The City of Santa Cruz has a "Heritage Tree Ordinance." I have commented earlier on this ordinance in this Two Worlds blog.
Most people would probably think, based on the name of the ordinance, that the City's ordinance is designed to protect trees like the one shown.
Usually, it is a member of the City staff who grants approval for property owners to cut down heritage trees. The decisions are made on an administrative basis, without any need to consult with the elected members of the Santa Cruz City Council. Things were a little bit different in the case of the tree shown here, because the City's arborist actually came down on the side of the tree, pointing out that it was not necessary to kill the tree in order to cure the problems that the tree is causing. Those problems include some pavement and sidewalk buckling and interference with some nearby plumbing.
If the City really wanted to protect its heritage trees, the City's ordinance would have to be clear that heritage trees can't be cut down "unless ......" (with the City then providing a list of very specific and limited circumstances in which such magnificent trees could be removed). In other words, the City would have to shift the burden of proof to give the benefit of the doubt to the tree, instead of to the property owner.
Under current practice, if the tree proves an inconvenience to a property owner, for whatever reason, the City routinely allows the tree to be cut, no matter how much of a "heritage tree" it is. Usually (but not always), the approval to cut a heritage tree is granted in connection with a property owner's desire to build something new. Instead of requiring the property owner to design around the tree, the City just imposes the death sentence.
In this case, the fact that the arborist was on the side of the tree didn't make any difference. Neither did many communications from members of the public who think that the City's policy ought to be to preserve heritage trees, whenever possible. As previously noted, the "heritage" tree name notwithstanding, when a property owner wants to kill a heritage tree, the answer will almost always be "Yes."
Here's the roll call vote on the tree shown above, during that "trial" held on Tuesday of this week:
To kill the tree:
Mayor Lynn RobinsonTo save the tree:
Council Member Hilary Bryant
Council Member Cynthia Mathews
Council Member Pamela Comstock
Council Member David Terrazas
Vice Mayor Don Lane
Council Member Micah Posner
I don't even think it got a fair trial.