By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Petaluma hasn’t been a designated Tree City USA during the past 12 years for nothing.
Its residents care about trees — stately oaks, long-living redwoods and even the nonnative eucalyptus.
With the realization that as many as 900 trees will be cut down to accommodate the Highway 101 widening project through Petaluma, the city’s tree advocates are taking action.
The tree committee is asking the City Council to officially urge Caltrans to replace all 700 to 900 trees being removed from north of Old Redwood Highway to Petaluma Boulevard South.
Tree committee members acknowledge it might not be possible to plant new trees in the same locations where old ones were removed, because of space constraints. But they hope Caltrans may fund a tree bank of sorts in lieu of replanting them.
“Seven hundred to 900 are being pulled out, that’s a lot,” said tree committee Chairman Rod Scaccalosi.
For its efforts at protecting trees and creating a heritage tree protection ordinance, Petaluma has been named a Tree City USA for 12 straight years by the national Arbor Day Foundation.
Many of the trees that have been or will be cut down are redwoods, oaks and eucalyptus. Caltrans’ policy is to abide by the county ordinance, which only recognizes oak trees for one-to-one replacement, Scaccalosi said.
“Unfortunately, they don’t consider redwoods a tree that would be mitigated,” he said.
Dozens of eucalyptus, redwood and other trees have been removed in the past few weeks on the north end of Petaluma, creating a stark visual preview of work that will occur at other forested locations as the highway expansion progresses.
Local leaders may ask Caltrans to also commit to abide by Petaluma’s tree ordinance, which protects more varieties and sizes of trees, including generic trees of “significance.”
Or, Scaccalosi said, they may ask if Caltrans would contribute a fee in lieu of actually planting new trees, like developers do sometimes when they use wetlands in building projects.
John Maitland, deputy director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, said Caltrans attempts to replace all trees removed for highway work “when feasible.”
But the clear safety zone required along roadways is large, which sometimes squeezes out trees.
He said Caltrans usually separates native and nonnative species, offering a better replacement ratio for oaks than, for instance, the Australian eucalyptus.
“Caltrans, SCTA and the city will get together to try to work out the best plan for the re-landscaping and tree planting,” Maitland said.
But since some portions of the widening project through Petaluma aren’t funded, an agreement could be far off.
The city’s capital improvements project manager, Larry Zimmer, said any off-site mitigation plan for trees would be complicated.
“It’s common for other types of impacts, wetlands being the classic one,” he said. “But there isn’t a tree bank.”