Council to decide fate of favored tree

The ongoing saga of “Tom the Tree” may come to a finale today when the City Council is set to decide the fate of the eucalyptus, which towers over Easton Drive.

The century-old Tasmanian blue gum tree, named “Tom” by some locals, has pitted residents and the council against each other. While critics say the massive roots penetrating Easton Drive’s pavement are hazardous, preservationists say the tree is healthy and that its removal would set a bad precedent.

In December, the council narrowly approved the tree’s removal. But the following month, the council agreed to revisit the issue after several residents pleaded for its preservation. City staff, who have researched alternatives to its removal, say it could cost up to $80,000 to realign Easton Drive around the tree. However, “staff continues to be concerned that it does not meet roadway standards for safety,” according to a staff report.

Some Easton Drive residents say if trees are removed, the street eventually will become a thoroughfare. Tony DeMarco, who has lived nextto the Easton Branch Library for the last 23 years, wants the tree to stay, adding that drivers need to slow down.

Mary Ann Martinez, who lives a half block away on Cabrillo Avenue, said it is time for Tom the Tree to retire. “There are plenty of trees,” she said. “There’s another one right next to that one.”

On Feb. 28, the council agreed to create a master plan, scheduled for completion in June, that will outline reforestation along Easton Drive. Mayor Terry Nagel hopes the issue will make the council look at the larger issue of trees that uproot city streets.

“What I’m hoping to do is come up with a plan not just for one tree, but one that will guide us on all of the other trees that are going into the roadway,” she said.

Councilman Russ Cohen voted to preserve the tree in December because he wanted more research on how to handle it. “Now we have a full and complete arborist report,” he said.

Vice Mayor Rosalie O’Mahony, who wants it removed, said it is “unconscionable” that the city is spending time and money on the issue. “Much to my chagrin, the removal has been put on the back burner, and it’s a terrible waste to spend so much money to circumvent taking out the tree,” she said. “I love trees, but the safety issue and the cost to the city has been a burden.”

bfoley@examiner.com

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