Almanac

News - June 1, 2011

Neighbors and SFPUC: Move oak tree?

by Sandy Brundage

Granny might have to move. Tree advocates and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission officials met last week to discuss how to save the 65-foot-tall heritage oak tree standing in the way of the Hetch Hetchy pipeline.

The centuries-old oak sits in the middle of a site at 827 15th Ave. in North Fair Oaks that's designated for a pipeline meant to carry water from the Hetch Hetchy as part of a $4.6 billion seismic improvement project.

Granny almost came down earlier this month on short notice. But after the neighborhood organized a protest, the SFPUC ensconced the tree within an "avoidance area" and directed its contractor, Mountain Cascade, to stop work within that boundary for now.

Mediated by a liaison from Supervisor Rose Jacobs-Gibson's staff, the May 24 meeting proceeded after a squabble over whether the press, which had been invited by the tree's advocates, would be allowed to attend what was ostensibly a public meeting.

SFPUC project manager Joseph Ortiz brought everyone up to date on what options have already been considered. The commission looked at ways to preserve Granny that even surprised the advocates, such as moving the tree 600 to 700 feet away from the pipe. That remains on the table, as does the option of tunneling under the tree, which would cost an estimated $430,000.

Contractors continue to explore how far the oak's root system extends and whether the roots are wrapping around the two water pipes already installed nearby, which affects the viability of either choice.

"It might not seem like it, but I've lost a lot of sleep over this tree," said Matt Horowitz, a project arborist. "It tears me up."

One option — running the pipe above ground and over the tree roots — won't work, according to Mr. Ortiz and Mr. Horowitz, because of weight. At 2,000 pounds per foot, the pipe would require a mammoth support structure and the combined weight would smash Granny's roots.

The neighbors expressed their understanding of how critical the pipeline project is, while remaining cautiously optimistic that both sides will figure out a solution.

"The tree is not going to stand in the way of water for citizens," Charles Berkstresser said. Granny looms over his backyard; if the tree gets moved, it might end up much closer to his house — an option he said he could live with, provided there's enough room for both home and oak.

The SFPUC and neighbors will meet again in a couple weeks after the root investigation and cost evaluations are finished.

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