The Marin Post

The Voice of the Community

Blog Post

Kirk Knauer

Trees & Pizza: A Winning Combination

We don’t know why the Mill Valley Department of Public Works and staff are stumbling over themselves to accommodate a request from Apizza to cut down five healthy, fire-resistant, majestic trees at the entrance to Mill Valley, where the former Gira Polli roasted chicken and enjoyed a loyal following.

We—the Freeman Park Neighborhood Association—respect our city’s hard-working staff. We want Apizza to become a successful addition to Mill Valley’s business community. And we want to save the iconic trees that add beauty and provide environmental benefits. That’s why we’re appealing the decision to remove the trees and supporting less drastic solutions.

The applicant and staff relentlessly identify reasons to justify removing the trees. Then we find suitable, less costly, and more community-friendly remedies. I’ll give you some examples.

The Director of Planning wrote in a 2/19/20 email, “The tree removal application is being driven by the Public Works Department for the following reasons: 1) Automobile site distance at the intersection; 2) Buckling of sidewalks from infiltration of tree roots, causing a trip hazard and ADA access concerns; and 3) Impacts from infiltration of tree roots to city sewer line.

But these reasons didn’t hold up. Site distance can be improved with trimming. There was no evidence of sewer damage, and staff withdraw that reason.

The applicant and staff claimed the sidewalk uplift creates a safety hazard that warrants cutting the trees. Yes, there is uplift, but removing the trees is an extreme measure. The arborist’s report says, “grinding” has been performed in the past to mitigate the uplift.”

Three of the four Planning Commissioners addressed sidewalk safety on March 10. President Greg Hildebrand (1:24 on the meeting video) says, “I’m not worried about sidewalk damage.” Alan Linch (1:26), who voted to deny the permit to cut down the trees, says, “I walked the site and I didn’t see a lot of sidewalk damage.” Melanie Loftus (1:29) agrees. “I don’t see an issue with the sidewalk.”

Staff claimed the trees created a safety hazard because their branches, when left untrimmed, could fall and potentially hurt a motorist or pedestrian, creating a liability risk. Well, yes. . . trim the trees!

Then there was a rumor about the red ironbark eucalyptus being a fire hazard because they bore the name “eucalyptus.” But of the 50+ varieties of eucalyptus, this one is not a fire danger.

Trying another angle, advocates for the applicant said, “Look, they wouldn’t be required to get a permit to cut down three trees, but they came forward anyway." Yes. They came forward because they want to cut down five trees!

We’re told the city wants to support Apizza because they’re willing to incur far greater expense to cut down the trees than it would cost to simply repair the sidewalk. But in these uncertain economic times, isn’t it more prudent to reduce unnecessary expenses in order to assure the business gets started and to cultivate a positive relationship with your closest customer base?

They claim the trees should be removed because they are out of scale with the site, as if a majestic canopy announcing arrival into our community should be reduced to fit the size of a commercial site.

Rita Abrams brought fame to Mill Valley’s natural beauty when she sang, And there are creeks that run on endlessly, and trees as far as you can see. Mill Valley. Talkin' 'bout Mill Valley. That's my home!

At the Planning Commission meeting, they recommended a landscape plan that replaces the 50’ stand of four trees with seven 14’ red maple trees that will eventually reach 20’ and two 15’ olive trees. Using the National Tree Benefit Calculator ( shows that preserving the red ironbark produces greater environmental protections:

The New York Times article (4/7/20) entitled, “New Research Links Air Pollution to Higher Coronavirus Death Rates,” gives still another reason to keep the trees that clean our air.

Mill Valley’s unofficial poet laureate Jane Hirshfield wrote to the City Council,

“I am dismayed by the strange phenomenon of late, the official move to remove so many trees from Mill Valley in general. Please leave in place these few graceful and striking trees, which pose no danger to anyone and do the good of all trees: bringing increase of cooling and clean air for our environment, maintaining our connection to the natural world, providing habitat to our birds and insects, and preserving our sense of this small valley as a place of beauty.”

What is really behind the push to remove the trees? Apizza? The city? Nobody seems to know. What is clear is there is opportunity for a win/win outcome which both supports Apizza, our neighborhood, and the community.

The City Council will hear the Freeman Park Neighborhood Association appeal on Monday, May 4. Send your comments to:

Write “Save the Trees” in the subject line. Send a cc to Tell your neighbors.