City killing our urban forest, one tree at a time

Below are my recent emails to the city about the very real long-term damage to the street-trees in my neighborhood from not just careless but completely inimical tree pruning done by the contracted workforce hired by the city.  I cannot republish the city’s email responses because their emails contain the following:

“CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This transmittal is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential, and exempt from disclosure under applicable law. If the reader of this transmittal is not the intended recipient or the employee or agent responsible for delivering the transmittal to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited.”

WHICH IS SO WRONG.  And for the record?  I have not heard back from anyone on city council or the city manager.  Pretty significant issue that one would think the Mayor, Vice Mayor, and other city council members would care about. Guess not.  (!)

Here are my emails to the city:

Date: November 7, 2012 7:57:36 AM PST

Subject: Re: flowering pears being destroyed by contracted tree trimmers/1000 block of Pacific 

From: Denise Lai

To: Matthew Naclerio <>

Cc: Todd Williams <>, Alex Nguyen <>, Gail Carlson <>, Jesse Barajas <>, John Russo <>, Lisa Goldman <>


First, I should not have to be “vigilant”.  Public Works should be allocating money to afford proper tree care—not something akin to hiring day laborers which is what this contractor provides!—and should be providing the human resources to oversee the work done.  Damage to our urban forest like this is long term, and cannot be fixed quickly. Public Works maintenance of our urban forest should not be causing the decline of the urban forest!

Second, this contractor is so cheap and unskilled that they cannot do a proper job unless 100% supervised, and probably not even then!  Firing them for breach of contract is the most effective thing to do here.  Surely the city can find enough money to pay for arborists that actually care about the trees they are pruning and the neighborhoods the trees embellish.  These guys yesterday were hack artists who couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether the fire blight was removed, spread, or the tree put at total risk from a second 30%+ removal of healthy branches within 4 months time.

Please, come by this morning and have a look at what was done.  I am working from home today and am happy to personally show you.

Nothing short of stopping this travesty dead in it’s tracks by rethinking the city’s tree care needs and altering course accordingly will be effective. If you continue to let these hack artists keep this contract, we are in for a steep increase in the rate of decline of our urban forest.

Why is the city not prioritizing this incredible and valuable resource our city owns that provides amazing value for all businesses and home values because it provides attraction and better quality of life?

Denise Lai


From: Denise Lai

To: Todd Williams <>

CC: Matthew Naclerio <>

John Russo <>

Creation Date: 11/6 9:36 pm

Subject: flowering pears being destroyed by contracted tree trimmers/1000 block of Pacific

Hi Todd,

Thank you for being so responsive today, and for being so responsible. I appreciate your work and your efforts to do the best job here.

When I arrived home today around 2:30p, the tree trimmers were clear cutting the larger and lower branches of a flowering pear. They were using a chain saw to take off ALL the lower limbs, reducing a tree that has been deliberately over-pruned just a few months ago by the prior tree-trimmers to about 1/2 it’s original size earlier this year; the only part of the tree left is the top of the canopy!  For this same tree, they removed fire blight branches with their hands, simply ripping them off the tree, and left one batch of fire blight in the top of the tree, i.e., they were not being thorough, not removing the fire blight completely.  And they were not removing the fire blight safely without spreading it to healthy branches: they were using the chainsaw to cut clearly infected areas then to cut healthy branches off without cleaning the chainsaw between cuts.

The neighbor across the street said they spent a lot of time on a tree that he pointed to next to his house, that has also just been over-pruned a few months ago, and that tree is not a flowering pear!

The flowering pear across the street was pruned just before I arrived home, all the bright green healthy branches were on the street and being put into the chipper.  I’ve taken photos of that tree for you: the entire top of the tree is still full of fire blight!

This contractor needs to be fired for breach of contract, damage to our urban forest, and clear incompetence or choosing to fail to perform deliberately (whichever!).  The city NEEDS to allocate more money to tree trimming: the harm being done to our quality of life, our air quality, and our wild life habitat is unnecessary and unacceptable.

See photos below my signature here.  And please keep me informed about what can and will be done to ensure the fireblight is properly removed, treated, and healthy branches are retained.

Kindest regards,

Denise Lai


From: Denise Lai

Subject: Re: Flower Pear Trees

Date: October 2, 2012 11:28:10 AM PDT

To: Matthew Naclerio <>

Cc: “Bonta, Robert” <>, “DeHaan, Doug” <>, “Gilmore, Marie” <>, “Johnson, Beverly” <>, “Tam, Lena” <>, “Barajas, Jesse” <>, “Carlson, Gail” <>, “Goldman, Lisa” <>, “Nguyen, Alex” <>, “Russo, John” <>, “Williams, Todd” <>

Hello Matthew,

Thank you for your email.  I did not know we had a certified arborist on staff. Perhaps something can be done to save these trees.  Although, at this point, some of them are beyond saving I think—they will be so deformed from pruning diseased branches off.

