Heritage oak in San Anselmo dodges the ax
A group of San Anselmo residents succeeded Tuesday night in its bid to save a heritage, white valley oak tree from being felled.
Due to the labyrinthine process by which the matter was handled, the tree was saved by just two votes of the Town Council, and despite the fact the town could face a lawsuit as a result of the decision.
"The whole thing was a little unclear to me; it was very complicated," said Michiko Conklin, owner of the property where the oak is located at 134 Madrone Ave.
Public Works Director Sean Condry initially granted Conklin permission to remove the tree. Conklin says she must cut down the oak because its roots are damaging the foundation of her house. But Jensen, who fears the removal of Conklin's tree could lead to the death of several white oaks on her adjacent property, paid $500 to appeal the decision to the Town Council.
On Sept. 24, the council voted 3-1 to grant Jensen's appeal without prejudice, which meant that Conklin would be granted a second opportunity to change the council's mind. Councilman Jeff Kroot, who is an architect, recused himself from that vote because he has been hired by Conklin to add a bedroom to the house.
On Tuesday night, the council deadlocked 2-2, with Kroot once again recusing himself, over whether to reverse its decision on the appeal. Councilmen Tom McInerney and Ford Greene voted to uphold the appeal while Councilwomen Liz Dahlgren and Kay Coleman voted to reverse the appeal. Since a majority vote is required to reverse a council decision, the appeal was upheld.
McInerney and Greene stood their ground despite that Conklin's lawyer, Neil Sorensen, made veiled threats that Conklin might sue the town over the matter.
In a letter Sorensen sent to the council prior to Tuesday's meeting, he wrote, "Since the tree is clearly causing damage to Ms. Conklin's house, the town may be subject to significant liability if it declines the tree removal permit."
Sorensen made similar comments during Tuesday night's meeting.
"His comments were, in my view, counterproductive," McInerney said Wednesday. "I felt that the homeowner had not met her burden of proof to justify cutting down the tree, at least consistent with our ordinance."
Under San Anselmo's town code, which provides special protection for "heritage" trees, Conklin had to demonstrate that cutting down the tree would be a necessity for the economic enjoyment of her home.
"I just wasn't convinced this work was necessary," McInerney said. He added that the town's attorney advised that the council had sufficient grounds to make that ruling.
At Tuesday's meeting, Conklin provided new reports from an arborist, Ed Gurka, and an engineer, Peter Nissen, who stated that the tree's roots are undermining her house's foundation. The arborist and engineer were recommended to Conklin by town staff and reaffirmed similar evaluations provided by an arborist and engineer that Conklin had previously hired.
Public Works Director Condry told the council Tuesday that the foundation of Conklin's house can be designed to bridge the roots at an estimated cost of $10,000 to $25,000; it is estimated it will cost $11,000 to remove the tree. Experts differ over how fast the tree's roots will grow and how long that solution would last.
Jensen said people who want to save the tree have offered to work with Conklin in an attempt to reduce the cost of the work. Conklin's plans to add a bedroom to the house could be jeopardized by the tree's preservation, since she would need space for additional parking for approval of the addition. But Conklin says that has nothing to do with her bid to remove the oak.
She said Wednesday, "I do not know what we're going to do at this point."
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org