City Council Regular Meeting


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Meeting Date: 09/15/2021  
From: Daniel Gho

1.  Hold a de novo public hearing for tree removal permit application 21-199, 
2.  Approve Tree Permit 21-199, with findings, allowing the removal of one American Elm at Jewel Park, overturning the August 17, 2021 decision of the Beautification and Natural Resource Commission (BNRC) to uphold the Tree Appeal, submitted by Patrica Purwin and Charles Schwartz  
Urban forest management is the application of appropriate technical forestry principles, practices, and techniques while balancing the safety of the community, as is the case with the subject tree, a Ulmus Americana (Elm) located at Jewell Park within the City of Pacific Grove’s Property. The subject tree has been requested for removal by the Pacific Grove Public Works Department, based on condition of the tree, damage to the surrounding asphalt, sidewalk and nearby water lines. 

The Public Works Department has been monitoring the elm tree for over 20 years, repairing the sidewalk and roadway in the location numerous times because of heaving caused by the roots of this tree, but also to limit liability that could be caused by a trip and fall on the sidewalk.  Through the years, each time the sidewalk was replaced, roots would have to be removed or shaved to accommodate the necessary standards set forth to meet proper ADA compliance.  The City can no longer assume this risk, and all sidewalk repair options have been exhausted.  

The Public Works Department requested that the City Arborist review the Elm, located on the eastern side of Forest Avenue, between Central Avenue and Park Street, on the boarder of Jewell Park.  A level 2 assessment was performed by the City Arborist.  The Level 2 assessment is a 360-degree visual evaluation of a tree where the crown, trunk, trunk flare, above ground roots, and site conditions are evaluated in regard to targets.  Ultimately, the City Arborist's report, produced from the Level 2 assessment, determined the tree was in poor condition with a high hazard rating, and needed to be removed.  

Subsequently, the Public Works Department commenced the tree removal process under Permit 21-199. The removal was appealed to the BNRC by Charles Schwartz and Patricia Purwin. The BNRC upheld the appeal, denying the removal. Due to the immediate safety and liability concerns, City Staff has appealed the decision to the City Council requesting a de novo public hearing and authorization to remove the tree in question. 

A detailed timeline of events, overview of the City Arborist's findings, and an account of the various options explored is provided below.  


July 11, 2021: A request was made by City of Pacific Grove Construction Supervisor Emilio Alcaraz to remove one subject tree for repairs to the street and sidewalk. 

July 12, 2021: The tree and surrounding area was assessed. A permit for tree removal (21-199) was completed; the tree was posted as required by the City code.(Attachment 1 and 2).

July 16, 2021: The removal of the sidewalk and street occurred and exposed surface root masses, with some roots ~3 inches in diameter. The Level 2 assessment was performed and identified: 
  • A cavity at the base of the tree on the southwest side 
  • A larger cavity, approximately 12 inches in size, was detected above a smaller visible cavity. 
  • Internal defects, denoted by the flat root collar on east and west sides. 
  • Circling roots due to restrictions of growing space on the west side.  
  • Beginning stages of decay below the cavity into the root collar. 
July 17, 2021:  Following the Level 2 assessment, an arborist report was prepared for one American Elm, located at Jewell Park in Pacific Grove by City Arborist Albert Weisfuss, ISA Certified Arborist #1388 (Attachment 3).  

July 22, 2021: An appeal was submitted by Charles Schwartz and Patricia Purwin, claiming the tree is heathy and thriving and that repair options should be explored. (Attachment 4). 

August 17, 2021:  The appeal was heard before the BNRC, for Permit 21-199. A motion was made to deny the appeal and allow for the removal of the subject tree.  The motion failed 3-4. No counter motion was made and the appeal was upheld by the BNRC, rejecting the application for removal. 

August 24, 2021:  Public Works submitted an appeal of BNRC decision (Attachment 5). 

August 24, 2021:  The subject tree was posted with details pertaining to the City Council appeal (Attachment 6) and the original appellants (Charles Schwartz and Patricia Purwin) were notified.  

Arborist Report Findings 
The elm tree is noted to have a diameter of 29 inches, approximate height is 40 feet with a canopy of 30 feet.  The tree is noted as poor condition with a high hazard rating.  The arborist report evaluates the tree using three main categories, Mitigation, Target Management, and Site Modification.     


Mitigation is the process of reducing risk. Mitigation measures to reduce risk can be arboriculture or target based. Arboriculture is the practice to reduce the likelihood of failure, while target-based is the practice to reduce the consequences of failure and impact. 