I have a question: there have been a number of times within the last 2 months, whole days in one case in which electric lines were involved, when Public Works, contracted tree trimmers, and AMP have been on Chapin Street and on Pacific Avenue dealing with Liquidambar branches that dropped shortly after the extreme pruning.  When out in the field, shouldn’t city employees be observing and reporting significant problems? How has this obvious (even to the untrained eye) and rapidly growing disease gone unnoticed or reported by staff?

Kindest regards,

Denise Lai


>>> Denise Lai , 9/30/2012 4:23 PM >>>

Hello Mayor, Vice Mayor, City Council Members, City Manager, and Public Works Director,

Please be advised that the following is taking place on your watch:

1) harm to trees from over-pruning (suboptimal) of trees because your budget only allows for pruning every 5 years

2) every flower pear on 900 – 1100 blocks of Pacific Avenue (and beyond?) suddenly came down with fire blight within a month of the recent pruning that took place this summer.  The fire blight began with a single branch on each tree and has nearly taken over some trees in under 2 months.

3) Public Works is unable to be responsive in a timely manner that would remediate the disease and save these trees

Why? Because you have allowed our city contract with an arborist to lapse

Todd told me that the soonest an arborist could get out and treat these trees would be in mid-winter, after the leaves are dropped—which mean the soonest an arborist can actually treat these trees is springtime when they have leafed out again if any are still alive.  Todd, to his credit, said he’d try to schedule these trees first thing once the new contract with an arborist is approved, but that could be late October; he was skeptical that it would be in time, i.e., before the leaves fall or the disease progresses too far.

Please see the attached photograph of the tree—90% of the tree is diseased. This tree is not turning from the fall! Those are all diseased branches! Please note: these trees have been completely HEALTHY and without any disease whatsoever until the pruning took place this summer! Every flowering pear in my neighborhood, every single one of them, started getting this disease at the same time, immediately after the recent pruning. Clearly the contracted arborist did not clean their tools between trees!

WHAT is our neighborhood going to look like when these trees treated and pruned, or lost?!

This is completely unacceptable. The City is overspending on numerous projects whilst our urban forest declines right before our very eyes from substandard, deleterious (clearly the arborist this summer did NOT clean their tools between trees!), or absent tree care.

Our urban forest is valuable and irreplaceable!  WHY isn’t our city prioritizing it?!

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO SAVE THESE FLOWERING PEARS?  If we wait, we will lose them or if saved, they will be deformed from the extensive pruning.  These trees need to be treated (antibiotics) and pruned IMMEDIATELY.

I look forward to hearing from you as to whether you will be moved to protect this corner or our urban forest and hire someone immediately to take care of these trees. Or will be we force to watch them all die from mismanagement?

Kindest regards,

Denise Lai


About Denise Lai

Alive. Swim (fly is the best). Walking with my dog (weims are the best). Life is good. Would prefer people understood negative externalities and prevented themselves from creating them. Feeling the love anyway. View all posts by Denise Lai

2 responses to “City killing our urban forest, one tree at a time

  • Marie


    I applaud you. You’ve showed a great deal of perseverance under a difficult situation. I have often wondered in recent months why our city trees are so badly butchered! It is all over town too, not just in your neighborhood. I’ve never seen our trees look so bad and I have lived here for 30 years. I used to think, why doesn’t anyone notice this?
    I also still think, what is the point in complaining after the Park Street tree decimation I know it is useless. Seeing this post makes me feel despair!

  • Denise Lai

    Maria: The trees are badly butchered because the city used to hire tree-trimmers that had no arborist oversight. Now they have an arborist on the contracted staff somewhere, but apparently no longer out in the field. The other thing I’ve seen recently is some with an arborist license really don’t know squat. Add that insult to this injury: the city instructs the contracted arborist to over-prune, past optimum for the tree. The city thinks this saves money because it enables them to prune every 5 years instead of 3. In fact, immediately after this last summer’s pruning, we lost several massive branches from the larger trees (overpruning stresses the trees), and all the flowering pears got disease transferred to them simultaneously (substandard [read: cheaper] pruning practices spread disease). Cheap tree-trimming does not pay—it’s far more expensive in the long run AND we lose our forest.

    The ongoing damage to our urban forest is reprehensible. But unless and until the Mayor, Vice Mayor, City Council, and City Manager hear an outcry, they will continue to subordinate the importance of retaining and maintaining our trees in lieu of spending the money elsewhere….like on that new wholly redundant and unnecessary fire station…

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