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The neighbors of an oak tree called "Granny" headed to court on Monday morning to ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would keep the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's axes at bay.
The tree at 827 15th Avenue grows within a backyard easement controlled by the commission. Property owner Charles Berkstresser said the commission left a message on his door Friday evening (May 13) telling him the tree would be cut down Monday (May 16).
However, he said the commission has now backtracked, claiming it never intended to do so -- but it remains mum about when, exactly, the tree will get cut down. He was expecting a visit from a commission representative Monday, in between the stream of tree supporters dropping by his backyard to take a look at the 65-foot-tall tree that dwarfs his home.
Meanwhile, neighbor Mary Ann Mullen headed to court to plead the tree's case. The neighbors are questioning whether the commission ever applied for a permit to remove the tree, a step required by the heritage oak tree ordinances of both San Mateo and San Francisco counties. It's not clear at the moment which county's ordinance would govern this particular oak, since it's located in one county while the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) belongs to another.
They're also wondering why the commission disregarded two options that would save the tree while still allowing pipes for the Hetch Hetchy water improvement project to be placed underground. A report by McClenahan Consulting, an arboriculturist company, suggested as alternatives either tunneling below the tree or relocating the water pipe either above the root zone or more than 10 feet away from the trunk.
Mr. Berkstresser said he just wants to see documentation showing that cutting down the tree is the only viable choice. "If it is true, then they need to show us. Document, document, document, proof," he said, emphasizing the last word.
Representatives from the counties and the SFPUC were not immediately available for comment. The Almanac has filed a public records act request with the commission for all documentation related to the tree.
The tree, estimated to be about 300 years old, was one reason Mr. Berkstresser chose that home six years ago. "It's an asset to the entire community," he said. "Frankly, it's an asset of the state. This is old growth forest."