Ogawa Plaza Flooding Ends; Informal Community Meeting Set for Jan. 7



Two weeks ago, we called attention to the plight of Oakland's most visible oak tree due to the city's continual overwatering of Frank Ogawa Plaza. The very next day, we spotted a public works employee performing a cursory investigation of soil conditions surrounding the massive oak's trunk, and today we're happy to report that it appears the flooding has, after more than a month, finally come to an end.

The plaza today, devoid of lakes.
  • Nate Seltenrich
  • The plaza today, devoid of lakes.

Whistleblower (and Oakland arborist) Molly Batchelder has been pushing the issue ever since she sent us a letter, reprinted in the above linked blog post, calling for the city to take better care of its centerpiece oak. At the Oakland Public Works Committee meeting on Tuesday the 14th, Batchelder used the public comment period to address director Vitaly Troyan and call for the watering to stop as well as a full investigation of plaza soil conditions both within the tree's planter and beyond. The tree's roots extend well beyond the shallow concrete barrier ringing the tree's crown, and can be damaged by soil compaction and excessive moisture throughout their entire area.

At the meeting, Batchelder also delivered a statement suggesting that instead of replanting thirsty sod in the Occupy-trampled plaza, the city consider using water-wise natives more compatible with the native oak and more in line with the city's progressive ideals.

For a while, nothing changed. Batchelder followed up yesterday morning with an email to Mayor Jean Quan, Public Works Director Troyan, Councilwomen Nadel and Jane Brunner, and other city employees reiterating her concerns. She also made an offer to perform a formal investigation of soil conditions in the plaza, at no cost to the city. Her company, SBCA Tree Consulting, has a City of Oakland business license and carries proper insurance. "We feel this is an important matter to address quickly, as extending periods of oxygen deprivation in the root zone can lead to root disease," she wrote.

Later that day Batchelder heard from Councilwoman Nancy Nadel noting that she was happy to report that the plaza was no longer being overwatered, and that she had directed Troyan to set up a meeting with Batchelder regarding lawn alternatives in the plaza. Their meeting is tentatively set for the third week of January.

In the meantime, Batchelder (molly@sbcatree.com) has decided to hold an informal meeting for community members, arborists and landscape designers, and anyone else who may be interested in proposing alternative designs for the plaza lawn. City staff will not be present, but Batchelder said she'd take ideas from the community into her meeting with Troyan. The meeting is set for Saturday, January 7, at 1 p.m. in Frank Ogawa Plaza; all are welcome.

Batchelder noted she's still eager to see the results of the city's soil investigation. Troyan told her yesterday that a full report would be made available to the public, but did not specify when. “We need to find out where the roots are, if the roots have been compacted, if there’s any soil fungus,” she said. Regardless of what happens with the plaza at large, and even in the absence of last month's harmful overwatering, aerating the soil wherever roots are present may be essential to its long-term health, she said.

“This is our native tree in California. All of Alameda and Oakland used to be covered with these oaks, and we don’t have that many more left. These trees are really important to us.”