In 2014 San Bruno purchased the site where the future Florida Ave Park will sit. In late 2016 they held their first of several community planning meetings. By early 2017 the City and City Council approved the Community’s final design. It had both beautiful historical Heritage Trees as part of the final design. They cleared the land and more than a year after the design was done work on the park had not started.
In June 2018 the City brought the public together at the site to tell them the historical trees, which had been standing on this site since before San Bruno was incorporated in 1914, would have to come down. They told them they were sick. Several residents challenged this and hired their own Arborist. The trees were not sick. The City had lied to the community.
Next the City said they were too costly to maintain. After Kron4 and Channel 5 did several news segments about this, the City backed down from this claim. Now they had given the public two less than honest reasons to cut them down, but they were not done. Next they said the tallest and oldest of the two trees, the Norfolk Island Pine was dangerous. They said it had cones that could fall and injure someone. They said the Deodar Cedar was not pretty and would not compliment the parks design. Deodar Cedars live more than a thousand years. The resident group could not understand why the city would cut a tree down because they didn’t think it was pretty.
The resident group appealed the City’s decision to cut the trees down. This appeal was heard at the first City Council meeting in November 2018. After hearing from 17 members of the community who questioned the facts of the case, most specifically that they pose danger to the public, the Council Members voted 4 to 0 to cut them down. Not one member of the public spoke in favor of cutting them down. The community members showed a video of trees in city parks, on city schools and streets that also had thousands of pine cones. They questioned why the City wanted to cut these healthy trees down, yet has allowed other cone producing trees to remain on public right of ways for decades.
They shared one resident story with the council. Tony on Chestnut has had a Norfolk Island Pine in his front yard for nearly 50 years. He has never had a cone fall and no one has ever been injured. Tony was told by the City’s Arborist the tree could never be cut down. The City said it was a heritage tree and that there were only 4 Norfolk Island Pines in San Bruno. Tony extended an invitation to the council to meet with him to discuss his tree. Not one Council member showed interest.
The group also called local hospitals to find out how many people had been emitted for cone injuries. They were told by several hospitals that no one had ever been emitted for this. They asked the City to provide them with the number of people injured by cones in San Bruno. The city did not provide a response. This group said it was more likely people would be injured walking to the park on broken sidewalks, would be hit by a car in route or would be injured by falling off the play structure then being hurt by a falling cone. One member of the public said he had researched the odds of being stuck by a cone and that it was more likely one would win the lotto or be struck by lightening then by a cone.
After the community members delivered their appeal the Council failed to ask a single question of them. The appeal lasted more than an hour and a half. The community members were disheartened that the Council didn’t ask any questions. They said the council’s disrespect for the process was proof they had already made up their mind. Council member O’connell and Davis chastised the residents for criticizing the City’s lack of honesty and transparency. The resident group asked for the details around the deception and delays. The Council failed to listen to the public and instead acted as if the community’s appeal was personal. In the end Mayor Medina and Council members O’connell, Davis, and Salazar voted to cut the 100 year old Historical trees down. Council member Marty Medina was recused from voting because he lives near the park.
A community group, Friends Of Florida Park represented by legal council is currently in talks with the city to find common ground so that litigation can be avoided. This group claims that If the City cuts the trees down they will violate the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA. The group is hopeful that they will be able to work a compromise that leaves these trees standing. They say actions can be taken to address the City’s concerns about public safety that do not require the lives of the Norfolk Island Pine or the Deodar Cedar to come to an end. They believe the City and the community can come to a mutually agreed upon decision that works for all parties. They say these trees have Historical Value to their neighborhood, they are home to birds and animals, give oxygen and are beautiful landmarks that San Bruno should value.
Friends of Florida Park wants the park to be built next spring without further delay. They see a park that pays homage to the History of this neighborhood, one with a children’s play structure, an adult exercise area, benches to sit and commune, more trees for shade and beautiful native plants. A park all of San Bruno can be proud of.
The City’s claim that Cones fall from these trees and that in a storm many would fall has been tested. We made a visit to the site after a week of high winds and storms and there were no cones to be found. View the VIDEO of our visit.