involved, because whatever happened, happened amicably. But when an exchange between neighbors goes bad and an ordinance has to come into play, a simple, pleasant outcome is unlikely and litigation is very likely. So if, despite the city's best efforts, this new view ordinance does lead to an initiative, perhaps the question to go to voters shouldn't be what kind of ordinance to have but whether the city should have one at all.

Kelly St. John, SF Chronicle, Wednesday, May 5, 2004
City Council bans fast-growing trees It doesn't require original views

El Cerrito's City Council has adopted a controversial view ordinance that prohibits planting some tall, fast-growing trees and gives residents recourse if a neighbor's trees grow so tall that they block the sweeping bay views from the city's hillsides. But the 4-1 vote -- which came late Monday night after hours of contentious debate -- may not put the nasty fights over trees and views in this East Bay community to rest. Tree owners say they have been bullied and are now worried they will be unfairly dragged into costly court battles. But neighbors who want to protect views threaten to put a stricter initiative on the ballot that would enshrine as an entitlement -- a right to the view an owner had at any time while living in the home. "We want a right to a view at any time during our tenancy in the house. The way I read it now, we don't have that," said Glenn Davis, who wants to trim a neighbor's cedar tree that blocks his view of the Golden Gate Bridge. "There are lots of other people who want to go for an initiative. In the court of opinion, we will win." But Evelyn Kiresen, who attended the council meeting to testify against what she called an unconstitutional taking of private property, said she fears her uphill neighbors will take her to court to try to force her to cut down her trees once the view ordinance takes effect. Kiresen, 71, said she bought the land where her house stands today in the early 1960s specifically because it had beautiful, full-grown eucalyptus and willow trees. She said the neighbors who complain about those 65-year-old trees are living in homes that weren't built when she bought her land. "It's always been my dream to have a home in the west with trees, peace, quiet and seclusion. I had to apply to 21 banks to get a loan back then, because banks wouldn't lend money to a single woman," she said. "I will not let people take away what I consider my lifelong dream and ambition." Kiresen said she also believes a view ordinance is shortsighted because it does not recognize the importance of trees in preventing erosion and flooding, especially because much of the city's hillside lies in a high landslide risk area. "We have this absurd situation where they want to remove the things that prevent floods," Kiresen said. The view ordinance that the council approved Monday had been changed from earlier drafts in what council members said was an attempt to better balance the rights of tree owners with uphill neighbors trying to restore their views. Unlike earlier versions, the view ordinance no longer states that someone is entitled to the restoration of a view they had when they bought their property, and it no longer spells out a view-blocking tree as a public nuisance. It forbids planting Monterey pines, Monterey cypress, coast redwood, red gum and blue gum eucalyptus. Neighbors who have disputes over trees and views must first go through a mediator and if that fails agree to arbitration. As a last resort, neighbors can sue in civil court. The lone City Council member who voted against the ordinance was Gina Brusatori, who said she was not happy the ordinance no longer includes the entitlement to a view. "Our decision as a council was right the first time," she said. "This is a view ordinance. You can't have it both ways." But council member Mark Friedman said it is important for the ordinance to strike a balance between trees and views. "We cannot maintain life in El Cerrito, or on this planet, without trees. I don't want our community going on record as calling a tree a nuisance," he said. Ann Thrupp, coordinator of a group called the Friends of El Cerrito Trees, which has opposed a view ordinance, said she is pleased the council adopted the changes. "There's still definitely some disappointment, but at least they made these minor changes," Thrupp said. "Given the fact the city insists on having this, we're glad it is moving toward a more balanced approach." The soaring real estate market appears to have heated up the conflict in El Cerrito, where the Chamber of Commerce's motto is "El Cerrito, city with a view." Healthy, mature trees add tens of thousands of dollars to a home's value, but real estate agents say homes with breathtaking three-bridge views can command a premium of $100,000 or more over a comparable home with no view. Under common law, homeowners have no right to what happens with the air space above someone else's property, unless they could persuade a neighbor to trim a tree or purchase the right to do so with an easement. But cities can pass ordinances to supersede common law, and some Bay Area cities, including Tiburon and Berkeley, have done so. El Cerrito had a view ordinance in the past, though residents say it was not strictly enforced. The city used to use a voluntary tree commission to settle disputes but decided to rewrite the ordinance as the battles between neighbors grew more contentious.

Letter to the Editor of the SF Chronicle regarding the SF Chronicle article below April 2004.
Want a view? Buy it!

Editor -- The well-written April 19 story about the conflict between tree lovers and view lovers in El Cerrito, "Unimpeded views vs. tall trees," carries within it a simple solution that doesn't require the El Cerrito City Council to even get involved. Views have value. Trees have value. Normally, trees remain on the property of the owner. If they fall or leave the property of their owner, or do damage, they can be trimmed or removed. By definition, views cross property lines. If a homeowner wants to make use of someone else's property as a view shed, he should negotiate and either lease or buy an easement at the market price. As mentioned in the article, the person who enjoyed the use of that view shed is attempting to persuade the city government to forcibly extort from a neighboring property owner, free of charge, something he himself does not own or legally control. Your property rights end at your property line. If you want to guarantee your view, buy it, lease it or be prepared to see it lost


Unimpeded views vs. tall trees Property rights battle on agenda at City Council meeting tonight by Kelly St. John, SF Chronicle Monday, April 19, 2004