1. Prune roots and reinstall sidewalk and street asphalt to original grade and be ADA compliant. 
  • Response: Arboriculture mitigation of the subject tree will not support overall residual risk. Extensive root pruning would be required to meet the proper compaction and grade to install sidewalk and street in the current location.  This action is not recommended as additional root pruning would further degrade the stability of the tree. 
2. Relocate the sidewalk east. 
  • Response: Relocation of the sidewalk to the east would require soil removal to meet required compaction, slope requirements and installation of concrete. This would also impact roots of a second tree, a Pinus radiata in fair to poor condition. The is not advised due to the condition and possible removal of supporting buttress roots of the Pinus radiata.  This action would severely impact additional trees, and is not recommended. 
3. Relocate the sidewalk west. 
  • Response: Relocation of the sidewalk to the west would require removal of two parking spaces directly under the subject tree. It would also place pedestrians into the traffic lane creating a potential risk. This action is very expensive, would create the loss of parking in a very busy location nearby the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum, City Library, Chamber of Commerce, and Farmers' Market, and would shift pedestrians under the subject tree that has known deficiencies.  Moving the sidewalk west is not recommended.   
Recommendation: Using the Mitigation method, removal of the tree is the recommendation. 
Target Management :
Target management strategies entail moving targets within the target zone either temporarily or permanently. Target Management solutions have the lowest impact to the tree.  
Options: There are no viable target management options. Removal of parking spaces (targets) to reduce risk is not advisable. This will not support mitigation of      needed street and sidewalk damage and repairs. 
Recommendation: Using target Management as a method results in no mitigation. Removal of the tree is the recommendation. 
Site Modification:
Site modification tactics entail modifying the site to improve growing conditions for the tree. 
Options: Treating the soil to improve growing conditions. The subject tree does not indicate that low soil nutrients are present. 
Recommendation: Site treatment will not support the current condition of the tree. Removal of the tree is the recommendation. 

Retention of the Tree 

Retention of the subject tree is not recommended based on the following: 
  • Failing condition of the subject tree 
  • Damage to sidewalk and street.    
  • Risk of failure from decay and poor rooting due to space restrictions which entails significant risk management and safety issues 
Options Explored 
Staff evaluated all other options to retain the subject tree. None of the options proved to be viable: 
  • Moving the sidewalk easterly. This option was not recommended as it would greatly impact other trees and their root zones  
  • Removal of two parking spaces and shifting the sidewalk towards the vehicle travel lane.  This is not recommended as the sidewalk is adjacent to a park where the kids, residents, visitors and farmers market patrons frequent walk and would force pedestrians toward the vehicle travel lane.  
  • Cut back the sidewalk and try to obtain the legal slope of the sidewalk, bridging the sidewalk over the tree roots.  This option has been administered in the past, twice, and the City can not perform additional root trimming or shaving.  In addition to the already noted deficiencies, additional pruning and shaving of the roots, would greatly compromise the integrity of the tree. This is not recommended.   
Summary and Conclusion: 

Although the canopy indicates a tree in good condition, the subject tree was viewed in poor health with advanced decay present in the trunk and developing into the root collar and supporting root system. The topography within the canopy of the tree is raised on the east side with the subject tree leaning to the west. Past repairs to the sidewalk has included root pruning to the subject tree. Repairs and root pruning have occurred on more than one occasion and has contributed to the shifting of the root plate. The lack of grow space to the west side has restricted proper root development adding to the current poor condition rating. 

Because the tree is located within the sidewalk in a community park, the use under and around the subject tree is significant, increasing the risk of impact and consequences if failure were to occur. There are numerous targets that could be impacted if the tree failed, including parked vehicles, pedestrians on both sides of the sidewalk and within the park, vehicles traveling both north and south bound on Forest Avenue, and houses. 

It is recommended that the subject tree be removed and replaced with a large specimen tree within the park that would allow for proper development.  
The City has no other options but to remove the tree.  This tree has a significant risk rating and is a liability for the City.  Per Pacific Grove Municipal Code section 12.20.040, Pruning or Removal of Protected Trees, this removal is an allowable action.  The PGMC sets forth acceptable criteria for removal of a Protected Tree include (1) risk assessment level of high or extreme, (2) damage caused or threatened by the tree, (3) tree removal is necessary due to wildfire risk, or (4) the tree is determined to be a nuisance and there are not more cost-effecrtive remedial solutions.

Staff would recommend removal of this tree in any situation, both private and public, as it poses a significant risk.   
If other viable options were available, they would implement those and retain the tree, but the condition of the tree prompt that the City must reduce the risk and liability, and reconstruct the sidewalk and roadway.  
  1. Do not allow the removal of the subject tree.  If the City Council opts to not allow for the removal of the American Elm, Staff requests direction on how the impacted sidewalk shall be installed.  Public Works has evaluated all viable options for installation of the sidewalk. Tree removal is the only option that will provide a safe and compliant sidewalk.   
  2. If tree removal is not authorized, and no direction is provided with regards to the sidewalk, City Staff has no choice except to shave additional roots, replace the sidewalk back at its current location, and hope that the subject tree does not fail and cause damage to houses, cars or persons in the park, traveling in vehicles or walking on the sidewalk. This would create an unsafe condition and potential liability for the City.   
Cost associated with tree removal and sidewalk replacement will be derived from the Public Works operating budget.
GOAL ALIGNMENT: Not Applicable.
Jewell Tree Permit 21-199
Public Notice of Permit
Arborist Report
BNRC Appeal
City Council Appeal
City Council Appeal Notification


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