Money doesn't grow on trees, but apparently it does grow if you chop the tree down. After an hour and a half of late-night public comment, the Menlo Park City Council finally approved a developer's request to remove a heritage redwood tree.
Most speakers supported developer Kim LeMieux's request to cut down a 70-foot heritage redwood tree at 240 University Drive.
Three months ago the council voted 3-2, with John Boyle and Rich Cline dissenting, to spend $7,500 of city funds to design a home that would preserve the tree.
However, LeMieux's analysis concluded the proposed design wasn't economically feasible without a basement, which would decrease the home's value by an estimated $350,000.
She also told the council at its Jan. 25 meeting that the tree, which thrusts upward from the middle of the property, posed safety risks as well as maintenance issues.
Those supporting her case focused on the rights of property owners and the damage a growing redwood tree can cause, including car paint ruined by acidic cones, cracked foundations and sewer lines, and mold.
Scott Marshall countered that when he bought a house in Menlo Park, he signed an acknowledgment that the city has a heritage tree ordinance and seemed to wonder whether the ordinance matters.
"If someone goes through the process (of requesting removal), is it ever declined? Seems like there's always a way around it if you're persistent," he said. "Menlo Park is about trees."
The city has approved 97 percent of heritage tree removal requests since 2008, according to Rebecca Fotu, environmental programs manager.
The newest member of the Environmental Quality Commission lives next door to the tree. Christina Smolke stated that the alternate designs show that the tree could reasonably be preserved, and challenged LeMieux's economic analysis of the property's value if the tree weren't cut down.
Tuesday night's vote also split 3-2, with Kelly Fergusson and Andy Cohen dissenting. Colleague Peter Ohtaki called it "a gut-wrenching decision," but voted to remove the tree because of its position on the property. The council members appeared to agree that the heritage tree ordinance in Menlo Park could use a rewrite to avoid a similar morass in the future.