City mulls ways to protect historic trees

If you stand at the corner of Stambaugh and Cassia streets, you can see an old carriage house and a huge palm tree, both part of a Victorian-style landscape tucked away in a residential backyard.

But if you wanted to find out how old the tree was or whether it had any historic significance, there would be no easy way to check. City officials don’t know just how many historic trees exist in Redwood City, because no residents have ever come forward to request such designations for unusual or long-lived flora. Unlike most cities, in which a “heritage” tree is any large tree — or any tree with historic interest — Redwood City requires residents to nominate trees for special protections due to their ample size or link with the city’s past.

Plenty of residents have opted to protect their larger trees, but none have done so on historic grounds, according to Public Works Superintendent Gordon Mann, head of the city’s tree programs. To entice locals to opt for a more historic designation, a 25-member task force recently recommended changing the city’s “heritage tree” designation to something broader: “landmark tree.”

“Most people don’t know that you can nominate trees to be considered,” task force member Derby Davidson said. “We’re hoping that if we change it, it will be publicized more, because having ‘landmark’ trees can promote all kinds of tree education.”

Candidates could include the Stambaugh Street palm tree, the large pepper tree outside Alana’s Cafe on Main Street or all the trees on the Sequoia High School campus, according to Redwood City planner Charles Jany.

Another possibility is the San Mateo County History Museum’s cherry tree, reportedly grown from the original George Washington cherry tree, which was temporarily moved while crewsinstalled the new plaza, according to museum Director Mitch Postel. The tree will be replanted once the plaza is finished.

But “landmark” trees wouldn’t need to have historical significance; they could be any tree that stands out or helps shape the atmosphere of a community, Davidson said.

Some residents may have resisted recognizing their trees as “historic” because they fear if they do so, they’ll be stuck with it, according to Mann.

“Once they learn that the implications are not going to be a hindrance, then they might designate their trees. There may be some benefits to the property owner,” such as being included in a local tree walking tour, Mann said.

Though the task force made its recommendation in December, it may be some months before the city adopts any changes to its heritage tree policies. The City Council adopted just a handful of the group’s recommendations, leaving the rest for future discussion and cost

studies.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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