Patrice Vecchione, Walkabout Town: Standing up for trees in Pacific Grove

One tree leads to another tree.

If you’re lucky, your way is lined by them and their birds that have been proven to increase human happiness. Of course, trees themselves not only make us happy but help keep us alive by giving us oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. And they slow the rate of global warming. No small feats. As the poet Octavio Paz wrote, “Trees heavy with birds hold/ the afternoon up with their hands.”

Perhaps you too have tried holding up an afternoon. Without a canopy of leaves and a flock of birds, it’s pretty well impossible.

Last month, this column highlighted a stately oak that is thriving on Fort Ord land surrounded by others. Today, I’d like to turn our attention to a proposed project that would take down 79 trees, some of which are indeed stately and have grown in their places over many decades. Almost anybody who has done no harm while remaining upright of their own accord for seven or eight decades while serving their community deserves more than a little attention, more than a little respect. Or so anyone with half a heart and half a brain would think.

Trees provide shade, especially tall, wide ones, and this helps lower air temperatures, and the shade, by slowing down evaporation, helps save water. Both these things alone help areas cope with climate change. During storms trees break the rainfall which reduces water runoff, preventing stormwater from carrying pollutants to the ocean, especially important work that’s done by some of the trees slated for the chopping block. Even in a city, trees offer wildlife habitat and food. Trees aren’t just adornment to give us pleasure. People need them for their emotional well-being, not only for the birds who sing in their branches. Studies have demonstrated that trees themselves help us regulate our moods and can lift us from despair.

The trees at imminent risk include “protected” cypress, eucalyptus and coastal live oaks that thrive within the 5 acres around the historic American Tin Cannery. Those trees are threatened by the city of Pacific Grove and the developer of the proposed 225-room resort hotel that includes plans for 20,000 feet of retail space — restaurant, bars and meeting rooms. The developer says they’ll replace the downed trees with new ones. A long-lived tree can no more be replaced by a sapling than an old friend can be by a new one.

To my way of thinking, the killing of the trees would be one big, irreparable mistake, but the project as a whole, as its currently proposed, would be an even larger one. Construction would take about two years, causing grave concern that the noise, inclusive of jackhammering through bedrock to build an underground garage, would disrupt the harbor seals who nurture their pups across the street at the Hopkins Marine Lab Station Beach. Digging so deep so close to the ocean is a dangerous proposition in itself risking increased erosion at a time when that is already a concern. And then there are insufficient water resources. The increase in traffic would be another negative result of such development.

The American Tin Cannery is in disrepair — roofs leaking onto merchandise caused some stores to relocate. I’ve heard that other businesses were forced out through different means.

A glance at the ATC Pacific Grove website ( claims the project is “more than just a development, the ATC-Pacific Grove Hotel and Commercial Project is rooted in the community and values our city.” But so much for the actual roots of the actual trees.  Click on “Learn More About Our Vision” and find the claim that the project “has been thoughtfully planned in response to the natural environment …”

We can’t build our way to a more whole, caring and responsive world. And we certainly can’t get there through such building as a luxury resort. Just what Monterey County needs, another hotel for the rich who come for the weekend! The earth is making it abundantly clear that we need to stop, step back, and reassess. What about protecting, not only these more than 70 trees but the health of our communities instead? You may call me idealistic. You may call me a tree hugger. Sure, I’m those things, but not only those. We are all stewards of the planet. It’s our obligation to see to its health for the future. This isn’t something we can put off for another day. The coronavirus and much more tells us so.

Want to have your voice heard? The Pacific Grove Planning commission is tentatively scheduled to meet to discuss Thursday:

Contributed by local news sources

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