Burlingame tree decision incites derision

With the dust — or sawdust — settling from the tumultuous debate over “Tom” the tree, three City Council candidates vying for a seat in the November elections each said the issue reflected an indecisive, slow-moving council.

After four years of deliberating, the council narrowly decided in a 3-2 vote Monday night to remove and replace the century-old blue gum eucalyptus tree that has sunk its roots into Easton Drive.

Several alternatives have been considered but were never approved, such as realigning the road. The late-night vote Monday, which included the approval of an urban-forest master plan, ended the argument over the tree, but also launched an issue for the candidates. Mayor Terry Nagel and Councilman Russ Cohen are defending their seats against three challengers.

“When you are afraid to make a decision, because you might get a negative response, you aren’t leading anymore,” challenger and Planning Commissioner Jerry Deal said. Deal said the council should have approved a master plan before bringing “Tom” to the forefront of the debate.

Challenger Gene Condon said staff time and reports require money. He paralleled the tree decision to the process of rebuilding the Safeway on Howard Avenue.

A seven-member committee of local stakeholders is holding monthly meetings with the goal of proposing a new store.

“Our city is not going forward — it’s sitting there stagnant,” Condon said.

Challenger Peter Comaroto compared the tree debate with another boiling issue: sidewalk-repair payments. On Monday, the council deferred billing residents for repairs until at least next year. But Comaroto wants the ordinance repealed.

“[The tree] was indicative of a council not being able to make a decision in an expeditious fashion,” he said.

On the other end, incumbents Nagel and Cohen said that the current council has made strides in promoting government transparency and spurring civic engagement and public dialogue.

As for the tree issue, Nagel voted to replace “Tom,” citing safety concerns, while Cohen wanted to post traffic-warning signs. All three challengers declined to entertain the hypothetical question of what they would do if they were faced with the tree’s fate.

bfoley@examiner.com

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