Oak tree removal angers community

Over 330 trees cut at Rocklin Commons retail project
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The proposed Rocklin Commons retail development at the junction of Granite Drive, Sierra College Boulevard and Interstate 80 is attracting attention. The shops haven’t open, nor has a drop of concrete been poured, but the sudden disappearance of more than 330 oak trees, some believed to be 150-years-old, has caused a stir. “When I used to drive down that way, I loved seeing all those gorgeous trees and the soft golden grass under them,” Rocklin resident Janet Dunlap said. “Now it’s just stumps. I feel despair.” The missing trees also got the attention of 11-year-old Arina Brockman. She went to the June 14 City Council meeting to complain. “I was mad about it,” Brockman said afterwards. “The (council) basically put in ear plugs and said ‘thank you for speaking.’” Nor is Brockman alone in her concern. The city has fielded several complaints from residents who noticed the clear-cutting, but didn’t come to the council meeting to voice their concerns when the project was up for approval in December 2009. “The city was aware the trees would need to be dealt with when the project was approved,” City Manager Rick Horst wrote in a statement. “I can assure you that careful consideration was given regarding the tree removal.” Of the 360 trees on the site, developer Donahue Schreiber had agreed to save 23. Some are located near the entry to the future shopping center, which could include Target and Kohl’s, among other stores. The developer had to follow a mitigation plan approved by the city council and paid the city $150,000 in fees for the removal of the rest of the trees, according a city report Jan Peterson, a spokesperson for the Costa Mesa-based Donahue Schriber, said the developer did nesting surveys and followed all of the oak tree mitigation requirements. “We understand their concerns,” Peterson said. “we have a whole bunch more trees on the site than is common. We had to change the grade so substantially to comply with the Americans with Disability Act requirements (for the parking lot) we couldn’t preserve anymore. So we certainly tried to as much as we could.” The project, as approved, calls for 24-percent of the site to be landscaped, according to a city staff report. The landscaping will include about 700 more trees, many of which will be 24-inch box trees, a larger size than the minimum required size of 15 gallons. Dunlap believes that even if the developer followed the rules, the city needs to do a better job at preservation of trees.   “In more upscale areas, they make an effort to leave big trees to increase the ambiance of the shopping center.  Rocklin doesn’t think like that. It’s all about making it easy for the developers,” Dunlap said. Horst said the city maintains a tree ordinance for tree preservation. For example, the city added several additional acres to the Johnson-Springview Park as a means to preserve native oaks. Additionally, the city has planted new oak trees in many of the parks and open space land throughout the city. Rocklin environmentalist Elaine O’Deegan, who helped bring a lawsuit against the city over the proposed development of Clover Valley, feels the loss of trees in this manner should prevent the city from being awarded the Tree City USA designation. Sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, the program recognizes cities nationwide for urban and community forestry programs. Rocklin has won the honor three years in a row. “I don’t think it means too much to get the Tree City USA award,” O’Deegan said. She said she has written the foundation to complain, but has received no response. Arbor Day Foundation Program Director Randy Gordon said the city is in the running for this year’s award. “Removing trees as part of a development does not necessarily mean that a community is going to lose their Tree City USA status,” Gordon said. During its June 14 meeting, City Council approved another project across the freeway, which could also result in the removal of hundreds more oak trees. The Rocklin Crossings retail development is expected to remove 221 oak trees to make way for a proposed Wal-Mart and Home Depot retail center. Donahue Schriber is also the developer of that project. Dunlap and O’Deegan are now organizing a protest for the Granite Drive site in hopes the cause will get citizens more involved. “In the future, we may ask how did that happen and it will be because we are all so busy trying to live our lives and do the best we can while it’s the business of others to destroy that landscape,” Dunlap said.