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Oaks to Arch over El Camino Real

After gathering resident input at two public meetings, the Atherton Tree Committee has selected two native oak species for planting in the medians of El Camino Real.  For most of its length in the town (between Alejandra and Stockbridge) the medians will be planted with valley oak (Quercus lobata – often referred to as white oak).  The southernmost “island”, (between Encinal and Alejandra), will be planted with coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) to match the existing live oaks at the north islands (from Stockbridge north to Redwood City).  The committee overwhelmingly selected these two oaks for the following reasons:

Tall, Attractive Canopy – The new oaks will make El Camino a more inviting, shady, and attractive road.  The valley oak grows to a height of 100 feet, higher than most other trees in Atherton.  The valley oaks will shade the road in the summer and let the sun shine through their sinuous branches in the winter.  The evergreen coast live oak grows to a height of 60 to 80 feet with a broad rounded crown.  Sunlight filtering through the outer leaves of the coast live oak creates beautiful dappled patterns on the branches and inner leaves.  The oaks will make El Camino more consistent with the rest of Atherton’s rural appearance.

Long Life and Native Hardiness – The oaks that Atherton plants now will grace the oldest road in California for generations to come.  Coast live oaks live over 200 years and valley oaks live as long as 600 years.  Being native trees, these oaks are well suited to survive variations in rainfall, temperature, disease, and pest infestation.  A further result of being native is that the two oaks sustain a wider variety of birds than any other tree species in California.

Fast Growth – Contrary to a common belief, oaks grow quickly.  In a study of very young oaks planted in 5 gallon containers in Santa Clara, valley oaks grew to 12 feet and live oaks grew to 11 feet within four years. 

Low Maintenance Once Established – The oaks must be pruned and lightly watered for a few years but will rarely need pruning after that.  If we have a dry winter before the trees mature they may need winter watering.  Fortunately water is already piped to the medians for irrigation.

Strong Association with Atherton – The live oak appears on the town seal and is still the dominant tree throughout Atherton.  Before residents planted other trees and added irrigation, oaks were almost the only tree in Atherton.  Indeed, the town founders would have called the town “Fair Oaks” if another area in California hadn’t already taken the name.

The Atherton Tree Committee is drawing up detailed plans and specifications to solicit bids.  The town council has endorsed the project and is expected to approve the final plans at their September meeting.  Caltrans has agreed to grant the necessary permit.  The small trees and tall shrubs now in the median - oleander, Photinia, flowering plum, and Tristania - will be moved to another site, sold, or otherwise disposed of.

The project will require approximately one hundred trees and will cost in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand dollars, including labor and materials.  The entire project will be funded by private donations and grants.  None of the funding will come from taxes.  The project will not require any changes to the roadway or to the curbs delineating the medians.  Resident donations (unfortunately not tax deductible) should be made to the “Atherton Tree Committee” and sent to the town office at 91 Ashfield Road before September 1 if possible.  The committee is developing ways to recognize contributors and would welcome suggestions. 

Live Oak The Atherton Tree Committee is a volunteer, non-profit, community based organization dedicated to the preservation of Atherton's heritage trees. The committee participates in a variety of programs designed to educate residents about the value of trees in our environment and to encourage appreciation and protection of our urban forest resources. For more information about town ordinances, policies, inspections, and plan reviews contact the Atherton Town Arborist, Kevin Kielty (650-515-9783, or link to the Town of Atherton Web Site. For more information about the Tree Committee contact Rachel Croft, President (650 323-4714,