When Faye Chow bought her home in the hills of El Cerrito three decades ago, she had a sweeping view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge from her living room. Her family used to peer through a telescope at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. But over the years, the eucalyptus trees in her neighbor's backyard down the hill have grown taller and sprouted shoot stems, changing what she sees out her window. "The trees have grown up so quickly and filled in," said Chow, who says the stunning view was one reason she and her husband planned to stay in the home through their retirement. "Today, we have a partial view of the bay, and a tiny bit of the Golden Gate Bridge if you are standing in the right spot. That's about it." A decade ago, Chow's family asked the neighbor about cutting down the trees and planting a species that would not grow so tall. They never reached an agreement, so the trees stayed put. But, under an ordinance being considered by El Cerrito's City Council, Chow might soon be legally entitled to the views she once had, even if it means her neighbor's trees must be trimmed -- or removed altogether. The City Council will hear comments tonight on a draft of a "view ordinance" that would set rules for neighbors who can't amicably settle disputes over trees and views. It also would prohibit planting tall, fast- growing trees such as Monterey pines, coastal redwoods or blue gum eucalyptus. While Chow is among the residents who support the proposed law, others, like Paul and Pam Gilbert-Snyder, think it is downright draconian, because it would define a view-blocking tree as a public nuisance. They say it does not put a tree owner's property rights on equal footing with someone's right to a view. "We don't think it is unreasonable to want to save two mature trees that existed 20 years before the homes above us were even built," said Pam Gilbert- Snyder, whose neighbor has complained that her cedar tree blocks his view of the Golden Gate Bridge. "All we've wanted all along is for the city to recognize that trees are valuable, too." "It's principle and quality of life," added Paul Gilbert-Snyder. "Our children climb in that tree. Our hammock hangs from it. It can't be replaced with another tree. It is part of our home, and it's 50 years old." Balancing the rights of tree owners and those of their uphill neighbors is no simple task in a town where the Chamber of Commerce's motto is "El Cerrito, city with a view." Under common law, homeowners have no right to what happens with the air space above someone else's property, unless they can persuade a neighbor to trim a tree or purchase the right to do so with an easement. But cities can pass ordinances to supersede common law. Tiburon and Berkeley, for example, both have such ordinances protecting views. Tiburon's ordinance -- which has been upheld in court -- is more favorable than Berkeley's toward uphill neighbors trying to protect their views. El Cerrito itself had a similar, albeit less stringent, ordinance during most of the 1990s. At that time, the city had a voluntary tree commission to settle disputes. But as battles between neighbors grew more contentious -- and attorneys got involved -- city officials disbanded the tree commission and decided to rewrite the ordinance. Under the new proposal, neighbors will have to go through a mediator to resolve their disputes and, if that fails, agree to binding arbitration. As a last resort, neighbors can sue in civil court, said Mayor Letitia Moore. It is partly the Bay Area's soaring real estate market that seems to be heating up the conflict in El Cerrito. Healthy, mature trees can add tens of thousands of dollars to a home's value. But real estate agents like Laurie Capitelli of Red Oak Realty say an El Cerrito home with a breathtaking three- bridge view can command a premium of $100,000 or more over a similar home without such a view. "People pay a lot for the views. Say I have two houses to show you that are exactly the same, except one has a view of the San Francisco Bay to Mount Tamalpais and another has a grove of trees in front. If both cost the same, most people are going to pick the view," Capitelli said. In the last year, more than two dozen El Cerrito residents have filed "view claims" arguing that their views are obstructed. They have been vocal at city meetings, as have members of a group called Friends of El Cerrito Trees that oppose the ordinance. Nasty conflicts between neighbors are nothing new, said Shar Etebar, director of East Bay Community Mediation. Often, more than a tree is involved. "In many cases, there is a lot of underlying stuff, how people have been approached, what might have happened in the past," said Etebar. "And homes are a huge investment for people. They are spending sometimes 50 or 60 percent of their salaries trying to make house payments, so things get really emotional." Some tree owners complain they are stuck in a Kafkaesque trap, harassed by "view seeking" neighbors who want to cut down healthy and beloved trees that provide privacy and shade. They point to the case of a woman whose neighbors waited until she was on vacation to trespass onto her property and prune her trees. Others argue the so-called tree people are being unreasonable, selfish, and unneighborly in their refusal to compromise. Glenn Davis said he was happy to replace two trees in his front yard with shorter trees when a neighbor up the hill invited him to his living room to see how the trees blocked the view. As is customary, the uphill neighbor picked up the full cost. Davis said he hoped his downhill neighbors would do the same by pruning a cedar that partly obstructs his view of the Golden Gate. Instead, he and his wife Donna couldn't reach an agreement and think their neighbors have planted "spite trees" that will eventually grow tall enough to block more of their view. "We're not asking someone to take all the trees of their property. It's not like we hate trees. We want trees, but there's a right tree for the right place," said Donna Davis. But Ann Thrupp, director of Friends of El Cerrito Trees, said the city is failing to recognize the benefits trees bring the community. Trees protect hillsides from runoff and landslides, absorb pollutants and make communities a nicer place to live. "In Sacramento, the city has a policy to encourage people to plant trees to mitigate the air quality. Here, we are going backward," Thrupp said. Evelyn Kiresen, who owns the eucalyptus trees that Chow and other neighbors have complained about, said that to her it is a question of social justice. "My sense of what is right and fair has been violated. We do have property rights. I paid for those trees. I bought 10 trees, and I paid a premium. I built a house around them," Kiresen said. "This property is attractive because it has its tree stock, and if that is removed, it will be less valuable." Kelly St. John at


Final tree ordinance could go to council in May By Alan Lopez
EL CERRITO JOURNAL - Fri, Apr. 16, 2004
Two large photos illustrated the problem. One showed a panoramic view of the Bay; in the other, the same view was hidden by tree foliage. Regarding the current view/tree controversy in this city, nothing more really needed to be said, according to resident Peter Franklin. He drew the biggest applause -- as well as some boos -- during a recent City Council meeting held to discuss the issue. "A view like that is food for the soul, it's sustenance and it's money," Franklin said. "What more do you need to say?" Resident Mike Daley countered that trees are a part of his views and that "I think a lot of people in El Cerrito would trade their views for the view on the right," referring to the photo of the trees. The ongoing debate over trees versus views was again part of the public comment session of an April 8 council meeting. About 60 people attended the meeting in the city's community center. After the comment session, the council tackled the thorny issue of crafting a new view ordinance. City Attorney Janet Coleson said the council largely supported the ordinance she drafted, though some minor changes were made. "(The council) didn't change it in a substantial manner but there are some changes to the wording," Coleson said. "Different people wanted different things." At the meeting, tree supporters blasted the draft ordinance as being unfair while view supporters believed the opposite. Friends of El Cerrito Trees coordinator Ann Thrupp considered the ordinance biased in favor of view claimants and asked the council to look consider one more balanced. On the other hand, resident Glenn Davis said the draft was a "wonderful ordinance," and told the council: "You did a great job." The draft was based on ordinances from other cities which are strong and stand the test of time, he said. Coleson said the ordinance she drafted was based on parameters given to her by the council. The language she used was based on a view ordinance used in the Marin County town of Tiburon because that ordinance was found to be constitutional in a lawsuit decided by the California Court of Appeals in 1997. Tree advocates have lobbied for an ordinance based on one used in Berkeley, or no ordinance at all. Coleson said she rejected the Berkeley ordinance language because it has not been upheld in court. "When you have ordinances that have been tested all the way to the court of appeal and have withstood that review, that carries greater weight from a legal perspective because it's certain," she said. "You can actually say the court has looked at the ordinance and has issued a decision on the ordinance and you can't say that about the Berkeley ordinance." The wording of the ordinance is important because it's what a judge or mediator will base their decision on if a homeowner claims a neighbor has a tree that grew in front of the view they had when they bought their home. Coleson said the council was largely in favor of the ordinance but a few modifications were made. After the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Sandi Potter and Councilman Mark Friedman said they both attempted to give more balance to trees in the ordinance. "My feeling was that there were several areas where it was unbalanced in favor of views over trees and we tried to correct that problem with the imbalance," Friedman said. Remaining questions about what tree species should be prohibited will be addressed at the council's next meeting on April 19, Coleson said. After that, a final ordinance could be brought before the council for a vote as early as May 3. It would go into effect 30 days after the council votes on it a second time.

