The first of the 184 trees slated for removal within two weeks on the Gill Tract at Buchanan Street and San Pablo Avenue was felled on Friday.
The Albany City Council had threatened to get a restraining order if UC Berkeley refused to step back from its plan to cut down the trees.
But the council is backing off for now.
According to Albany Mayor Robert Lieber, the city got professional advice from arborists affirming that 184 trees are in fact diseased with pitch canker and must be removed for public safety reasons—if they fell, they would fall beyond the Gill Tract fence into public space.
And they got advice form a wildlife biologist who said he found no Cooper’s Hawk nests, something that had also concerned the council.
In fact, the expert encouraged the university to cut the trees down quickly before the birds arrive locally and begin nesting.
While Lieber said he agreed at this point with the Phase I tree removal, this isn’t the end of Albany’s concerns with respect to the Gill Tract. There is a laboratory in the grove that is set for demolition. “We want it tested,” Lieber said. The concern is that tritium and carbon 14 from the laboratory would contaminate the area.
Edward Denton, vice chancellor in charge of facilities services, wrote the council in a Jan. 30 memo, saying the “the presence of tritium and carbon 14 … are naturally occurring in the area.”
Nevertheless, the university is planning to test for both substances before demolition. Test results will be shared with the public, Shaft said.
Also, there’s a Phase II removal of 133 pines slated for a date yet to be scheduled, trees that Lieber says are “not necessary to remove.”
UC spokesperson Sarah Yang said, however, that the pines slated for removal in the second phase are also diseased and hazardous. They are less a threat because “if they fall, they hopefully will fall within the fenced area,” she said.
But they still could injure UC employees working within the property, she said, asserting that these trees will be cut down eventually.
In the Jan. 30 memo, Denton said the university would give the city two months advance notice of plans to cut down the remaining pines.
There are other trees on the property that would not be felled. The university plans to plant wildflowers and grasses in the area where trees are being removed.
Albany councilmembers have said they believe the activity on the Gill Tract is related to a new shopping center the university would like to have built nearby at Monroe Street and San Pablo Avenue, south of the Gill Tract area. Albany councilmembers have numerous concerns about the commercial development and will perform an Environmental Impact Report on the project.
The university says following its 2004 Albany Village Master Plan, the Gill Tract is to be left as open space or made into a recreation area.
Trees were cut down Friday at Albany’s Gill Tract on San Pablo Avenue. Photograph by Riya Bhattacharjee.