Cowper Street oak 'George' to come down

Arboricultural consultant recommends removal of 100-plus-year-old tree

An independent arborist hired by the City of Palo Alto has determined the 100-plus-year-old Cowper Street oak tree named "George" cannot be saved.

The coast live oak, which is located in front of 816 Cowper St. and has stood since the days when Palo Alto had dirt roads, does not have adequate root structure and is hazardous, according to consultant Barrie Coate.

"When the lack of sufficient buttress root integrity to support the tree in a westerly wind is combined with the 30 percent proportion of sound wood in the trunk combined with the slightly displaced canopy with and leaning trunk, with great sadness, I must recommend removal of the tree," Coate wrote.

"This will be a great loss to the neighborhood and loss of another of the old oaks that were present during the founding of this Tree City, USA. Perhaps a clever use of the hollow trunk can retain some remnant of its history."

Neighbors sought to save the oak from the chainsaw. City Public Works officials met with residents on Sept. 30 to discuss possible ways to save the tree. Seven tons of limbs were removed and cables were added to reduce stress on the leaning tree. Only a six-inch-diameter "pipe" of living inner trunk supports its great mass, city Planning Arborist Dave Dockter said.

He said there would be a community meeting regarding the tree's status the second week in January. Copies of Coates' report will be available at the meeting. An exact date and place is pending.

"Let's take the next steps for the neighborhood tree, in a simple but honorable way. I expect the meeting will be fruitful with ideas and we can leave with a sense of honoring a new tree site that will last another 100 years," he said. "With a few constraints, there is a lot of room to do something creative, unique and responsive to the old intersection that is currently punctuated by oaks, the historic Women's Club building and other elements,"

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Posted by Don
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2011 at 11:12 am

I hope those who believe no tree should be cut down regardless of its condition will realize every living thing reaches its end. The tree doesn't sound safe to walk near.

Plant another which will grow, flourish and last another 100 years.

Like this comment
Posted by saveit
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 11:20 am

Save the tree.

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Posted by Daveo
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

If it weren't in a public right-of-way, it would be interesting to thin this tree "Way" back, balancing it in the process, and see what the outcome would be.

Take heart in the fact that young Coast Live Oaks are relatively fast-growing trees; and are a marvel to watch, especially if given the thinning and training in their youth, that was not not usually done in the older trees of this area.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

When I was a kid and we moved to Palo Alto in 1969 there were oaks all over the place. I marvelled at their beauty. They were all over PALY and Town & Country, the Community Center and thickly scattered all throughout town. Now almost all of them are either gone, or they look like crap. Is this natural? Why?

Maybe that is a natural process, I don't know, I'm not an arborist, but it seems like there ought to be something that could be done to help trees live longer and stay healthy. It just seems that popping a tree into the ground and then covering the whole area with concrete is going to lead to the result of a dead tree. It's amazing that they have lived so long this way. I'm glad I got to experience them.

Also my unscientific perception seems to be that most of the trees that are in someone's yard and not surrounded by concrete seem to be doing much better. So, isn't there some way to modify the ground near these trees to allow them to get more water and nutrients and compact the ground less so they can actually grow their roots more?

Palo Alto seems a bit irrational when it comes to trees. The oak trees were nice because they are "local" that is their effects are nearby where they are located.

The existence of so many tall "sequioia" type treesnow, the tall thick trees is not "local". The shadows of these trees can blot out the sun for hundreds of feet, not exactly great if we want to promote solar energy.

Like this comment
Posted by jacob
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm

The coast live oaks have had a problem germinating on their own lately and thinning them in my view is a bad idea because i love the natural look of them

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

How much did the independent arborist cost?

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Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm

This trick of naming a tree with a human name is a pretty ridiculous ploy on the part of the never-cut-down-a-tree folks. The press should not fall for that.

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Posted by Carlito waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

>Posted by Howard, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, 2 >hours ago

>This trick of naming a tree with a human name is a pretty >ridiculous ploy on the part of the never-cut-down-a-tree folks.