View, tree questions go to city attorney By Alan Lopez
EL CERRITO Journal- Fri, Feb. 27, 2004

Many of the questions about which direction to move the city's view ordinance are now in the hands of the city attorney, following a recent City Council meeting attended by about 130 people. About 30 people on either side of the view vs. trees issue spoke during a public comment period that lasted about an hour and a half at Monday's council meeting. The council then discussed the issue for another 90 minutes, providing a framework to city attorney Janet Coleson for what elements the new ordinance should have, though little beyond that was decided, Coleson said. The new ordinance will have the same basic framework as the city's current ordinance, though it will lack the provision that the city will decide disputes between view and tree owners, she said. "The organization of it will be somewhat different, but it's a view ordinance," said Coleson, following the meeting. "All view ordinances have similar structure and do similar things. It's hard to have too much variation on the theme." The many people who attended Monday night's council meeting clearly felt differently. View proponents spoke during public comment and held yellow fliers and signs advocating an ordinance based on one in the Marin County town of Tiburon. Tree advocates had their own signs, spoke of the benefits of trees and urged the council to drop the city's view ordinance or adopt one based on Berkeley law. The meeting's standing-room-only crowd spilled over into an adjacent room where another standing-room-only crowd watched the proceedings on television. View proponents said they moved to El Cerrito on the basis of the view their home offered and hated to see it taken away by trees -- particularly ones that are fire hazards or non-native -- growing in the way. "On a day-to-day basis, you look out your window and it carries you away," said resident Peter Franklin of his view. "How could you put a price on that? And how dare someone ... plant a tree and not take care of it?" Resident Kathie Hammond said she loved nature but also loved her view. "The picture on the (city's) Web site is not of a tree, it's of a view which is pretty unique," Hammond said. "I have not heard anyone speak to cutting down all the trees in El Cerrito, and I resent that people have implied that." View proponents said the view increased the value of their homes and trees that grew to block their views took away that value. Ruth Vietti said she once had a view of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, Marin County and Alcatraz, but the view has been blocked. "I like trees but if you plant something, you should take care of it, and the city did not do that," Vietti said. "We're not asking to cut down a tree; we're just asking for the view which we purchased," said Jan Lovell. Tree advocates also attended the meeting, arguing that trees also had financial benefits -- as much as $20,000 per tree planted -- in addition to preventing landslides, reducing flooding, slowing traffic and lowering crime, said Deborah DiFruscia, who spoke on behalf of the Friends of El Cerrito Trees, which she said has 300 members. DiFruscia said the council should not adopt any law that favors one group over another, which the Friends feel the Tiburon ordinance does. Still others suggested the council move in the direction of having view easements, in which the tree owner is compensated financially for pruning or cutting a tree. "No matter what kind of view ordinance you have, people will feel ripped off by their neighbors or threatened by their neighbors," said resident Virgil Watson. The recent council meeting follows three public workshops held late last year by the tree commission in which it gathered input on what kind of view ordinance people would like to see the city adopt. City officials say there's no easy answer that will please both sides of the issue. The council will get another chance to discuss it and hear more public comment when the city attorney drafts the ordinance and presents it to the council in the future. "I'm going to make suggestions, and it'll be in draft form, so it won't be a finished document," Coleson said. "And it'll have decision points in it (for council to make)."

El Cerrito Wire-
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Friends of El Cerrito Trees Responds:

Dear City Council members, Tree Commissioners, Scott Hanin, and Dan Clark: cc: El Cerrito Wire,
In a recent letter published in the El Cerrito Wire, a group of people wrote their defense of a tree/view ordinance that protects their Bay views, and criticized the Friends of El Cerrito Trees. We are writing this letter as a response to those criticisms and to clarify several points:
1. Equity: The Friends of El Cerrito Trees promotes mediation, balance, and equitable rights among citizens. We promote fair approaches to this issue. We are not intending to polarize the community, as asserted by the view-seekers. Our group does not want an ordinance that protects views largely because our city’s past ordinance was biased against the people who have and appreciate trees. That ordinance has resulted in the escalation of conflict. The proposed alternative "model" tree/view ordinances under review by the City (e.g., Tiburon and Palos Verdes) have similar biases, and do not acknowledge the values of trees to a community. We believe they are unfair and unacceptable for our City’s interests.
2. Community Benefits of Trees: Trees have social/community benefits that go beyond individual property owners. The benefits of trees in urban areas include increasing oxygen, cooling and cleaning the air, soil erosion control, dust and noise abatement -- which have been confirmed by the US Forest Service. It is crucial to conserve these benefits of trees that are valuable the welfare of all people and to beautify the city. El Cerrito can follow examples of many cities in the Bay Area which have established admirable programs to conserve, plant, and value trees. (Examples include Richmond, Berkeley, Albany, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and San Jose.)
3. Trees make beautiful views: Many people consider the views of trees to be equally valuable and beautiful as the Bay views -- or even more! Real estate agencies also acknowledge the values of trees for property values. Each mature tree is worth $10,000 - 20,000 for private property value, according to Red Oak Realty. When mature trees are removed, the aesthetics and value of a property and a city usually decline, and can create a “negative” views for others. The definition of “view” in the old ordinance is biased and disrespects the community’s interests as a whole; it must be broadened to be fair.
4. Whose Rights? When people buy homes, they do not buy rights to Bay views. It makes no sense that anyone should ask his/her neighbor to maintain or increase the value of his/her property to the detriment of the neighbor’s property value and the community’s well being. Respect, Fairness, and Overall welfare: In sum, our group’s aims are to help the City of El Cerrito be a more beautiful, less conflictive, fair & healthy place to live for all people. Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely, Ann Thrupp, Coordinator
Deborah Difruscia, Communications Manager
Friends of El Cerrito Trees

El Cerrito Journal Posted on Fri, Feb. 20, 2004
Tree fight set to start new round By Alan Lopez

If a tree falls in El Cerrito on Monday night, it may not be heard unless it's somewhere near the community center. That's where the city's tree commission will present recommendations to the City Council that could be the seeds of a new view-preservation ordinance -- something that residents have no shortage of views about. "I expect a big turnout, and I just hope it is civil and constructive and not simply a recap of what has been said over and over again," said City Manager Scott Hanin. "I am not sure there is a win-win solution for the council ... but it is certainly worth a try." The recommendations going before the council have angered some view proponents, and tree advocates vehemently oppose alternative ideas. View proponents such as resident Glenn Davis say the recommendations make it impossible for a homeowner to restore his view because of the language the tree commission incorporated from the Berkeley view ordinance. The ordinance says a mediator or judge should weigh the benefits and burdens of the tree in question before making a decision in a tree/view conflict. The tree benefits in question include their visual quality; the soil stability provided; visual, sound and wind screening; energy conservation or climate control and economic value. Tree burdens include any hazards posed, the extent to which the trees diminish the amount of sunlight available, and obstruction of sunlight or view. "It's a pro-tree list of recommendations," said Davis. "It's simply pro-tree. It's my recollection that the people of this city wanted pro-view (recommendations). So how did we move from pro-view to pro-tree? How did that happen?" View proponents have called on the city to adopt an ordinance based on one incorporated in the Marin County town of Tiburon, which they say is a more balanced approach to the view/tree conflict and was also found constitutional in a 1997 court case. According to that ordinance, "Persons shall have the right to preserve and seek restoration of views or sunlight which existed at any time since they purchased or occupied a property ... and have subsequently been unreasonably obstructed by the growth of trees." It goes on to say: "Because the maintenance of views and sunlight benefits the general welfare of the entire town, any unreasonable obstruction of views or sunlight ... shall also constitute a public nuisance." Friends of El Cerrito Trees coordinator Ann Thrupp called the Tiburon ordinance biased and unfair. "It would cause tree stewards to lose their property values and it would be harmful to the overall aesthetics and environment of this city and could require tens of thousands of dollars worth of environmental impact analyses as well," said Thrupp at a recent City Council meeting. "Moreover, an ordinance that leads to expensive litigation between neighbors is poor public policy." Tree advocates have lobbied for the city to drop its view preservation ordinance entirely or to adopt one similar to Berkeley's. The tree commission's recommendations incorporate sections of Berkeley's view ordinance acknowledging the value of trees, an action that Thrupp called "good and commendable." However, she said the recommendations should also state that tree and view owners have equal rights. The controversial tree/view issue has bloomed in El Cerrito as a result of a city ordinance that gave the city the power to decide disputes when a resident found that a tree in a neighbor's home had grown to block all or part of their view. But if one party was unhappy with the decision, they could then sue the city, which city officials wanted to avoid. So last year the City Council removed the provision that gave the city the power to decide the disputes and threw other questions about what the ordinance should look like to the tree commission, which held three public meetings on the issue late last year. However, those meetings couldn't cut down the controversy. The first meeting reportedly turned into a shouting match; the second meeting had some view-seeking proponents accusing the commission of bias; and after the third meeting, tree advocates accused a council member of directing the commission's discussion. The tree commission finalized it recommendations in January, also recommending to the council that it adopt a comprehensive tree ordinance/urban forest management plan, which would manage the growth of city trees "in order to provide context for the view ordinance and address related issues -- fire safety standards, street tree planting and maintenance, heritage tree protection and prohibited/undesirable tree species." Two items received a split vote from the commission: including a distance limit for tree claims and a time provision for exemption from multiple claims. The council can choose to accept any part of the recommendations or none at all, said City Attorney Janet Coleson. The council is scheduled to discuss the recommendations and then possibly direct Coleson to draft a new ordinance that will come back for approval in the future. "It's a very difficult issue and it's really hard to find a middle ground," Coleson said. _____________________________________________________________________

