Sunday, September 14, 2008
Oak tree survives silly bureaucracy
Read on friends how a family saved an old tree from the bureaucratic clutches
When Camilla Cochran spotted the driver of a big white city truck round her corner and back up to examine the old cork oak tree that leans over the street from her property, she knew something was amiss. "I thought, that guy is gonna tag that tree,'' she remembered.
Sure enough, Cochran and her husband, Dan, came home a week ago Friday to find a pink tag on the tree. The city was proposing to take it down. The indictment? "Sidewalk damage'' and "Tree Hanging Over the Street.''
The Cochrans are not people to accept this quietly. After mobilizing to save the tree, they won the first round. City arborist Ralph Mize removed the pink tag Thursday.
Meanwhile, city transportation people say they'll try to find a solution for vehicles without chopping the cork oak. All told, the bureaucratic dance tells you volumes about how San Jose is governed.
I'm not unbiased. I live two blocks from the Cochrans in the Hanchett Park neighborhood, and I've known them for years. Our sons played together as children. I think their house
at Sequoia and Martin avenues is distinctive, with an entry that opens diagonally toward the corner.
Having said all that, let's call that pink tag what it was, an outrage. Mize did the right thing by taking it down.
At the very least, it's worth pointing to the irony here. More than a year ago, the city was roundly criticized for being slow to stop builders from taking down sycamores in Willow Glen. This time it found itself in the roll of chopper.
"You read about people taking down trees illegally,'' says Dan Cochran. "This was the city doing the same thing.''
Begin with that bill of indictment. The Cochrans vigorously disagree that the tree causes sidewalk damage. Dan Cochran says he pays every three years to replace sidewalk segments that have been raised by the tree's roots.
The old cork oak does lean over the street. In an e-mail to the Cochrans, arborist Mize explained that the city code requires a 13-foot clearance from the curb outward. For six feet or so, the tree's big trunk leans lower than that.
The Cochrans say they have ideas about how to deal with that demand, including repainting the street or putting in mini-speed bumps. In the past 22 years, the tree has caused no accidents.
The painting is by Laura Tasheiko