Around noon on Sunday, Jan. 29, I watched two laborers with apparently no arborist credentials in the process of cutting down a large coast live oak in the Fulton Street yard of the historic Bartlett house at 2201 Blake St. When I arrived on the scene, the trunk was still there, but the majority of the upper branches and most of the canopy were gone.
The tree’s canopy had been taller than the utility lines, and the circumference of its trunk was well in excess of the 18-inch minimum specified by the City of Berkeley’s Coast Live Oak Ordinance, which declared a moratorium on the removal of such trees in 2000.
I informed the workers that removing coast live oaks of this size is not permitted in Berkeley, and they summoned the property owner. Learning that the tree was protected by a city ordinance did nothing to stop him, and he declared that he “hates the tree” because it’s “messy.” I told him that I would report him to the city, which would likely result in a fine for him. He replied that since he would probably be fined anyway for having removed the canopy, he might as well “finish the job.”
A neighbor informed me that the property owner had previously cut down other mature coast live oaks from the same yard.
I shot photographs of the workers and the damage, and will present this evidence to the city. However, based on prior experience, I doubt that our municipal tree guardians will lift a finger. When one of my neighbors severely trimmed a public Coast Live Oak in front of her house, neither photographs nor frequent reminders stirred the Forestry Unit to take any action.
Daniella Thompson is a Berkeley resident.