1,000 trees to fall along Caltrain line; will history repeat itself?


Daily Post Editor

Palo Altans were in an uproar in September 2009 when the city chopped down 63 mature trees along California Avenue.

The view people had become accustomed to seeing everyday was gone, and people were livid. They compared the commercial area called Cal Ave to anyplace in Sunnyvale, a city not known for its tree canopy.

Furious residents packed City Council meetings. “I have not seen such a level of uncivil email to my inbox in 12 years of public service,” then-councilman John Barton said.

The angry reaction should have been anticipated by city officials. Mid-Peninsula residents love their trees. They provide shade and make our concrete cities livable. They give them names. They demand developers save mature trees as a condition of getting a building permit.

Poles and overhead wires

With that in mind, I’m concerned that history will soon repeat itself when Caltrain removes 1,000 trees along the tracks as it switches from diesel to electric trains.

Work should begin in the next few weeks and Caltrain expects to be running electric trains by 2021. The $2 billion electrification project requires Caltrain to put up poles 30 to 50 feet tall that will hold catenary lines from which the trains will draw electricity. Caltrain says electrification will result in faster trains, enabling it to increase ridership capacity while reducing air pollution.

Along with chopping down 1,000 trees, Caltrain will trim another 3,200 trees.

When the electrification project was in the planning stages in 2014, the cities of Palo Alto and Mountain View raised concerns about the number of trees that would be chopped down down.

Whither El Palo Alto

Palo Alto officials said that the city will lose 177 trees and the historic El Palo Alto tree would have to be trimmed.

The 1,000-year-old tree, located near where Alma Street turns into El Camino Real, is featured on both the city and Stanford University seal.

The old tree is fragile and I hope the tree trimmers are particularly careful when they trim it. It’s suffered a lot over the years and seems to be barely surviving.

Mountain View said it will lose 284 trees with electrification, and another 292 trees will be trimmed.

Mountain View, in its response to the electrification project’s environmental impact statement, said the trees serve as a “major visual buffer” to the railroad, and their loss would increase noise and make the area less attractive.

Pruning won’t help much either, Mountain View said, as it will expose the new poles and overhead lines.

When Palo Alto and Mountain View officials lodged their objections to the tree removal in 2014, the electrification project seemed like it was a long way away. Now we’re just weeks away. One thousand trees is considerably more than the 63 trees the city cut down on California Avenue. I wonder if the reaction this time will be larger, as well.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].