The buzz of chainsaws can be heard these days at the end of St. Mary Avenue as crews hired by Alameda County Public Works remove five treees from a eucalyptus grove on the north bank of San Leandro Creek.
But in contrast to 19 months ago, when neighbors were up in arms over a far more aggressive tree removal plan, residents are pleased that community action forced the county to compromise.
"This is what they should have been doing all along," said Gary Molitor, a St. Mary resident whose research helped force the county to greatly scale back its plan to thin the eucalyptus groves.
Molitor joined co-organizers Joan Dalpe and Ann Juul earlier this week to recount their tale of neighborhood action.
Dalpe, who has lived on St. Mary for five years, said she only learned, by accident from a worker, that the county was planning to cut down dozens of trees in March 2010.
"They did not get the community involved in the decision process," said Molitor, who started digging into the matter.
His research galvanized the community to demand that the county justify its plans to cut down more than 50 eucalyptus trees on the creek's north bank.
Juul, who has lived next door to the creek for more than half a century, said the eucalyptus trees were not a danger to homes.
"A branch will fall every once in a while," she said.
To make a long argument short, the neighbors forced the county to do another study of the trees.
"Everything they have done now has been by the book," Molitor said.
As workers moved heavy equipment into position this week, the three organizers chatted with County Environmental Compliance Officer Jim Browne.
He'll be watching the work that will go on for at least the next four to six weeks.
Browne said five trees will be removed at St. Mary Avenue and some others will have limbs pruned.
He said another 12 trees will be removed from two other sites, Carey Drive and Huff Avenue, also on the north side of the creek.
Browne said the county would have liked to get started sooner but had to wait until after September when the nesting season for migratory birds ended. Then there were some rainy days.
"We have this window where we want to get this done before the rainy season begins," Browne said.
The St. Mary neighbors wish even fewer trees were being cut. But they figured they'd gotten the best deal they could.
"I'm not going to go up and chain myself to the fence here like some student at Berkeley," Molitor said, gesturing at the chain link gate at the end of the street.
(Editor: I corrected the street name to St. Mary (from St. Mary's) after getting a note from a reader.)