North Fair Oaks residents fight removal of 300-year-old oak tree 

North Fair Oaks residents are fighting plans to remove a nearly 300-year-old valley oak tree to make way for a water pipeline project.

The tree, which was nicknamed Granny by the residents of 15th Avenue who are trying to save it, stands in the path of a $4.6 billion project to seismically upgrade the Hetch Hetchy water supply system.

Wayne Cruz, who has lived in the neighborhood for 36 years, said residents understand the importance of the SFPUC project but think alternatives to cutting Granny down should be explored more thoroughly.

"We’re not trying to stop the project," Cruz said. "We understand the importance of it, but they have not been transparent."

Cruz said an arborist from Portola Valley-based S.P. McClenahan Co. determined the tree is between 250 and 300 years old and is in excellent health.

"We’re not just talking about our neighborhood," Cruz said. "This is old-growth native forest."

SFPUC spokeswoman Maureen Barry said engineers for the project looked into alternatives to cutting the tree down, including installing a subterranean portion of pipeline that would run beneath the oak tree’s roots. Project managers determined the pipeline could not run underneath the tree without endangering the stability of the pipe and jeopardizing the safety of the water supply for most of San Mateo County and all of San Francisco, Barry said.

"Those are the pipelines that bring all of the water to the San Mateo County area and San Francisco, 100 percent," Barry said.

SFPUC officials agreed to meet with neighbors at the end of this week or the beginning of next after San Mateo County asked them to work more closely with residents.

San Mateo County has a heritage tree ordinance that would normally require a special permit for the removal of such a large tree, but the ordinance does not apply in this case because the tree is located on an easement owned by the SFPUC and because the principal of intergovernmental immunity prevents one governmental agency from restricting the activities of another, county officials said.

"Who has jurisdiction is kind of irrelevant," Cruz said. "It’s a beautiful tree."


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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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