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By Roz Rogoff

About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Saving the Sycamores

Uploaded: Aug 25, 2012
My last commentary on the Bollinger Canyon Road Sycamore trees ended with a nod to Shel Silverstein's the Giving Tree, "to give some space back to the trees on Bollinger, so they can live and grow and be happy." The City Council will decide this Tuesday night if the Sycamore trees will be happy or gone.

The Council is holding its August 28, 2012 meeting in Dougherty Valley. This is part of Mayor Bill Clarkson's promise to take Council meetings to residents in different parts of the city. The Dougherty Valley Community Center could turn into a lion's den if the City Council cannot find a way to widen the portion of Bollinger Canyon Road from Alcosta to Canyon Lakes Drive and still keep the Sycamore trees in the median alive and well.

Last March the City Council voted to widen that portion of Bollinger Canyon Road, but it would have required taking too much from the median for the 30-year old Sycamores there to survive. The Consultants hired for this project recommended planting Crape Myrtle, Chinese Pistache, and Coast Live Oak. These trees are smaller, more colorful, and easier to maintain than the Sycamores.

Maintaining the Sycamores appears to be another reason why RJA Consultants recommended replacing them with "more appropriate landscaping for this roadway segment." In the minutes from the March 27, 2012 City Council meeting, "Vice Mayor Livingstone stated that public safety is job #1" At the June 12, 2012 meeting when residents came out to protest removing the Sycamores, "Vice Mayor Livingstone noted that no one commented that the sycamores are 'sticks' for half of the year without leaves and color. He sees the replacement plan as an improvement."

Here's how the Sycamores are described on Page 4 of the March 27, 2012 staff report on Item 10.2 in the Agenda.

"Median Landscaping The existing landscaping which consists of Sycamore trees and turf are a maintenance and safety issue The turf requires frequent mowing in an area that is difficult to access due to the adjacent travel lanes The leaves also add to the maintenance during the fall and winter and the tree species is identified as having high ozone emissions Additionally the existing street lights in the median are blocked by the trees and reduce the effectiveness of the existing street lighting along this segment The proposed landscaping will replace these trees and the turf with more appropriate trees and vegetation that will require less maintenance and improve safety The proposed landscaping plan is shown in Attachment C and will be presented in more detail at the meeting."

So widening the street was also a good excuse to get rid of these high-maintenance trees and replace them with easier and prettier and "more appropriate landscaping . . ."

Many residents didn't agree and wanted to keep the Sycamores. The new report proposes taking the same 4' off the median, BUT removing the trees and transplanting 75% of them back into the center of the median.

The original planting staggered the trees alternately to the north and south sides of the median. The transplanted trees would be in a straight line up the center of the reduced median. The plan is to transplant 64 of the 85 trees that are removed, and reserve some of the trees for future transplanting if some of the transplants don't make it.

There are still potential safety issues to be considered about keeping the trees. The median would still require mowing, unless shrubs or other ground cover could be planted instead of grass. The annual falling leaves would still require raking, which could be more dangerous for the landscapers because the median would be reduced in size.

I occasionally drive up that portion of Bollinger Canyon Road but not regularly. The residents of Canyon Lakes, Vista Pointe, and Dougherty Valley, and anyone else who drives up that hill every day should have the most input into this decision.

But here's an observation from the Observer. I was driving up Village Parkway from Dublin last week and noticed how pretty the medians looked. Guess what was planted there? I'm no arborist, but it looked like Crepe Myrtle and Chinese Pistache. I didn't see any Sycamores.
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Posted by mloliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Aug 26, 2012 at 11:11 am

I have been disappointed in the Sycamore trees as median landscape trees in general. It seems they start turning brown and losing leaves in some areas in August, so they start looking straggly this time of year, and as you mentioned, are just sticks in the winter. Perhaps they need more water, or are just sensitive to pollutants from traffic. I know there was resistance to removing the grass landscaping on Bollinger Canyon Rd between Norris and Crow Canyon, but after just a year, I think the new medians are much more attractive. less water intensive, and less enticing to vandals in their 4WD vehicles.

The lack of greenery along Bollinger Canyon Rd. between the freeway and Alcosta is disappointing when compared to the median landscaping in the rest of the city. I understand the residents' wishes to keep trees in the residential areas, and I really agree with that. Balancing the city's beautification needs with the safety issues will be a challenge for the City Council and residents. I hope some forward thinking ideas come from the August 28th meeting.

