A plan to spruce up downtown took a highly visible step forward Monday as crews began cutting down trees along University Avenue, part of a taxpayer-funded revitalization effort.
The tree removals on University between Milvia Street and Shattuck Avenue are part of the $2.5 million project that will bring new street lights, sidewalks, trees, public art and drainage systems to the heart of downtown. The funds are coming from Measure S, the $50 million bond measure approved by Berkeley voters in 1996.
Not surprisingly, the tree-cutting component of the plan was controversial when introduced in 1998. The original project sparked intense debate, with protesters attaching themselves with paper chains to condemned trees. The initial plan called for the removal of 200 trees, but a compromise was reached on the City Council, reducing the number to be removed: 103 trees will be cut down, and 121 new ones will be planted. Many of the trees being removed are diseased, which has created a sticky mess of sidewalks along several downtown streets.
On Monday, crews cut down most of the trees along the south side of University between Milvia and Shattuck; two trees on each end will be preserved. The tree-cutting slowed down vehicles for much of the morning, and traffic had to stop several times as the arbors came crashing to the ground. Once the trees were down, they were quickly shoved into a shredder, and the crew moved on to the next tree.
One of the workers was surprised by the response of passers-by. He had expected people to express dismay at the removal of the trees, but he found that nearly everyone who offered a comment was happy to see the diseased, sappy arbors cut down.
The overall project, which is moving block by block, will tackle the south side of University first, which is expected to take three or four weeks. The work on the north side also will run for three or four weeks, but that construction won’t begin until the contractor reaches Oxford Street, and then returns down to Milvia on the north side of the street. Only one lane will be closed at any time. Work also will be done along Shattuck between University and Channing Way.