I was disappointed to read Allan Cooper’s recent letter to the editor (“Save our beautiful downtown trees,” June 18) in which he strenuously objected to my October 2008 presentation to the Architectural Review Commission and the “SLO Chamber’s desire to remove our downtown street trees.” I was disappointed because even though Allan wasn’t at the ARC meeting and didn’t actually hear what I said, he was bothered enough to misquote me nine months later, but not concerned enough to ever call to get the correct story. For the record, I never, ever, have said that all or most of the downtown trees should be removed.
For many years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has promoted street trees as an important element in a beautiful, viable downtown. But they also have listed improperly maintained street trees as one of the major threats to the preservation of historic buildings. Trees that become too large cause damage to utilities, sidewalks, foundations, and building facades, and when they drape over rooftops, their branches damage roofs and their leaves clog roof drains. This in turn causes roof leaks that lead to mold, rot, and general deterioration. So the question is not whether we should have street trees (we should), but about their selection, maintenance, and size in relationship to buildings.
As an architect, Allan knows that scale is an essential element of good design. Something that is in itself attractive can ruin a design by being too big or too small. Some, repeat some, of the trees in downtown have become way too large and now completely hide the historic buildings instead of enhancing them. Trees that are overgrown also block natural light from stores and offices and work against energy conservation.
We support the city’s program of very selectively removing trees that have become too hazardous, too damaging, or too large. Removing a few trees each year and replacing them with more appropriate varieties will enhance the look and feel of downtown and help our historic buildings survive into the future.