El Cerrito Journal ,Posted on Fri, Jan. 23, 2004
No view ordinance at all is fairest for El Cerrito By Ann Thrupp, Evelyn Kiresen and Deborah DiFruscia

On behalf of the Friends of El Cerrito Trees, we would like to address these key points in the city's tree-view controversy:
Avoid liability for the city: The City Council stated at its May 19 meeting that it did not want the city to adjudicate view-tree disputes. We fully endorse this stand. Numerous cities in California have chosen not to have an ordinance protecting views, for legal, ethical, social and economic reasons. The city's view-seeking residents endorse a "Tiburon-style" ordinance. However, legal advisors have stated that such an ordinance still puts the city at risk of liability, and is inherently biased. Experience shows that view ordinances in other cities, including Tiburon, don't solve problems, but simply exacerbate conflicts by forcing the will of some property owners on others. Avoid the cost of developing a view ordinance: The development of a new view ordinance would require many hours by the city attorney, plus a legal review, costing easily tens of thousands of dollars. For what? To protect the special interests of a group of private property owners seeking a special entitlement not granted under common law? The cost is unjustified. There are much better uses of city resources. Fairness, democracy, and constitutionality: We urge the city to stand for fairness, democracy, equal rights for all residents and respect for the benefits trees provide to entire neighborhoods and the whole community. It is wrong to create laws that force the cutting of trees to enhance some residents' property values at the expense and devaluation of others. Legal advisors have stated that such a law creating a private right with no public benefit could be challenged as unconstitutional. Such a law would be clearly biased. In this city, where a large proportion of property owners do not have Bay views, a "Tiburon-style" ordinance would be discriminatory.
Community interests and benefits: What about the city's greater good? Trees provide proven benefits beyond individual property values, including preventing landslides and erosion, cleaning the air, privacy, and noise abatement, as well as providing attractive views. Years ago, city engineers strongly urged residents to plant trees in the hills to prevent slides and erosion. Cutting down these mature trees would have adverse and broad environmental impacts. View ordinances benefit only properties with Bay views, and have no public benefit. Put resources into an urban forest plan: A better use of time, money and resources would be to develop a community or urban forest plan. Such a plan sets parameters for the appropriate planting, maintenance and pruning of trees on public property, and educates residents about trees. Urban forest plans are used by many cities, including nearly all our neighboring towns, and can prevent conflicts between neighbors. Moreover, they are inexpensive to develop. It's time for El Cerrito to exercise proper stewardship over these natural assets.
A wiser and fairer way: When the city attorney analyzed alternative models last May, her analysis was only cursory. A fuller analysis reveals that most cities have no view ordinance, and that there is no legal, economic, ethical or environmental justification for one. The push for a view ordinance is coming only from a private group of citizens who want the city to give preferential protections to their properties without regard to the losses this means for their neighbors or to the whole city. In the interest of the community, the city must avoid choosing sides and avoid creating a private right to a Bay view with no public benefit. Having no ordinance will not prevent property owners from having Bay views; these people will simply have to approach the issue on equal footing with their neighbors and work out compromises in a respectful and non-coercive manner. By choosing a no-view-ordinance approach, city decision-makers will restore balance, and help make El Cerrito a better and more peaceful place to live for all. Reach The Friends of El Cerrito Trees, at P.O. Box 1229, El Cerrito, CA or

El Cerrito Journal Posted on Fri, Dec. 26, 2003
Tree panel criticizes city official , By Alan Lopez

Mayor Pro Tem Sandi Potter's report that some residents favor a Tiburon-style view-preservation ordinance has sparked criticism from tree advocates, who say Potter tainted the group's discussion. Potter, acting as a liaison from the City Council to the tree commission, had no right to intervene, said Rosemary Loubal. Neither Potter nor "any other liaison has (any) business interjecting herself into the process of the commission," said Loubal, the park and recreation commission chairwoman. "They're supposed to be a conduit. It's very unfortunate and destroys the very function of city commissions. It makes a mockery of the democratic process, having someone from council, say 'Here's what we think.'" The Dec. 18 tree commission meeting was the third focusing on providing recommendations to the council about what a new view-preservation ordinance should look like. Both the current El Cerrito and Tiburon ordinances say residents have the right to "a view" when they buy their home. But advocates for tree preservation stand firmly against such an ordinance. If there must be a new rule, they are calling for one modeled after Berkeley's -- in which the benefits of trees are weighed more heavily than in the Tiburon ordinance. There is an implied right to a view in the Berkeley ordinance, but it's not as clear-cut, said city attorney Janet Coleson. The tree commission's discussion had been more moderate, designed to accommodate more residents, Loubal said, until Potter spoke up. "We're all sort of in shock by how the whole thing was undermined by one individual," said Ann Thrupp, the coordinator for the Friends of El Cerrito Trees, of which Loubal is a member. Historically, council liaisons to city commissions attend meetings and answer questions as appropriate. They are not supposed to be an influential part of decision-making, said city clerk Linda Giddings. "It's up to the commission or board to come to its own decisions," she said. Tree commission chairwoman Jennifer Lowe said members were unsure about what the council was asking of them and were looking for guidance. Potter said she was simply reiterating what she had heard during the process. "I was directly asked by the commission to give them guidance on what the council was looking for," Potter said. "And I relied on the minutes of the (May council meeting) and summarized what I heard at previous tree commission meetings." "I did say the view people seem to be coming together in support of a Tiburon-like ordinance," she added, "and that was a shift from a more extreme position." Both Potter and Lowe said commission members recommended the city draft an ordinance that could stand up in court if the city is sued, as Tiburon's ordinance does. But, they said, the commission also asked that the new ordinance contain language that specifies the value of trees, similar to Berkeley's ordinance. "I don't think we're picking one or the other," said Potter. "I think we want a blend, and (should) craft one that works for El Cerrito." The conflict that surfaced somewhat at past meetings was less evident on Dec. 18. Still, Lowe asked several times that the roughly 80 people inside the community center not make loud comments. Unlike the previous two meetings, which included public input, commission members discussed the ordinance amongst themselves, with occasional guidance from city attorney Janet Coleson and Potter. Lowe said the meeting minutes will be reviewed at the next commission meeting, set for 7 p.m. Jan. 20. The recommendations could change if commissioners decide the minutes do not correctly reflect what they decided. The approved minutes will serve as recommendations to the council.

