News - September 7, 2011

New pitch made for sparing "Granny" oak tree in North Fair Oaks

by Sandy Brundage

Four days ahead of a Sept. 6 deadline, the neighbors of a centuries-old heritage oak tree called "Granny" in North Fair Oaks voted to send a new proposal for saving the tree to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) that appears to resolve the one issue standing between failure and success.

In a press release, the coalition fighting to save Granny said that 85 percent of neighborhood residents, whose properties adjoin the SFPUC right-of-way at 827 15th Ave. where the tree lives, agreed to provide public access to the tree, a requirement imposed by the utilities commission.

The commission initially planned to kill the tree in May on short notice, which riled Granny's fans. During the summer, 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 Hetch Hetchy as part of a $4.6 billion seismic improvement project.

After weeks of negotiations, the SFPUC sent a letter on Aug. 26 that gave the coalition until the day after Labor Day 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.

Guided by Assistant County Manager David Holland, San Mateo County stepped in to offer insurance and liability coverage if the residents could agree to the public access requirement. But during a meeting with the county on Aug. 15, a majority of the residents indicated they didn't want to fulfill that condition.

However, the coalition somehow found a way to make public access palatable. According to spokesman Ron van Thiel, they expect a positive response from the SFPUC to the latest proposal.

Editor's note: Due to the Labor Day holiday, this issue of the Almanac went to press on Friday, Sept. 2. Later news updates will be posted online.


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