City shoring up plan to save oak trees

Tree mitigation plan includes hiring arborist, wise use of funds
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The city of Rocklin is shoring up their plan to save oak trees around town. Rocklin currently maintains a $1.4 million Oak Tree Mitigation Fund. The fund has been grown by developers and other property owners who were forced to pay to replace trees they remove when developing a site. “What I am suggesting is that we prepare something called an oak tree planning and management plan,” Council member Peter Hill said. “It would start out by hiring an arborist.” The value of oak trees in the community is not in question, Hill explained, but how the city is able to save them. The arborist, Hill continued, would assist the city in developing a plan to use the money wisely and have a significant impact on improving the community. Hill said the plan right now is a guessing game. The revised plan would review locations where trees can be planted and create a priority list and a schedule for implementation. It would also develop a cost plan and a monitoring program to care for the trees after they are planted. According to city documents, Rocklin maintained an 18 percent canopy of trees citywide in 2003, up from 11 percent in 1952. It’s unclear what has changed in the last few years. And with an arborist on board, the answer to that question could be determined. The city has faced increasing public outcry about the loss of trees, particularly after more than 1,500 trees were targeted to make room for new developments along Sierra College Boulevard and Interstate 80. The clear cutting behind the park and ride lot at Granite Drive and Sierra College Drive also outraged dozens of concerned citizens, who formed a group called Citizens for Tree Preservation under the leadership of Irene Smith. Smith later organized protests at a vacant lot at the southeast corner of Rocklin Road and Sierra College Boulevard in an effort to protect nearly 400 trees marked for removal. The property was on the auction block and Smith wanted the city to use its oak tree fund to buy the property and establish a preserve. “They don’t need to look for places to plant trees while they have opportunities to preserve existing (mature) trees,” Smith said. “Rocklin’s priority has always appeared to be 'cut first, plant later' — much later.  We’re asking for their priority to be preserve first.” While Mayor Brett Storey said the city can legally buy property for preservation, with the current price hovering around $600,000, using half of the city’s total fund to purchase the property is unlikely. “We (don’t) want to spend the majority of our dollars on one item. While it may have several trees on it, we have a responsibility to all parts of town,” Storey said. The property is zoned commercial in a very desirable area of town. Wal-Mart is expected to headline nearly one million square feet of new retail space along Sierra College Boulevard. “It’s very difficult for us to transition any commercial or retail space because we have so little of it, to do anything other than that,” Storey said. “It’s all looked at on a case by case basis.” In January the council debated whether to use the fund to buy sod as well as oak trees to improve the vacant lot next to Old St. Mary’s Chapel on Front Street. At issue was the use of money earmarked for trees to purchase sod. Now it appears a solution may have been found. The city is planting 15-gallon oak trees as well as some with 24-inch boxes, which will be planted in the next three weeks. Smith attended Tuesday night’s council meeting to show her support for the Oak Tree Planting and Management Plan even if it didn’t cover everything she wanted. “I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Smith said. “It’s really critical that we save as many oaks as we can. They are a natural resource and an icon in this county.” Smith also vowed to continue the fight to get the city to purchase the lot on Rocklin Road. “It is a long shot at best, but Rocklin has the money for tree preservation and needs to spend it,” Smith said. “So I’ll keep hammering the point.” Hill said purchasing is on the table. “Clearly the purchase of land is included in the guidelines,” Hill said. The game plan will have to be finalized by city staff before the council can give the official go ahead and an arborist can be hired.