El Cerrito Journal Posted on Fri, Dec. 19, 2003
Council keeps panel intact despite bias claims By Alan Lopez

Hill-dwellers here have the advantage of great views. They also often have tall trees. Normally this is fine -- until one neighbor's trees grow too tall and obscure another's views. By all accounts, the problem can many times be resolved informally and amicably. If the neighbor with the view complains, the other neighbor tops or removes the trees and life goes on. When there's a stalemate, the city has an ordinance meant to resolve the dispute. But it has found, as have many cities around the state, that the ordinance itself is controversial. None of the handful of claims that have been filed under the ordinance have ever been resolved. In May, the city put its tree commission on hiatus and ordered it to come up with recommendations for a new version of the ordinance. Three public-comment workshops -- the most recent was Thursday night -- have drawn hundreds of residents, and emotions have continued to run high. The issue boiled over at Monday's council meeting, where an attempt was made to remove two members of the tree commission who are themselves involved in neighbor-vs.-neighbor view disputes. The City Council decided Paul Gilbert-Snyder and Sue Wockner will stay on the tree commission, though some of those who spoke complained that the two were biased in favor of trees. Glenn Davis, who filed a view claim in October asking the city to mediate a dispute between him and Gilbert-Snyder that dates back to July 2000, was one of those who spoke against the two commissioners. "It's not personal at all," said Davis. "I don't care who's on the tree commission as long as it's not biased." A neighbor of Wockner's also filed a claim for mediation of a dispute in 2000. Former tree commissioner Carol Langhauser, who lives on the same street as Gilbert-Snyder, also called his and Wockner's participation a conflict of interest. Her complaints led to Mayor Pro Tem Sandi Potter's decision to bring the issue before the council. "I saw it as a legitimate concern raised by a number of people," Potter said. However, the complaints were an attempt to "weed out" commissioners, said Friends of El Cerrito Trees coordinator Ann Thrupp. She called it a witch hunt and undemocratic. With the commission on hiatus and no longer deciding tree disputes, there's no potential for a conflict of interest, one resident pointed out at the meeting. But the episode does illustrate just how polarizing the issue has become. Tree ordinances around the state vary, and people on both sides of the issue in El Cerrito can find examples of what they would like their city's to be. View proponent Davis favors a Tiburon-style ordinance that bypasses city mediation and throws the dispute to the court system. The Friends of El Cerrito Trees group favors having no ordinance at all or -- if the city insists on having one -- a Berkeley-style ordinance the group says balances the rights of those with trees and those with views. Davis said the Berkeley ordinance favors trees; Thrupp said the Tiburon ordinance gives more rights to those who have views. The council didn't officially vote on the make-up of the commission, but agreed to defer the issue to the council's board and commission subcommittee for further consideration, said City Manager Scott Hanin. As a result of the discussion, councilmembers suggested developing a code of conduct for all board and commission members, a revised application form to include disclosure information on potential conflicts and to review the issue with applicants as they come up for reappointment.


East Bay Express Article, published: October 1, 2003

Trees, Views, and the 'Other 9/11'

Warring hillside neighbors have El Cerrito up in arms. You know, one of those "Not in Your Backyard" things. BY KARA PLATONI Here's the thing: People in shady hillside El Cerrito really like their trees. And here's the other thing: People in shady hillside El Cerrito really like their panoramas. So what happens when a downhill neighbor's stately Monterey pine grows smack in front of an uphill neighbor's view of the Golden Gate? More to the point, what happens when a lot of neighbors' trees start blocking a lot of other people's views? You get what some homeowners have been calling "the other September 11." But before we get to September 11, 2003, when the city's attempt to negotiate some sort of peace reportedly turned into an unseemly shouting match, let's back up. El Cerrito already has a tree ordinance, which was adopted in the '70s and gave the city authority to order the trimming or complete removal of problem trees. It also has a five-member tree commission to help settle neighborly disputes. But the arbitration process hadn't been going particularly smoothly, partly because of the sheer vitriol of the tree-versus-view factions. Some disputes went far beyond the backyard fence, and in some cases beyond the hiring of lawyers. Some had been festering for years, and pitted multiple residents of one uphill block against multiple residents of the block below. There are stories in El Cerrito about uphill residents who routinely crank-call their downhill neighbors to pressure them into chopping something down, and of downhill residents who deliberately plant even more trees in their yards just to spite their uphill enemies. The problems had become so pervasive and internecine that a member of the tree commission even got wrapped up in a tree-versus-view dispute with his own neighbor. Finally, two years ago, the commission got involved in a case so sticky it essentially paralyzed the whole city process, leaving a handful of pending disputes rotting in line. "Lawyers got involved, the commission and the city got scared, and everything froze," recalls tree commissioner Paul Gilbert-Snyder. The commission remained on hiatus until last month, when the fateful 9/11 meeting took place. "They had not met for two years," says City Councilwoman Sandi Potter, the liaison to the tree commission. "They hadn't had a meeting or heard a case. A lot of things were pending or not working well. It was considered to be a dysfunctional process." So dysfunctional, in fact, that in May the city decided to opt out. "It was the commission's feeling that they weren't trained in law," Potter says. "They didn't feel that they were equipped to address these conflicts." The council temporarily suspended the city's role as an arbitrator and asked the city attorney to see about drafting a new ordinance. When El Cerrito held a town hall meeting a few weeks ago to discuss what should go into a replacement ordinance, the meeting boiled over: More than one hundred people showed up -- the vast majority from the "Not in Your Backyard" side -- and the forum had to be relocated to accommodate the crowd. Members of advocacy group Friends of El Cerrito Trees, which was slated to give a PowerPoint presentation, felt everything they said was either shouted down or ignored. "It was like this bizarre consensus-building project amongst people who were just screaming," says Ann Thrupp, the group's coordinator. Each side emerged from the meeting believing they'd advocated a fair balance between trees and views, while the opponents had acted solely in their own interests. Balance on this issue, it seems, may be tricky to achieve. El Cerrito's existing law, formally named the "Obstruction of Views by Trees on Private Property" ordinance, has been roundly blasted as biased in favor of view-seekers, from the title on down. Yet no one, including the tree commission, seems to have kept a record of how many times, if ever, the city has actually axed someone's tree. Most often, the commission seems to have recommended a trim. But clearing someone's bay view isn't as simple as getting rid of the offending tree's upper branches. "Part of the problem is that people don't understand proper pruning," Gilbert-Snyder says. "You can't just cut the top off a tree, [which is] what many people who are wishing to restore their view want to do. Tree-topping is very damaging to trees. It's illegal in many cities, including San Francisco." Instead, tree advocates recommend alternatives such as thinning out the branches, which leaves the uphill neighbor with a "framed" or "filtered" view. This partial solution, of course, doesn't sit well with homeowners who've watched branches slowly creep across their living-room windows. "I can show you people who bought their homes when the view was panoramic and now they look like they're in caves and the one window of light that's coming through is about to be blocked by another tree," says homeowner Glenn Davis, who with his frequent posts to the Web site has become something of an unofficial spokesman for the view proponents, who have not organized into a group. "I can show you houses surrounded by eucalyptus, which some people consider beautiful trees but the fire department considers the biggest weed around." Nearly everyone agrees there are some problematic species that just shouldn't be planted anymore, like the blue gum eucalyptus, which can grow up to two hundred feet. But El Cerrito's tree-huggers complain that their view-hugging opponents, in their zeal to downsize everyone else's greenery, often can't see the forest for the, well, you know. "Trees have many more benefits than aesthetics," says Thrupp, who holds a doctorate in environmental management. "They provide oxygen, they actually help to clean the air, they buffer against noise, they provide shade and cooling." They also provide soil stability, something that should be of interest to anyone who lives on a hillside. Naturally, though, folks with obstructed views argue that they aren't against all trees, just those ones over there. The debate, Davis says, is not about the environment, but simply about neighborly manners. In a city as sloped as El Cerrito, they point out, most uphill neighbors are someone else's downhill neighbors, and may one day be called upon to remove their own trees. But some live far higher on the hill than others, and many of the combatants view this as a hills-versus-flats issue -- East Bay code for "rich versus not-quite-so-rich." At its root, this dispute is all about money. "We pay more money for the house because of views," says former El Cerrito Councilwoman Jane Bartke, who prefers the ordinance as is. "Does a neighbor have a right to, in a sense, steal that money value away from you?" That isn't a rhetorical question. Just ask Laurie Capitelli of Red Oak Realty, which handles properties in El Cerrito: "A little smidgen of a view, kind of filtered: That might be worth $10,000," the broker says. "A killer panoramic view -- and I'm talking about a four-bridge view -- that can be $100,000." But, he adds, each mature tree adds value to a property, too. "A nice redwood tree or spruce or fir or cedar might be worth $10,000 to $15,000," he says. While money can certainly buy you a house, it's less clear whether it can buy the right to govern what happens in the airspace outside your window. "If you look at the title to their property, there's nothing that says they have a bay view," Thrupp says. "There's nothing in law, and yet they feel they have an entitlement to it." As Parks and Recreation Commission chair Rosemary Loubal sees it, cities evolve over time: New construction makes neighborhoods denser; saplings become trees. "I don't think we can guarantee a neighbor that he or she can always have the exact same view from every window of their house that they had when they bought the house," she says. "The area has changed in the last fifty years, and views have changed." Yet whether or not homeowners own the view they paid for, they tend to feel pretty bitter when it's taken away. Many say the bay view was their real estate agent's top selling point. "I walked into the house and that's the first thing I was shown," Davis remembers. "It's one of the reasons I bought it." And Capitelli says residents with blocked views will inevitably lose resale value. "I don't care how beautiful the trees are; they will suffer economically," he says. El Cerrito itself uses the bayscape as a selling point, touting itself as "the city of views." The city used to be pretty proud of its trees, too. During the '80s, city leaders worked with schools and Scout troops to get kids to plant seedlings in the hot, dry community. But some residents apparently liked the kitten a whole lot more than they now like the cat. "There are a lot of people in El Cerrito who go around beating their breasts saying 'I'm sorry I planted a Monterey pine back when I was a kid in my Scout troop,'" Loubal says wryly. So what should the city do -- simply tweak its old ordinance and pray folks start acting more neighborly, or draft a new one that gets it out of the arbitration business altogether? Residents have as many answers as there are leaves in the forest. Friends of El Cerrito Trees, for example, wants the city to model its ordinance after one used in Tiburon, which removes the city as a middleman in disputes. View proponents are pushing for a law like that of Rancho Palos Verdes, which strictly forbids the planting of trees that will reach more than fifteen feet in height. And some other folks would like El Cerrito to scrap its law entirely and create an Urban Forest Plan as Berkeley, Richmond, and Albany have done, which provides detailed guidelines for what should grow within city limits, but doesn't have the weight of law. As the tree commission prepares for a November meeting to debate the myriad proposals, there's at least one thing feuding homeowners can agree on: In this town, whether or not a tree falls, everybody's gonna hear it. | originally published: October 1, 2003


