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'Treegate' Hashed Out at Los Robles

Officials from SMART, city of Novato, construction company and Los Robles Mobile Home Park iron out communication issues after removal of a dozen caught residents by surprise.

We're sorry. Our bad.

Essentially that was the message by a contracting company that was entrusted to cut down some trees that were in the way of the train tracks near the Los Robles Mobile Home Park in Novato.

The subcontracting company cut down 12 trees to help make way for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit cars that will ride the rails in a few years. And that ticked off park residents because there hadn't been any notification or discussion about it. Over two days, several homes adjacent to the SMART right-of-way lost their aesthetic and audio buffer that helped shield them from the noise and frenzy of Hamilton Marketplace shopping center and Highway 101.

Some residents whose properties back up to the tracks were in a tar & feather mood after the chainsaw massacre, so Novato Mayor Pat Eklund arranged a summit between representatives of the park, SMART and the city of Novato so that park residents could ask questions and vent some frustration. More trees will be cut, but there was a promise that better communication would take place with park residents and anyone else who lives along the railroad tracks in Novato.

How did the meeting go? Click on this story in the Marin Independent Journal and check out these videos and photos. Make sure to share your thoughts with a comment below.

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Steve B February 08, 2013 at 02:42 PM
Their complaints are baseless. It is a low-rent neighborhood near a freeway and a railway... Akin to folks that move near an airport and then complain about the aircraft noise!!! Ya gotta pay to play folks! If you want peace and quiet, move away from the infrastructure. BTW, this is case-in-point not to put senior housing at Hanna Ranch.
Tired February 08, 2013 at 02:43 PM
I think the end product will be worth it as we badly need another way to get around to avoid gridlock (especially once the earthquake hits). But I do hope they learned a lesson here and do better outreach with neighbors.
Robert Brighton February 08, 2013 at 04:22 PM
All of Novato is quickly becoming a low rent district. The smart Train is a ridiculous waste of money akin to the bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Ask yourselves who is going to use this train . It doesn't even go any where near a transit center in San Rafael. It is a utter joke wake up people. Typical Novato commuter is going to drive to train station , take train to San Rafael, take bus to the city. That would take about two and a half hours and cost about forty dollars a day. What are we doing here??????
Travis Howard February 08, 2013 at 04:24 PM
I commend Mayor Eklund for setting up the meeting so the frustrated residents could be heard and to open the lines of communication. I know if I lived in that neighborhood I wouldn't be pleased about the trees being cut down, especially without any notice.
Mark Schoenbaum February 08, 2013 at 04:51 PM
bud light spouts off again...
Bob Ratto February 08, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Agree...Whether or not one knows/understands what SMART is really about, providing notice is simply common sense. Unless something really positive happens today, I think Mr. Mansourian is having what could charitably be described as a "bad" week.
Tina McMillan February 08, 2013 at 05:42 PM
How large were the trees that were removed? I am not certain if this applies but last year the city changed zoning so that trees of a certain size could be removed without restrictions or review. I also remember reading something to the effect that High Speed Rail and SMART would be exempted from CEQA as well. I don't know if that is now the case. Affordable Housing also got an exemption from CEQA.
Warren Edgar February 08, 2013 at 06:53 PM
Warren Edgar I've always thought Farhad Mansourian wielded too much unbridled power for a grossly overpaid non-elected "duel" county / smart official. He's just demonstrated his total thoughtless/ lack of compassion and consideration for the common people through whose communities he's pushing his tram. No mention was made of replanting some fast growing shade pines to replace those he and his thoughtless "Tram Clan" just cut down. Thank heavens at least one Novato City councilperson showed interest in this disgrace?
Gail Camhi February 08, 2013 at 07:10 PM
This tree-removal with no prior notice exemplifies a growing lack of common courtesy. We devalue life if we devalue the blessings trees provide. This Train to Nowhere will no doubt backfire even more in terms of banished quality of life for Marin residents in ways still unforeseen. Noise pollution, anyone? This is progress?
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) February 08, 2013 at 07:16 PM
You can see the trees in question in that main photo of Farhad. The trees are to the left (east) of the tracks. I will add a second shot to show it more clearly.
Tina McMillan February 08, 2013 at 07:37 PM
SMART has been given leeway to build without respect for the people that live along the train line. Assuming that the folks that live there have no viable voice is part of the problem. Like many concepts behind the "New Urbanism" the prevailing cry is that if it benefits the "larger good" then it can be done by trampling individual rights. While I appreciate Pat taking a stand unless she is willing to make SMART plant new trees and/or build a sound wall, what good is it? We are currently giving SMART 6 acres of city owned land for .86 acres of the downtown depot. This is not a fair trade. Where is Pat on this issue? Why would we accept so little in exchange for so much more? Having watched the proSMART lobby bully and intimidate during last year's attempt to challenge SMART at the ballot I suspect that little will be done to make up for the loss of trees, shade and privacy at this location. SMART has too powerful a Marin lobby to be held accountable.
Concerned citizen February 08, 2013 at 08:50 PM
