City orders redwood removal after trees destabilized at construction site

Pollyanna Lee /Courtesy

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Several trees, including three redwoods, were destabilized and then removed at a construction site on University Avenue and McGee Avenue on Saturday, prompting evacuations and City Council action.

The city ordered the developer, United Commonwealth Business Holdings LLC, or UCBH, to remove the trees after their destabilization at 1698 University Ave. posed a threat to surrounding buildings.

The city then issued UCBH a notice of violation Monday for failing to preserve the trees and for other violations.

The three redwoods and other trees on the property were destabilized after digging was conducted too close to the trees’ roots, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. Three residential units and seven businesses were evacuated Friday because of the threat the destabilized trees posed.

“The trees, including three redwood trees up to about 80 feet tall, were at risk of toppling, and so that posed an imminent hazard,” Chakko said.

The construction permit, initially issued by the city in 2005 and modified in 2014, directed the developer to “save the existing redwood trees” on the property. The notice of violation ordered UCBH to cease and desist construction at the property, apply for additional permits and submit updated plans within 72 hours or be subject to administrative fines.

City Councilmember Kate Harrison, whose district includes the property, submitted a “time-critical item” urging City Council to adopt a resolution to mitigate damage resulting from the tree removal. The resolution includes issuing a citation and fine to UCBH and planting replacement trees in the original location.

According to Harrison’s proposed resolution, the construction permit stipulation to preserve the trees came as a result of neighbor concerns that development would pose a risk to the redwoods, which face “severe ecological challenges.” The city will determine whether penalties, financial or otherwise, will be imposed after UCBH submits the materials required by the notice, according to Chakko.

Sticky Art Lab, located next to the construction site, was conducting the final day of its summer art camp for 6- to 12-year-olds when they were instructed to evacuate. Art instructors evacuated 11 students to Ohlone Park five blocks away.

“To return to the courtyard was the big shock, because we’re so used to having half of our courtyard filled with trees, and to have them not be there was just strange,” Sticky Art Lab managing partner Pollyanna Lee said. “I don’t think any of the plants we end up getting will ever replace the beauty of those redwood trees.”

UCBH could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Olivia Nouriani is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.