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    Albany City Council votes to slow down UC’s tree-cutting project

    Gill tract extractor

    An extractor has been sent by UC’s contractor, ready to cut down 184 Monterey pines at the Gill Tract in Albany next week. Photo by Linjun Fan.

    Albany urged University of California at Berkeley to suspend its plan to cut down several hundred pines on the Gill Tract, otherwise it would seek a court injunction to intervene, according to a resolution passed unanimously at the Albany City Council Tuesday.

    None of the five City Councilmembers were convinced by the university’s argument that it’s necessary to cut down 184 Monterey pines on the tract immediately because many of them are infected with the tree disease pitch canker and jeopardize public safety.

    The Councilmembers criticized the university for giving them short notice on the tree removal project, which is scheduled to start next Monday, Jan 28.

    “This comes up so suddenly, ” said Councilmember Marge Atkinson. “There is not an involvement of the community. “

    University staff said that they had informed Albany city staff in advance, and that they didn’t give earlier notice because the funds for the tree removal project wasn’t allocated until December.

    Albany Councilmembers also questioned whether the university had fulfilled its obligations under California Environmental Quality Act before clearing the pine grove, which they regarded as a wildlife habitat.

    The University needs to submit an environmental impact report on the project to California Department of Fish and Game, or apply for an exemption, according Diane Harais, a supervisor of the agency.

    But it has not submitted any document to the agency yet, maintaining that it’s adequate for it to send a notice of exemption to the state Office of Planning and Research, which was done last week.

    Albany Councilmember Joanne Wile said that she was concerned for the Cooper’s Hawks that were found to be nesting at the pine grove in the past several years.

    “They are considered as species of special concern, so it’s really illegal to be disturbing nesting sites of the Cooper’s Hawks, ” Wile said.

    About four fledglings of Cooper’s Hawks were nurtured at the pine grove each year since 2004, according to Albany resident Ralph Pericoli, who has been keeping track of the hawks on the site for a raptor protection group.

    Pericoli said that the hawks’ nesting season starts as early as mid January. But Jim Horner, campus landscape architect of the University, contended that the hawks don’t normally start nesting until late February, citing a research paper published in 2003.

    The University doesn’t need to conduct wildlife surveys prior to construction activities in non-nesting season of August through February, according to Jennifer McDougall, planner of the University, citing a 2004 environmental impact report.

    Another disagreement was on what to plant on the site after the pine removal. The University said that it would hydro-seed the land when the Monterey pines are gone, but Albany wants it to plant new trees there.

    “A reasonable person would expect that Fish and Game specifies that there ought to be replacement of the trees, not just removal, ” said Councilmember Farid Javandel.

    Speakers from the audience, most of whom were Albany residents, overwhelmingly opposed the tree-cutting plan. Some expressed suspicion of the University’s intention.

    “It strikes me as odd that the University comes forward with the plan of removal of the trees just the same time they come forward with a plan to put on commercial development along San Pablo, ” said Robert Cheasty, former mayor of Albany and Chairman of Solano Avenue Association.

    The University says in a recent public notice that the land planned for commercial development is located south of the tree site.

    Albany City Attorney Robert Zweben is negotiating with the University trying to postpone the tree-cutting project for at least several weeks.

    The University hasn’t changed its position and will start the tree removal next Monday if the weather allows, according to Sarah Yang, a public information representative of the University.

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