Almanac

News - August 31, 2011

Granny oak tree faces one-week deadline; neighbors negotiate

by Sandy Brundage

Granny, the heritage oak tree at the center of a battle between a coalition of North Fair Oaks residents and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), may be cut down despite the neighborhood's best efforts to save the tree.

The centuries-old oak sits on a right-of-way owned by the SFPUC at 827 15th Ave. in North Fair Oaks. The commission initially planned to kill the tree in May on short notice, which riled Granny's fans.

In an Aug. 26 letter from the SFPUC to the residents, the commission gave the coalition one more week to provide a written proposal that would let the public access the tree site.

"The agency stated previously that public access to the oak tree is a basic requirement before its Commission could reasonably consider the additional public funds needed to tunnel under the tree and preserve it," the SFPUC said in a written statement about the deadline.

"Without a public access component, the SFPUC would move to avoid any further delays and costs to the project and ratepayers by having the contractor formally notice and prepare to remove the tree and install this segment of the regional drinking water pipeline."

Earlier in July, the SFPUC asked the neighbors to form a nonprofit to handle maintenance, liability insurance, and public access should the commission decide to dig a $269,000 tunnel under the tree for a pipeline meant to carry water from the Hetch Hetchy as part of a $4.6 billion seismic improvement project.

Another possibility emerged during a subsequent meeting, when county staff said Assistant County Manager David Holland proposed seeing whether the county could take over caring for the oak.

In an email, coalition member Ron van Thiel told the Almanac that on Saturday, Aug. 28, the commission rejected a proposal to make a park on a parcel adjacent to the tree.

"We have been and continue to be working with the county, SFPUC and the neighborhood to come up with a plan for this park that is acceptable to all," he wrote. "We are preparing a second proposal to meet their requirement of physical access to the tree itself while at the same time preserving security of the residents. We expect this proposal to be accepted by SFPUC."

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