Below is the best article yet on Friends of El Cerrito Trees by Clara Rae Genser (Community Folk) from The El Cerrito Journal. VERY POSITIVE and much more honest accounting of the efforts and direction of our group.

by Clara Rae Genser (Community Folk) Fri., Sept. 5, 2003

COMMUNITY TREES ARE BEAUTIFUL, magnificent. But the group Friends of El Cerrito Trees reminds us that there is much more to love about trees than the beauty they add to our streets, homes and parks. They also reduce air pollution, buffer noise, provide homes for beneficial birds and animals, prevent soil erosion, moderate temperatures, stabilize slopes and hillsides, reduce UV radiation and provide another good old benefit: increasing property values. Ann Thrupp, coordinator for Friends of El Cerrito Trees, and Deborah DiFruscia, communications manager, spoke to me recently about the beginnings of the organization, now about two and a half years old. A group of citizens gathered, informally at first, to promote the planting, care and protection of trees in El Cerrito's public parks, along its streets and on private property. They were concerned about conserving vegetation and natural resources for the health and well-being of our communities and environment. The group is an environmental network of people with a variety of interests, they told me, with a common goal: making El Cerrito a more beautiful and green place with trees. The group joined the California Urban Forest Council, and applied for and received city sponsorship. One of the Friends' first acts was to apply for a tree-planting grant from the California ReLeaf project. They have used the $2,500 they received to plant trees in Tassajara Park and along Richmond Street in El Cerrito. All the planting was done by volunteers with the volunteer help of two professionals, Peter Rudy and Steve Batchelder. The Friends of El Cerrito Trees hopes to work with the city on an urban forest plan, which would include planting "the right tree in the right place," make sure the city budget included tree planning, an annual tree planting, and provision for care for city trees. To this end, Deborah DiFruscia has been making presentations to the Park and Recreation Committee, to the City Council and other agencies and committees. She speaks of the benefits of trees: "Trees sell houses, at higher prices," she says. "Each large front yard tree adds 1 percent to the sales price, and large specimen trees can add 10 percent or more to property values." Another goal of the Friends is education: raising public awareness about the values and proper care of trees and introducing children to the appreciation and care of the trees, themselves. The group also encourages homeonwers to plant their own trees. They can provide the buyer with important information on selecting, planting and caring for a tree. During the recent Fourth of July celebration they gave away three trees, to the delight of one child who desperately wanted her own tree, and to one teenager who also won one. The trees were donated by the East Bay Nursery and by Home Depot. The Friends also ask for donations of trees from community members who may have a tree they no longer want on their property. Ann Thrupp said her grandfather was a forester; she grew up in Canada where there is whole grove of trees called the Thrupp Trees. She has a doctorate in agricultural development, and is manager of organic development for Fetzer wineries. Deborah DiFruscia is from Massachusetts, where there are "a lot of trees, even on the freeways." She adds, "I always lived on tree-lined streets and had trees in my life." A musician, DiFruscia gives voice lessons in her Melody Line Studio. The Friends of El Cerrito Trees can be reached by e-mail at or by writing to Friends of El Cerrito Trees, PO Box 1229, El Cerrito, CA 94530. Their Web site is at

Urban forest plan sought By Alan Lopez
EL CERRITO - Fri, Aug. 01, 2003 (Our Group will be giving the Urban Forest Presentation mentioned in this article.)

