Stolen Traffic Circle Tree Returned By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday June 28, 2005

The tree yanked out of a Berkeley traffic circle two months ago has been returned to its rightful owner and will soon be back in the middle of a Berkeley intersection, its owner said. 

Karl Reeh woke up Saturday to find his six-foot, 15-year-old Bald Cypress stationed outside his fence. 

“I felt this great sense of relief,” said Reeh, who added that the tree appeared to have been well watered and secure in its planting pot. 

Last April, Reeh was at the center of a neighborhood brouhaha that made national headlines when a group calling itself “The Society for the Humane Treatment of Trees and People,” stole the tree from a traffic circle at the intersection of Ellsworth and Ward streets.  

Adding to the intrigue, the thieves, believed to be neighbors upset that the tree obstructed views and posed safety risks, left Reeh ransom notes with escalating demands. 

At one point they wrote to him, “Your tree is having a lovely time out of town, in the company of other trees,” but if Reeh wanted it back, he would have to “put out the general word to the neighborhood” that the tree would not be available to other traffic circles. 

Reeh said the correspondences had ceased in recent weeks and the tree-nabbers did not attach a note to the returned tree.  

“I had no clue that they were going to return it,” he said. 

Reeh hopes to replant the tree he raised from a seedling in a traffic circle two blocks north at the intersection of Ellsworth and Carleton streets, where a young redwood recently died. 

If neighbors aren’t receptive to it, Reeh said he would donate it to the city to be planted in a different traffic circle. He also said he planned to press the city to adopt regulations for pruning trees in traffic circles to address neighborhood concerns that they can obstruct views of passing pedestrians and cyclists. 

The theft of the tree made Reeh, a 71-year-old gardener and the president of the LeConte Neighborhood Association, a minor celebrity. His plight was featured on several television news reports and National Public Radio, and NBC’s The Today Show inquired about a possible story.