Not being an arborist, I can't help but wonder if transplanting such mature trees will be an expensive exercise in frustration.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Aug 26, 2012 at 11:42 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Well the unnamed arborist in the staff report says it can work, but it does sound difficult and expensive. Shapell is paying for it as part of the Dougherty Valley Agreement, but they could protest paying more just to keep the trees. I don't know if someone from Shapell will be at the meeting to answer that question.


Posted by Safe Driver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Aug 28, 2012 at 5:35 pm

All of the Alternatives proposed in Table 1 of the Staff Report that will be discussed Aug 28 seem to focus on increasing recovery room distance. Almost all of them at the expense of the beloved Sycamore trees.

However, in knowing that the time (T) for 'recovery' is a factor of speed (S) & distance (D) (from the equation T=D/S, I question why there is a narrow-minded scope of focus on the factor of D.

Why not consider that the root cause could be, and therefore propose solutions associated with: S (speed)?

Why isn't speed of the past colliding drivers mentioned in the Staff Report? I would think such data can be easily obtained from accident reports.

It seems to me (and I also believe that it is a well-known characteristic of Traffic Engineering) that with an increased distance/lane width (D), habits of S will also increase, therefore resulting in NO change of T.


If efforts were placed to decrease habits of S, then T will correct itself with minimum outlay of Capital improvement and destruction of the associated landscape.

Also, I would think that increased S would also compromise the safety of drivers turning/waiting to turn right on Canyon View and into the Development as they await passing through the guard-shack/gate of that Community.

As a daily driver up the Bollinger hill, I can certainly attest that when I travel at 35-40MPH, I am of the very small minority with many selfish drivers thanking me for my attention to posted speed limits, and consideration for safety of others, by waving me the one-finger salute.

And, in my twice-daily drive during the heaviest of commute hours I NEVER have seen the presence of a Patrol officer.

Can the addition of 'Bots Dots' be added across the lanes 'reminding' drivers of the posted speed? Certainly the 40MPH sign immediately proceeding the 35MPH warning is likely adding to some confusion of common sense that narrow/restricted lanes can impose on alert drivers.

Or perhaps the addition of 'Bots Dots' + a radar speed measurement sign + Patrol Officer enforcement during heavy commute hours.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Aug 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Safe Driver,

I recall that the speed issue came up a lot at the June 12, 2012 meeting at when the "Bollinger Canyon Road Operational Improvements" were discussed.

Here's what the traffic consultant and Police Chief said about it in the minutes of that meeting. "Mr. Bornstein stated that there was only one speeding accident. The most common source of accidents for drivers is not maintaining their lane. Chief Holder stated that only one accident was attributed to speed but he did not know how fast the vehicle was traveling."

Chief Holder answered residents about reducing the speed limit, "in order to enforce speed laws, the road needs to be surveyed by a traffic engineer. A posted roadway sign of 25 mph is not enforceable under the California Vehicle Code. The speed limit can only be enforced relative to a valid traffic engineering survey."

So these are answers to your charge that speeding is causing the problem. The best course of action now appears to be to demand the city conduct a traffic survey, put "slow down" warning signs before the speed limit changes from 40 mph to 35 mph, and put an officer at the top of the hill for a few months to ticket speeders.


Posted by Safe Driver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Aug 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Distance = Speed x Time
If a driver diverted to be 1 foot out of their lane, they would have 43% more time to realize that and make appropriate correction if they were driving the required 35MPH vs, for example 50MPH.
When I drive 35MPH, me and the one-finger-salute drivers behind me are the only ones driving that speed.
When I drive 40MPH, the same think happens..and the others wiz by at a speed that is at least 50MPH (since it only takes them a fraction of a second to pass my car length D=SxT).

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Aug 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

I was at the City Council meeting last night. The Express had a reporter there too, so she will write the news story on it. Transplanting the trees isn't the preferred option right now. Moving the bicycle path to the golf course or somewhere else is gaining speed.

Speed also came up as a cause of the accidents or another reason to widen the street. Several speakers claimed that Shapell is behind the street widening to keep the road from becoming a bottleneck for their new development of 3000 homes. I haven't confirmed this assertion yet. The Police Chief insists that drivers' speed isn't causing the accidents.

My concern is not for the safety or lives of the Sycamores but for the lives and safety of people on the bike and walking path. Councilmen Dave Hudson and Jim Livingstone also feel that the sidewalk is potentially dangerous and should be moved.

Bill Meine recommended adding another road from Alcosta to Dougherty Valley through the PG&E easement. I've been looking on Google maps to find an alternate route to put a bike & hike path. Both of these ideas are good and could be combined into a safe alternate road with a safe alternate sidewalk and bicycle path. Then that 8' sidewalk on Bollinger could be removed, which would widen the street without touching the median.

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