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By Tim Hunt

Debating mature Sycamore trees

Uploaded: Sep 13, 2012

Having lived in the valley for more than 50 years, I've witnessed major changes since Pleasanton was a farming community of 3,000 residents and you could buy a home in Dublin for $10,000 with $100 down on the VA plan.
I've had to chuckle watching the San Ramon City Council wrestle with how to deal with a legitimate public safety issue on Bollinger Canyon Road with residents considering "mature" Sycamore trees as if they were historic California oak trees.
The stretch of road at issue runs at four lanes from Alcosta Boulevard up the hill to where it widens to six lanes once it clears what was the original approval for the Canyon Lakes development. The Blackhawk developers processed that 3,100-unit project, bringing a mixture of condos and single-family homes to the hillsides. The Dougherty Valley developments on the Gumpert and Gale ranches were the next big plans looming.
The Sycamore trees in the median strip were planted in the 1980s, the same timing as those in the medians of Hopyard Road in Pleasanton. Developers and their landscape architects like the Sycamores because they grow fast, are attractive and can flourish in the relatively narrow median strips.
So, it's interesting to hear residents protest to the San Ramon City Council about potentially removing those "mature" trees. Unlike the magnificent oaks, the newly planted sycamores will rapidly grow back.
If you want to see truly magnificent mature Sycamores, check out the native California trees in Sycamore Grove Park in Livermore or along some of the valley's arroyos. These are a different variety than the ones that developers plant by the thousands and mature much more slowly into striking trees.
The interesting behind-the-scenes story was why a thoroughfare serving as one of the three major entrances to an area that eventually will be home to about 30,000 people goes from six lanes through Bishop Ranch to four lanes in the Canyon Lakes area and back to six lanes in the Dougherty Valley.
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors approved the project in 1984 and was eager to see the increased density from the condos and the apartments because Bishop Ranch Business Park was now moving ahead as an employment center with both the Chevron and Pac Bell complexes in the mix.
When the development company sold the off various parcels to homebuilders, the requirement was that Bollinger Canyon Road be constructed exactly as approved. That limited the width to two lanes in each direction with the bridge for the golf carts spanning it.
With the ever-present environmental groups closely monitoring what happened and intensely opposed to the potentially growth-inducing six-lane configuration (that would have been the logical width), the four lanes were constructed with the median strip and the trees. Limiting the capacity of infrastructure was a standard environmental group tactic to try to restrict land use options.
Incidentally, one knowledgeable insider points out that the lanes on Bollinger are actually wider than those on the Golden Gate Bridge which carries a whole lot more traffic than does Bollinger.