Last Tuesday’s Park Avenue District National Night Out event was nearly marred by tragedy when a tree limb fell on a crowd busy socializing. The limb, directly over the food table, snapped and fell on a group of stunned bystanders. Police Chief Jennifer Tejada and others in attendance quickly jumped into action to free those that weren’t able to flee in time. When the dust settled, one neighbor suffered a bump on his head, another a scratch across his forehead and [Update] a third female victim that was struck reported waking up the next morning with a headache. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured. Council candidate John Bauters helped facilitate ACFD & Public Works to attend to the matter and the limb was promptly disposed of.
— The E’ville Eye News (@TheEvilleEye) August 3, 2016
The incident couldn’t have come at a more ominous time. At an event for the community to promote public safety, in the presence of police and firefighters. Of all the limbs on Park Avenue, it was this one at this time. Punctuating the incident was the that for months, even years, residents have been complaining about the deteriorating conditions of the landscaping on the street. Dying plants, infested bushes, broken irrigation systems, and the ongoing issue with dying palms that we first noted over two years ago (an issue so infuriating, The E’ville Eye successfully advocated the city employ SeeClickFix for entering and monitoring public works issues).
One of the neighbors that was struck was Mike Castle. “I woke up with a bump on my head and general soreness. I think it scared us more than anything, but it of course could have been much worse.” Castle also noted the slow deterioration of the landscaping in the area “I’ve lived here for four years and have noticed it looking worse every year”. Castle then followed up with a trip to City Hall to air his grievances. “After speaking with [Public Works Director] Maurice Kaufman, I was told they’d elevate their response and I hope they’ll follow through.”
Longtime Park Avenue neighbor Ben Yee was so fed up with the lack of response, that he took matters into his own hands and could be seen raking the bushes himself. Another tree further up Park Avenue also had a limb snap off he explained. An arborist I spoke with noted the inherent defect of the Sycamore hybrids and that it would likely have to be replaced. He noted the selection of plants may not be compatible with the environment and added that landscape architects often ignore arborist recommendations in lieu of budgets and aesthetics.
A Symptom of slow deterioration of Park Avenue Improvements?
The City of Emeryville approved the Park Avenue District Improvement Project in 2006 at a cost of $8.8 million envisioning the area transforming into the City’s Arts district with the inclusion of a $13 million Center for the Arts. The two-phase project included the under-grounding of telephone poles & wires, repaved streets, widened sidewalks, bike racks, benches, trees and vintage streetlights. The plan also added that Park Avenue Plaza that early on was used for community events but has mostly served as a parking lot since. For those that lived through the 5+ year project, it was agonizing, but the results were well received.
Lack of Neighborhood Committees at core of issue?
The Park Avenue District Advisory Committee was formed to oversee these improvements and continued on afterward to provide the neighborhood with a communication channel with staff & council. The Committee was dissolved at the recommendation of Council in March 2015 under the auspices that they would form a larger “neighborhood” council to help better understand the priorities of residents. Councilmember Davis advocated that the committee be maintained until the neighborhood model was ready to implement but Councilmembers Asher and Atkin were steadfast that the committee be eliminated. No effort has been made toward this citywide model since and council has directed staff to other priorities.
When I reached out to Kaufman, he expressed relief that there were no injuries and Public Works could be seen attending to the street the next day. “They were last pruned about three years ago and may be due for some additional pruning this year or next.” In the defense of Public Works, their agency was gutted when Redevelopment was dissolved in 2011 and have slowly rebuilt their staff over the past few years. Council recently approved a new Deputy Public Works Director position, two new engineering positions, and one Administrative Analyst position. They also approved a new maintenance worker position and will fill the existing vacant maintenance worker position. “We have started the recruitment process and hope to have many of the positions filled before the end of the year” noted Kaufman.