LOL. Not as bad as the burrough of San Jose though, naming public structures built with taxpayers money after living politicians who got paid nicely to do their jobs:

Norm Mineta San Jose "International" Airport, Norm Mineta highway, San Jose McEnery Convention Center, Rod Diridon VTA Terminal, Sig Sanchez Freeway, etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:34 pm

> This trick of naming a tree with a human name is a pretty ridiculous ploy

Some trees have more personality than some people.

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Posted by Bummer
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2011 at 12:55 am

Trees DO Need land that aren't driven over or close.
Sad certainly to lose a great tree.
Hope they can plant a new one carefully, removing the old roots so the new tree can get a good start.

Like this comment
Posted by solan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 17, 2011 at 8:24 am

sorry to say,tis the truth but nothing lasts forever....

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2011 at 9:11 am

Lack of Buttress Roots... Another word for structural roots.

The underground root system that supports this tree is similar size and spread to the branches that are above ground. They provide a path for nutrients and water, but most of all they provide support. When activity around the tree disrupts these structural roots, then it is like the game in which you stack blocks and slowly pull one out until the stack collapses. When sewer line, water lines, paving, sidewalks, and all were installed many years ago, some of these large structural roots can be unknowingly damaged. The tree will try to grow new roots in the area, but they do not have the strenth to support the thousands of tons of canopy or mass above the ground.

The hollow trunk that is mentinoned (30%) is similar to a aluminum soda can. If you take an aluminum can and stand on it just right, it will support your weight. If you tilt the weight slightly to one side, it will buckle the can and collapse. This is what is waiting to happen with this mighty old tree. It is no longer an if, but a when it will fall down. With the size and mass of this giant, it will more than likely shake the ground for blocks when it fails and crashes to the ground.

Someone told me that a tree crew trimmed this tree to lessen the weight (weight reduction) by 7 tons. Thats 14,000 lbs or 4.6 Prius'. The tree is still huge and when it falls, it will squish most things like a bug.

No, I'm not Dave the city arborist.

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Posted by Downtown Dude
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 17, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Walter E. Wallis brings up a good point. How much did the independent arborist cost? Palo Alto does not have an arborist of its own?

If the tree is in danger of falling and injuring someone or damaging property, then it has to go. Most things change sooner or later, even if we don't want them to. That being said, an effort should be made to see that our remaining trees stay as healthy as possible. They make Palo Alto just that much better.

Like this comment
Posted by Casey Leedom
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

@Howard of Crescent Park and Carlito Waysman of Old Palo Alto:

Actually it was just a joke. I happened to drop the name "George" on the tree in one of my emails with the neighborhood because there are three different oak trees on the corner of Cowper and Homer and the locution of using "the tree on the south-west corner" was irritating me. So, no real intent there.

@ Walter E. Wallis of the Midtown and Downtown Dude of the Professorville:

I'm not sure how much it cost but I can speak to the other side. Loosing the tree would be a big blow to the neighborhood so we're committed to replacing it (with neighborhood donations added to the city's budget). The cost of procuring a new, fairly large tree is about $20,000. I'm not sure how much the cost of transporting and planting would be but let's guess at $5,000.

So basically, in addition to wanting to save the tree, if possible, we also wanted to save money if removing it wasn't necessary. This is also the reason that we asked for, and The City agreed to, "give George a haircut" to balance the upper story structure as an intermediate step before removing it outright.

It sounds like "George" just isn't healthy enough though so it's probably time for me to start a fund-raising drive in the neighborhood. I'll be very sorry to see the tree go as will everyone in our neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2011 at 12:15 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.


Like this comment
Posted by Ian Irwin
a resident of University South
on Dec 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

The tree on Cowper Street ('George') is a Coast Live Oak (Quercus Agrifola) with an estimated age of 200-300 years. While venerable George is a mere youngster among Coast Live Oaks. The oldest Coast Live Oak is The Pechanga Great Oak Tree in Temecula California. Temecula is a city with a population around 100,000 is located in Riverside county. With a population very close to that of Palo Alto Temecula seems to venerate and take more pride in it's senior citizen trees. The Pechanga Oak is estimated to be 2000 years old and is thought to be the oldest living Oak, of any type in the World.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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