Almanac

News - October 5, 2011

Granny saved: SFPUC agrees to tunnel under oak tree

by Sandy Brundage

After months of concern over Granny's fate, the heritage oak tree will survive the construction of a new water pipeline.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) announced on Oct. 3 that it would tunnel under the tree, thanks to San Mateo County's proposal to create a new park to let the public enjoy the tree.

"San Mateo County is always identifying creative opportunities that expand our public open spaces," said Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, who represents Menlo Park. "We believe we have all successfully identified a way forward that preserves the oak tree and allows the continuation of this important regional water pipeline."

The commission initially planned to cut down the centuries-old tree in May on short notice, which inspired Granny's neighbors to fight back. After negotiations opened this summer, the SFPUC asked the neighbors to form a nonprofit to handle maintenance, liability insurance, and public access in exchange for the commission deciding 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.

At that point the county stepped in with an offer to provide the insurance and liability coverage. The coalition working to save Granny then got 85 percent of neighborhood residents, whose properties adjoin the SFPUC right-of-way at 827 15th Ave. where the tree lives, to agree to provide public access to the tree.

"This is welcome news," said coalition member Ron Van Thiel in a press release about the SFPUC's decision to tunnel. "The neighbors who have worked long and hard during the last four months had one ultimate goal: To identify the least invasive option to preserve this irreplaceable natural resource, Granny, while ensuring water for this important project. We believe that this result is a win/win that will benefit the entire community as well as future generations."

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