Protesters block heritage tree removal

PLEASANTON, CA – SEPTEMBER 1: Residents Wayne Strickler, left, Jeanne Barnes, center, and Todd Myers, right, are photographed in front of a Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus in Lions Wayside Park on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Pleasanton, Calif. The city has determined that the tree has a sulphur fungus and will need to be removed, but some city residents do not want the tree cut down. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

PLEASANTON — A group of Pleasanton residents gathered at sunrise Tuesday beneath a heritage tree that’s at least as old as the city itself to protest its impending removal.

The tree has survived major earthquakes and both world wars, and witnessed the city grow from a time when the transcontinental railroad was new, and ranchers, horse breeders and dairy farmers flooded the area because of its favorable climate and vast land.

But now, the Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus tree that has stood tall at Lions Wayside Park on 4401 First St. in downtown for at least 125 years will have to be cut down because of a sulphur fungus that has taken over, according to the city. The tree is sick and decaying, the fungus incurable — and it’s now become a public safety hazard and too dangerous to let it continue to live, the city says.

“You just don’t kill someone because they’re ill,” said Wayne Strickler, 81, who has been a Pleasanton resident for 50 years. He and a handful of other protesters gathered at sunrise Tuesday to seat themselves under the heritage tree.

It seems their protest may have been partially successful, at least delaying the felling: Although tree removal was set to begin Tuesday morning, it was switched to Wednesday morning instead. Workers needed time to prepare the worksite for the removal, said Pleasanton spokesperson Cindy Chin.

Strickler and others maintain that something should have been done to try and salvage the tree first — prune it to thin out weaker branches, or try an herbicide or fungicide before reaching the decision to chop it down.

But Chin said there’s nothing left for them to do —  because of the decay and even branches that have already fallen off, it’s become a public safety hazard.

“We wouldn’t be removing the tree if we didn’t have to,” Chin said. “We’re sad to see this tree go and don’t want to cut it down. But it has a terrible fungus.”

The city discovered the fungus last October. But now, the city can’t wait any longer because of the decay and its potential safety threat, she said. During non-COVID-19 times, the park would have been full in the summertime with people lying out on blankets, packing the park for free concerts and other events.

The eucalyptus tree is one of the oldest in the city — the city estimates it is at least 125 years old, while protesters claim it’s 153 years old. The tree itself is deemed a heritage tree because of its size, not its age, Chin said.

Heritage trees in Pleasanton can be any species; they are protected by a city ordinance and require a permit to be removed. A 2013 city parks and recreation commission agenda described the tree as the city’s largest, at over 100 feet tall and more than 33 feet in circumference.

Protesters are also irked by the lack of city notice, and the process to decide to remove it.

Jeanne Barnes, another protester who sat under the tree Tuesday, said they are really just trying to bring awareness to not only the tree itself, but also the city’s process. She said Pleasanton should have at least given more notice, considering it is the oldest and tallest tree in Pleasanton. If the city found out about the fungus last fall, why wasn’t any notice given during the past year, she questioned.

“What other steps were taken? Just to show up and start cutting, isn’t really appropriate for something like a historical landmark,” Barnes said.

Strickler said he first found about the removal on social media, and began calling around to the city’s planning department and even the city manager to ask about it. There were no signs posted in the park, or near the tree itself to indicate it would be chopped down. It wasn’t until Saturday that the city posted on its Twitter feed that it would be cutting it down.

Chin said that isn’t normally the case — notice is usually not given. To remove any heritage tree, either public or private, one has to get a permit approved by the city landscape architect and arborist. There is no requirement to make any sort of public notice or sign postage about the removal, she said.

Chin said the city decided to make the social media announcement because of the prominence of this particular tree.

She denied speculation from protesters that the area the tree is would be turned into a parking lot. The city has a master plan, the Lions Wayside and Delucchi Parks Master Plan, for that park area, last updated in 2014. It even includes featuring the tree itself, Chin said.

The 2014 recommendations included updating and expanding the bandstand area of the park, and “preservation of the existing large Tasmanian blue gum tree.”

Chin said that crews plan on continuing with the tree cutting, despite the protesters. The workers will start by cutting limbs and branches from the top of the tree. The entire process to remove the tree itself will take all week and likely won’t be complete until Friday.

Check back for updates. 

Staff writer George Kelly contributed to this story.

Source link



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts