Viewpoint - July 20, 2011

Editorial: Rescue plan for 'Granny' sounds solid

The future of "Granny," the centuries-old heritage oak tree that was threatened by crews installing a new Hetch Hetchy waterline, is now back in the hands of residents who mounted an 11th hour attack to get San Francisco water agency officials to save the tree.

But there is a catch, and it remains to be seen if neighbors will accept the deal offered by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The commission owns the right-of-way under Granny and is running the $4.6 billion project to upgrade the huge pipelines that bring water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir at Yosemite to millions of Bay Area homes.

In a meeting with tree supporters and neighbors who live adjacent to the right-of-way where Granny has grown for hundreds of years, the commission generously said it would consider placing the pipeline in a tunnel far enough under the tree to escape the roots, which it fears could damage a line running at a shallower depth.

But before the commission will authorize what it said was an additional $300,000 worth of work, neighbors must agree to form a 501c3 nonprofit agency to care for the tree.

"By creating an openly accessible area, we create a public benefit whereby anyone can enjoy the tree and space," said commission spokesman Tyrone Jue. He added that the $300,000 "would be a gift of public funds to spend money on this tree to benefit the individual homeowner and adjacent neighbors."

According to Mr. Jue, the nonprofit would assume all liability for the tree and would have to allow public access, a stipulation that neighbors attending the meeting said might not fly.

"There's going to be pushback on this," said coalition member Ron van Thiel. "Definitely pushback."

A subsequent meeting was scheduled for July 13, but was postponed until this week due to scheduling problems.

Mary Ann Mullen, who also is a strong advocate for saving the tree, was unhappy that the commission was not interested in considering a proposal from the group's own arborist. That plan would involve digging a modified trench instead of a tunnel under the tree.

"The bottom line is that they just don't want to do this option," she said.

Mr. Jue told the Almanac that the commission ruled out the modified trench after deciding that it does not leave enough space between the tree roots and the pipe, which increases the risk of pipeline failure. The commission was also concerned that the beams needed to buttress the trench would endanger the tree's health and stability.

Unfortunately for the neighbors, they are not in charge of this massive, multi-billion dollar project. So while they may not like the exact solution offered by the commission, we hope they understand that creating a 501c3 nonprofit seems like a small price to pay for saving a tree that clearly was in the project right-of-way and could have been taken down in a minute.

In our opinion, this is a deal the neighbors should not refuse, if they want to save Granny and give her the space to live for many, many more years.


Posted by Jill Andre, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I strongly disagree that "saving Granny" would be " a gift of public funds to spend money on this tree to benefit the individual homeowner and adjacent neighbors."

Our Heritage Trees are a benefit to the entire community: with clean air, food and shelter for animals and insects. "Granny" is part of a larger system, and the very symbol of Menlo Park.

Meanwhile, the North Fair Oaks neighbors are besieged by construction noise and dirt. Is the PUC compensating the property owners for the loss of quiet enjoyment or property values?
I have a responsibility to maintain Heritage Trees on my property and budget for it. Surely the PUC could have foreseen this expense years ago.

Is the Alamanac offering to endow a fund to maintain the tree? That is "small price to pay."

Jill Andre
Pope St

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