Walking along the sidewalk behind the El Cerrito High School sports field, on Colusa Avenue, Rosemary Loubal pointed out the decay of 20 young trees. Two of the Chinese pistache trees have red leaves that should be green. The bark on several of the trees has come off the base of the thin trunks. Four of the trees are dead, the delicate branches completely bare, and another tree has disappeared completely. What started with good intentions has turned to ruin because of lack of water and mulching, and general neglect, said Loubal, chairwoman of the city's parks and recreation commission. To have just put the trees there, without any care, Loubal said, "it's like leaving babies out here." The problem with the Colusa Avenue trees is that residents on that street who were supposed to take care of them failed to, said Loubal. To minimize future tree casualties, Loubal wants to the city to create an urban forest plan. The plan would inventory all El Cerrito trees and provide guidelines for which kinds should be planted where. It would also offer options, with estimated costs, for various maintenance and planting plans, said maintenance and engineer services manager Bruce King. "An urban forest plan wouldn't necessarily mean more trees," said Loubal. "But it would say you manage the trees you have and that's what we have not had since 1991." A consultant who reported that landscaping and tree maintenance is at a bare minimum also has recommended that the city create a plan. El Cerrito spends about $250,000 annually on landscaping maintenance and tree pruning, said public works director Dan Clark. It would take $600,000 a year to maintain it at a level that guarantees healthy, properly trimmed plant life free from clutter and weeds, according to a city-commissioned landscape management inventory. "Basically, they're 'mowing and blowing.'" They go in, mow the grasses and get out," said Marcia Vallier, whose firm, Vallier and Associates, created the El Cerrito Landscape Management Report. "They do other kinds of work, but basically they're just mowing the grasses." The report says many park trees are diseased and are damaged from lack of water or from mowing and trimming equipment. The plan did not address street trees. The council will hear a presentation about the urban forest plan, which would address all trees in the city, at its Aug. 18 meeting. In September, Clark expects that the city's Parks and Recreation Commission will make a recommendation to the council on the range and scope of a plan, if the council decides to adopt one. Park and recreation commissioners agreed that allocating more money for overall landscape maintenance or the development of the urban forest plan, will be difficult under an increasingly tight city budget. "It's been under-funded for more than 10 years, but whether to do that (increase spending) or not is a political issue." Loubal said. "Currently, the council seems more interested in a movie theater and city hall. Whether there's money for this is a big question, of course." Former park and recreation commission Richard Takahashi said it would be difficult to implement any changes because people would rather have the money go to other needs, such as street repair or police salaries. El Cerrito Mayor Mark Friedman said he'll wait and see. "I need to see numbers and weigh it with other priorities," Friedman said. "But I think the thing that makes El Cerrito such a great place to live is its greenery, trees and parks."

City may never see issue as contentious as a tree By Alan Lopez
EL CERRITO Journal-Fri, May. 23, 2003

The debate over whether the city should continue to mediate disputes between tree owners and homeowners with views of the Bay attracted scores of residents to the last City Council meeting. Those who want the city to continue to settle disputes contended that views add value not just to their homes but the homes around them and should be protected. Others said the city does a poor job of settling conflicts, and that its view preservation law is unfair to tree owners and should be thrown out. By a 4-0 vote, the council agreed Monday that the city will no longer attempt to settle those disputes. A new ordinance lacking the city's current power to decide in favor of one party over another in respect to view-tree conflicts will be brought to the council to approve within a few months. Residents in the packed meeting room spilled over into an adjacent room where they watched the meeting on television, commenting amongst themselves and occasionally snickering at the proceedings. Residents favoring continued city mediation of disputes said they have nothing against trees but value their views, sometimes paying thousands of dollars extra for them. Faye Chow said the existing ordinance provides a balance between maintaining trees and the city's spectacular views. "I think it would result in chaos and confusion in the community without a view ordinance," added Tom Pink. Those against the ordinance said it was biased against tree-owners and created animosity between neighbors. Jennifer Lowe is a member of the tree commission, which is intended to resolve view-tree disputes. She said the meetings were extremely adversarial and always left an angry neighbor. "Clearly the ordinance has failed," she said. Former Councilman Norman La Force said the ordinance was vague and flawed because it did not have a statute of limitations. "I really would ask you to repeal this ordinance and go back and rethink what you want to do," said La Force. He called the ordinance "arbitrary and capricious and probably unconstitutional, in my view." Other maintained that trees are simply more environmentally and economically valuable to the city. The council acknowledged that the ordinance wasn't helping to resolve disputes and ordered creation of a view preservation ordinance free of that regulation. The council also directed the city's tree commission to hold at least one public hearing for residents to help craft other parts of the ordinance. "We haven't figured it out yet," said Councilwoman Gina Brusatori, referring to the view law. "And I think there's a lot of good ideas and there could be a better balance (between the two sides)." "There's no way we can reach a decision tonight or six months from now that will please everyone in the community," Mayor Mark Friedman added. Council members also decided they wanted a public information campaign on views and trees, as well as enforcment of a city law that allows planting of only certain species of trees. Some left the meeting disappointed by the council's decision. David Velasquez felt the council was shirking its responsibility to protect views. "I think the issue should be beautification of El Cerrito," he said, "while preserving views." Rita Minjares, a member of the Sierra Club, said views should receive some protection but she didn't know how much. "Obviously people need some help," she said. "They can't resolve it and they need this (ordinance). They need some assistance."

Group Works on Greening of El Cerrito By Alan Lopez
El Cerrito Journal Fri, March 28, 2003

There are 50 new trees on Richmond Street and in Tassajara Park, with more to come, thanks to a project organized by the Friends of El Cerrito Trees. Families, Girl Scouts, students and others volunteered Saturday and Thursday morning and planted trees with help from city maintenance workers. Members of the Friends of El Cerrito Trees hope this is the beginning of a greater effort by the city to add more trees to El Cerrito and take better care of them. "It took lot of work by the city and volunteers to plan the whole thing, and it's a great example of what a community group can do when it works together and pursues positive project," said Ann Thrupp, coordinator of the tree group. Volunteers planted 35 trees on the median strips of Richmond Street between Potrero and Stockton avenues on Saturday. More than 35 volunteers signed up for the work party and helped dig holes, plant the slender, young trees, tie them to stakes and then pack their bases with mulch. Several volunteers said they would love to see more tree-lined streets in the city. "It would be great if we could get even more trees," said 31-year-old Alison Appleby, who joined the effort with Rebecca Ratcliff and Magali Barre. "We need another grant and to plant trees in other places besides Richmond Street." As he dug in front of his home, Ken Lee pointed across the street to a row of three mature trees that created a "canopy," which he said he really liked. "I think trees are good, especially since we're bombing people on the other side of the world," Lee said. Like all residents, Lee was asked for consent before a tree was planted in front of his home. But he offered to plant it himself. "I was going to do yard work, anyway," Lee said good-naturedly. Fifteen more trees were planted at Tassajara Park and Barrett Avenue Thursday with help from students at Tehiyah Day School. City Manager Scott Hanin said the city will benefit. "We're happy to help if we can, and I think working together is the way to go," he said. The tree-planting project is a first for the year-old group, which normally focuses on education about the benefits of planting and caring for trees through pamphlets and its Web site at The Friends, who number between 100 and 150, hope to get more grants to continue that work, Thrupp said. Members of the group also plant to propose that the city hire an arborist to create an urban forest program for the city. The forest programs done in Berkeley, Albany and San Francisco, according to members, are long-term plans for planting new trees years before others die off. The plans provide for properly maintaining the trees and planting appropriate trees. "The first step is to get a good urban forest plan that details a good process for planting trees over time and managing trees over time and caring for them," Thrupp said. Members of the tree group will give a presentation on the urban forest plan to the Park and Recreation Commission and the City Council within two months. In the meantime, $2,500 in grant money from California Releaf paid for the trees, stakes and ties. Chinese tallow, Chinese rain, Chinese pistache and Grecian bay trees were planted because they're drought-resistant, not very tall and won't pull up sidewalks, said Friends of the Trees communications manager Deborah DiFruscia. DiFruscia said the trees will help prevent erosion at Tassajara Park and slow down traffic on Richmond Street. "There have been studies that show trees planted on a street, any street, slows traffic," DiFruscia said. "We're hoping these trees will grow and slow traffic and provide more oxygen." _____________________________________________________________________________

