SFPUC to meet with neighbors about popular tree

May 18, 2011 1:16:55 PM PDT
A lawyer for San Mateo County has asked the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to meet with residents of a North Fair Oaks neighborhood before cutting down a nearly 300-year-old valley oak tree they are trying to save.

SFPUC representatives met Tuesday with San Mateo County Deputy County Counsel Tim Fox and Planning Director Jim Eggemeyer over plans to remove the tree - nicknamed "Granny" - which stands in the path of the SFPUC's $4.6 billion project to seismically upgrade the Hetch Hetchy water delivery system.

"We met with the PUC and asked them to work more closely with the neighborhood," Fox said.

The tree stands on a narrow piece of property owned by the city of San Francisco that runs through private property in unincorporated Menlo Park, Fox said.

"It's more complicated than saying someone has jurisdiction," Fox said.

The county's Heritage Tree Ordinance, which was adopted in 1977, recognizes specific species and sizes of county's trees as an "invaluable asset" and establishes guidelines for removing them, according to the ordinance.

Trimming or cutting down a heritage tree - like the valley oak slated for removal in North Fair Oaks - requires a special permit from the Planning Department.

The SFPUC maintains that that the Heritage Tree Ordinance does not apply because of "intergovernmental immunity," which prevents one governmental agency from restricting the activities of another, Fox said.

Fox agreed that pursuant to intergovernmental immunity, the SFPUC is exempt from the provisions of the heritage tree ordinance.

SFPUC spokeswoman Maureen Barry said the valley oak is slated to be cut down because its roots could threaten the seismic stability of a new pipeline being installed through the North Fair Oaks neighborhood as part of the upgrade.

The new pipeline, which will replace two aging pipes installed in 1925 and 1935, is responsible for supplying water to 2.5 million people on the Peninsula and in San Francisco, Barry said.

The SFPUC has been asked to meet with North Fair Oaks residents regarding possible alternatives to cutting the tree down, Fox said.

North Fair Oaks resident Wayne Cruz said today that the SFPUC plans to schedule a meeting with neighbors at the end of the this week or the beginning of next.

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