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Healdsburg Highlights - April 2015


Healdsburg Highlights - April 2015
Heritage Coast Redwood Saved - For Now

by Gina Riner

A large crowd, including lifelong resident E. Walter Murray, age 102, turned out for a Planning Commission meeting at City Hall on March 24th to voice their feelings about a homeowner’s request to remove a 120-foot redwood tree planted circa 1904 near downtown. Coast redwoods (sequoia sempervirens), are among the tallest trees in the world, can grow up to 379 ft., and live to 1800 years or more. Although the tree, which is located in the three hundred block of Fitch St. near downtown, is in the City right-of-way, current regulations require property owners to assume responsibility and liability for street trees. In a 5-0 vote, the Planning Commission rejected homeowners Linda Barber and Jack Cunningham’s application to remove the tree. Barber, who argued that the tree is dropping limbs, damaging their property and lifting up the sidewalk on a regular basis, asked the Planning Commission, “What would you do if you lived under this tree? It needs to be removed.”

The City’s consulting arborist, James MacNair, an arborist and horticulturalist since 1973, recommended that the first-growth redwood be saved. By repairing old pruning damage, performing limb reduction and regular maintenance, and installing a steel brace and cabling, MacNair said the tree can and should be saved. “I agonized over this Coast redwood. It’s a large forest tree in an urban situation.” He noted that the tree’s vigor and foliage density is normal and no significant pest or disease issues were observed. The homeowners’ arborist, Justin Greer from Western Tree Services, reported that in his assessment the tree should be removed because it will only grow larger and continue to drop limbs. “The tree has only reached 20% of its growth cycle and needs some real estate to thrive, probably a 45 ft. radius. It’s only going to get larger over the years and will double in diameter.” He also noted that trimming and maintaining the tree would present logistical challenges to the climber.  

Many people who spoke out in favor of saving the redwood tree, including environmentalists, Healdsburg residents and Sonoma County arborists, also brought up other issues. “The problem is that Healdsburg does not have an urban forest plan,” said Mike Mahoney a local arborist. It’s just going to get worse, too, as time passes. He urged the planning commission to complete an inventory of all the heritage trees in town, and not just the large ones, either. 

Many speakers noted that it seemed unfair that the Barber/Cunningham family has to assume all liability for damage and be responsible for all maintenance when the tree is on the City right-of-way. “I’m concerned about personal liability. When we back out of our driveway, we can’t see oncoming traffic,” said another neighbor on Fitch St., Kurt Rowan. Rob Jacobi noted that the decision to remove heritage redwood trees presents a challenging situation for the City and urged the commission to “think about being stewards, think about values and what’s important to us as a community. The tree is a real treasure to our City.” A few people offered to donate money for maintaining the tree, including Warren Watkins. Commissioner Joe Lickey suggested that a community group ”get together and crowd fund and use social media” to raise money for maintenance. The family has been caring for the tree for decades and “it’s a burden,” said homeowner Barber.

 “We need to treat our majestic giants like our elders; we should look at this tree as symbolic of how we care for our elders,” said Jacobi.

Walter Murray, who was born just a few years after the redwood tree was planted, wants redwood trees saved because, “they make me happy and peaceful and I sleep better at night when I’ve been around redwood trees.” 

Even though the majestic Coast redwood is saved for now many other issues need to be addressed: Who should be responsible for large tree maintenance? Is the Healdsburg Heritage Tree ordinance good enough? Why isn’t there a full-time City Arborist for Healdsburg? Where is the strategic plan for the Healdsburg Urban Forest