Some Bark Over Trees By Alan Lopez
El Cerrito Journal -Friday, February 14, 2003

Before a citywide tree-trimming program was begun about seven years ago, maintenance workers responded to individual complaints. For every tree trimmed, many more would become overgrown. Under the current program, crews prune each city tree once every three years, to prevent branches from falling on cars and pedestrians and to allow more light. While not perfect, it's a good program that gets the job done with the available money, said city maintenance manager Bruce King. "I think we've come a long way from the old days, when we were not out there doing an adequate job on tree trimming," King said. "I'm happy to say every tree out there is being trimmed on a three-year program." King has heard concerns from residents, however, who say the trimming is sometimes done improperly. Resident Ken Woodruff said he watched as workers cut branches that were about 9 inches in diameter from Chinese elms on the east side of Junction Street and was concerned that the pruning efforts would make the trees look bare. The branches seemed to be high enough off the ground that they didn't need to be trimmed, he said. "My No. 1 concern is not what they've done this year, but the progressive nature of it," said Woodruff, who has lived in El Cerrito for more than four years. "Every trimming rotation, they're cutting bigger and bigger branches." Resident Deborah DiFruscia also had concerns about pruning when two years ago the small limbs of two trees that she planted on city property as part of an "adopt-a-tree" program were cut using a chain saw that she believed had been used on diseased trees. That could spread disease to otherwise healthy trees, she said. "I know it's a necessary evil for street trees, but I think it should be done responsibly," said DiFruscia, a member of the tree conservation and education group the Friends of El Cerrito Trees. However, DiFruscia agreed with Rosemary Loubal, a member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, who wished the tree trimming would happen more often. Like fingernails, Loubal said, tree limbs should not be allowed to grow very long before being cut. King said he's heard other concerns as well, for example, from people who wanted to reduce the height of certain trees. But "tree topping" is not acceptable to tree experts and isn't allowed, he said. As for Woodruff's concerns about the Chinese elm trees, King said those branches grow fast and had to go because they could break. "I would like to step up the frequency of tree-trimming, especially trees that are real fast growers," King said, adding that increasing the amount of trimming in the near future was unlikely because of the expense. He said an arboriculturalist oversees the work of several different crews at a time in different areas. That person may not be overseeing one particular area all the time but is easily contacted. He added that residents have been mostly satisfied with the work. "Overall," he said, "I've been happy with the service we're receiving from the contractor and I don't plan to make any major changes to tree trimming program." TREE TRIMMING Trees on city property are trimmed every year on a rotating basis in the fall and late winter. For more information about the program, call the city's maintenance department at 510-215-4382.
_______________________________________________________________________________El El Cerrito pine grove called a fire danger by Tyche Hendricks
San Francisco Chronicle -Tuesday, April 3, 2001

The fate of a little part of the urban forest rests in the hands of the El Cerrito City Council, which is considering a plan to chop down nearly 50 pine trees beloved by some neighbors and despised by others. The trees in Canyon Trail Park, which sits in the East Bay hills overlooking San Francisco Bay, were planted by schoolchildren in the late 1960s when the park was first landscaped. But today the city views Monterey pines as a fire danger and a safety hazard because of their shallow roots and tendency to drop limbs, and the park staff wants to replace them with native species. Neighbors who live in the hills above the El Cerrito park are pleased with the plan, as they have complained for years that the trees block their views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. But those who live next to the park say they want the pines to stay. "We love the trees," said neighbor Ann Thrupp. "Having a forest in our backyard is a privilege. It cools the air, it blocks the wind, it buffers noise from the streets below." The controversy comes two years after a proposal by the University of California at Berkeley to cut down 80 trees at Blake Garden in nearby Kensington met vocal opposition from neighbors and garden-lovers. Opponents of the El Cerrito tree-cutting plan invited an insect biologist from the UC Berkeley to look at the trees, which members of the city staff had said might be infested with bugs. The biologist, Andrew J. Storer, found that some of the trees suffered from a fungus called pitch canker, but he said the disease sometimes goes into remission. In addition, Storer wrote in a report on the park, "a one-time removal of 47 trees from Canyon Trail Park will have a dramatic effect on the character of the urban forest. . . . Removal of these trees will reduce the ambience of the park as a natural area." Thrupp said she would agree to selective cutting of a few trees that are diseased, but not the wholesale removal of an entire grove. "A few of us are asking for a much more measured approach," she said. "To eliminate very large, very healthy and beautiful trees is unfounded and could have significant environmental impacts with soil erosion as well." El Cerrito Mayor Larry Damon called the uproar over the trees "much ado about nothing." "It's not cutting them down and walking away, it's cutting them down and planting other trees in their place that are more suitable for that location," he said. "Ever since the Oakland hills fire we've been very worried that something could happen here," Damon said, referring to the 1991 disaster that killed 25 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. Damon said the city is encouraging private property owners to remove trees, such as pine and eucalyptus, whose volatile oils make them a fire hazard. He is taking out six pine trees in his own backyard, he said. "There are some neighbors who never saw a tree they didn't like," he added. "They believe that cutting a tree is like killing a child, and that polarizes it to an emotional issue rather than a reforestation issue." Because Damon lives within 500 feet of the park, however, he said he has been advised by the city attorney to recuse himself from the vote, as has Councilwoman Gina Brusatori, who also lives nearby and was one of the children who helped plant the trees in the first place. Brusatori has said she favors removing the trees, which is what the city's Parks and Recreation Commission recommended. But the UC biologist recommended that the trees be phased out over a period as long as 30 years. The realities of city funding, however, don't support such a plan, said Bruce King, El Cerrito's Maintenance and Engineering Services Manager, who was given a one-year, $60,000 budget for culling trees. An arborist hired by the city told King an all-at-once approach would be most cost-effective, and would mean that newly planted seedlings would be left undisturbed in future years. That would not be the case if a few trees were removed and a few replanted each year from the tightly packed grove. King was also enthusiastic about returning the canyon, which hugs Baxter Creek, to a more natural state. Generally, pines don't grow right along creeks," he said. "We'd probably plant some more indigenous oaks and some more riparian plantings, like elderberry, horse chestnut, alder, things you'd naturally find in a creek environment."

E-mail Tyche Hendricks at


Landscape Management Report for City of El Cerrito - Summary by Former El Cerrito Park & Recreation Comission Vice-Chairman

Landscape Management Report for City of El Cerrito - Vallier Design Associates

Activists Battle to Preserve Views of Trees- EC Journal 5/31/02

Friends Letter of Introduction to El Cerrito City Council 4/9/02

Proposal to El Cerrito Democratic Club by Evelyn Kireson, passed June 2002



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