I totally agree, Mr. Mansourian is on a determined mission, fueled by his ridiculously high, tax payer funded salary to force this unpopular project through, regardless of any collateral damage, human, trees or otherwise. As the saying goes,"its easier to feign forgiveness after an act than it is to sincerely ask for prior permission." This seems to be in keeping with our present government's MO of overuling the will of the people in favor of a mythical master plan. We are shamed into refraining from presenting any contradictory arguments, even if they are in our best interests. As Chris Rock would say the president is our father and we should be obdient children, assuming that we have neither the knowledge or the wisdom to think for ourselves. Such attitudes make me fearful of a budding government bureaucratic dictatorship in which someone like a Mr. Mansourian serves as a richly compensated instrument.
T.Sprocket February 08, 2013 at 09:07 PM
The "Pats" on the back of Pat Eklund are just so incredible. She is awarded for her do nothing.. say nothing.. feel good measures. "Let's have a meeting" or "I'd like to hear what the people think!" and "I'd like to take more time to see what other information comes up". It is truly amazing that people in Novato can be so completely enamored with Ms. Eklund and her tactics which deliver almost nothing. She has mastered the art of saying nothing. Some NFL or MLB team should hire her to handle any pre game questions from the press.. she would be perfect.
Baxter February 09, 2013 at 02:40 AM
If the trees are in the SMART right-of-way, it can cut them down without notice to homeowners who abut the property line. I know Caltrans clearly marks their trees in paint for proposed removal that are within their right-of-way. No "notice" is necessarily given to adjacent homeowners. However, Caltrans has been known to accomodate homeowners concerns regarding trees that provide shade, privacy, etc. if the trees are not a safety concern for traffic, high voltage lines, etc. Caltrans can even remove trees on private property if it becomes a safety concern, although the homeowner is always notified first. Were these trees even "marked" for removal so the mobile park could voice their concerns ahead of time? Regardless, they knew the train was coming to town, and with the trees being so close to the tracks there, I would have contacted SMART regarding my concerns about those trees months ago. Albeit, trees within a public right of way can be removed without notice if it impedes on traffic and/or becomes a safety issue. If the trees were removed specifically to make it easier to lay down the track, then that is another issue and a sad one for the mobile park community. Saying "We're sorry" doesn't cut it.
Craig Belfor February 09, 2013 at 05:38 PM
This is sounding a lot like people's park in Berkeley, but their Dumpster Muffin can't climb trees. SMART should have sent someone over to tell the residents that this was going to happen, and refresh them on the rights of property ownership. Sorry, Grandma, but progress hurts. At least it's not affordable housing going in. I'm not nuts about SMART, but they do own the land.
orangeparty123 February 10, 2013 at 07:33 PM
The trees are 40+ years old and are a barrier to the residents. The reply for why this was done prior to notifiying residents is that the trees had to be cut down before birds returned to nest. It appears that those who were negligent in notifying residents are using a loop hole to jusitfy their poor decision and lack of concern for the senior residents of Los Robles. It seems if one cares so much about birds, one would care just as much for fellow human beings.
orangeparty123 February 10, 2013 at 07:43 PM
There is another issue here that concerns emergency evacuation. The plan is to have a double track just outside the park for trading train cars. If there is a breakdown at this juncture, residents can be trapped and wouldn't be able to get in or out. Is this the best place to plan for a double track?
Craig Belfor February 10, 2013 at 07:53 PM
A double track NIMBY? Look at it this way-if there was to be an emergency blockage at this site, you'd be no more blocked by two trains than one. I do feel sorry for the people who bought in thinking the trees would always be there, as it's a game changer to lose them, but the park was set up without this buffer control, and all of us who hate to see the adjacent property next to our home developed had the opportunity to buy it and save it. When one buys next to a state owned property, one takes his own chances.
orangeparty123 February 10, 2013 at 09:14 PM
The double track with connectivity changes heightens the possibility of breakdowns, and thus blockage. It's not about a single track or double track. Moving the juncture a little farther up or down the track would be a solution. Obviously, it needs to be placed somewhere. It's no longer a "NIMBY" situation, as it's happening regardless. Let's just be smarter about it. It displays a lack of understanding when one has the blinded illusion that people who buy next to state owned property are just simply ignorant and out of luck.
Steve B February 14, 2013 at 11:20 AM
I don't have the time to do this bit of homework, but would someone head down to the County, get the APN for the trailer park, find out when it was built and how much they pay in taxes per trailer??? I bet the tracks pre-date the trailers and I also bet the residents pay only about $200 per trailer per year in taxes. You get what you pay for!!! Or, you pay for what you get! Square deal! Not your trees! Never should have been any trees! Never should have ass-umed the neighbor's trees were under your control! If I recall correctly, SMART already accomodated the NIMBY whiners and agreed not to put a station right there even though it is an ideal spot. @orangeparty123, you are the one with a "lack of understanding."
Steve B February 14, 2013 at 11:36 AM
P.S. In the photos, there is that guy standing on the tracks... Is he an employee of SMART or the State? If not, he should be given a citation for trespassing on State / Federal land that has been posted. CA penal code section 402.

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