Drama bedevils Tom the tree’s downfall

Just as workers with a chainsaw began hacking away at the city’s famed century-old eucalyptus tree on Easton Drive on Tuesday — the center of debate in this town for several years — a 22-year-old San Francisco man ran right through the tree site after allegedly robbing two homes on Drake Avenue.

Apparently, this guy never heard of Tom the tree.

Burlingame police found the suspect — identified as Erlin Rodriguez, a name yet to be verified — hiding in an alleyway at First Presbyterian Church on Easton and El Camino Real. He had scampered through the closed-off roads while a crew was taking a chainsaw to the top portion of the infamous tree, Burlingame police Sgt. Jim Ford said.

Tom the tree has, after 70 to 100 years of life by the side of 1800 Easton Drive, not only divided portions of the roadway, but also the city populace. Some residents said it was a safety hazard, while others said the healthy tree was a symbol of the town’s vegetative beauty.

Several alternatives have been considered but were never approved, such as realigning the road. After four years of deliberating, the City Council narrowly decided in April to remove and replace the tree.

Peter Comaroto, a Parks and Recreation Commissioner who is running for City Council, has criticized the council’s lack of immediate action on the tree. He was also at the construction site Tuesday and noticed the suspect fleeing.

According to police, the robberies took place at about 10:30 a.m. and involved two houses on the 1400 block of Drake Avenue. There were no signs of forced entry. Police say Rodriguez allegedly stole credit cards, cash and jewelry before fleeing. Rodriguez allegedly ran down Easton Drive while dumping the stolen goods along the way. The construction crew helped police by indicating the direction in which he was running, Ford said.

Ken Hoeck, one of the victims in the robberies, said he was glad the crew was on hand at the time, even though he is opposed to the tree’s dismantling.

Others at the dismantling Tuesday said that they were there to lament the cutting down of the tree.

bfoley@examiner.com

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