Public Comment

Commentary: Oakland Loses a Landmark Redwood

By James Sayre
Friday June 22, 2007

A giant backyard redwood tree is felled on the summer solstice. Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan once was quoted as saying, “If you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.” This was back in the 1960s, I believe, when there was a strong environmental movement to save many of the remaining pristine groves of the Coast redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens) in Northern California from impending cutting. Thousands of acres of prime native habitat dominated by these towering giant trees were eventually saved. Several weeks ago one of my neighbors told me that a landowner several properties down the street had applied for a permit to cut down our local landmark redwood tree, which dominates our block. It is probably over one hundred feet high and is possibly one hundred years old. I called the telephone contact number on the public notice that was posted on the telephone pole and after leaving a couple of messages and waiting a couple of days (this is in Oakland, the city that seemingly has much trouble doing much of anything right and/or in a timely fashion…), and was told that, yes, the owner had applied for a tree-cutting permit because its roots were beginning to affect his duplex’s foundation. 

After doing a quick read on redwood tree ecology and having a short list of birds that either nest in them or use them for nighttime roosts, I called back to the City of Oakland and gave my little ecology song-and-dance. I even suggested that severing the intrusive roots on the duplex side of the tree and inserting metal places into the ground would be a very inexpensive solution to the problem. 

Yesterday, I saw a long row of orange traffic cones that blocked off several parking places in the street near the property that held the redwood tree, and I knew that this magnificent specimen was doomed. This morning several workers armed with ropes and chain saws showed up and in a few short hours all the branches and greenery of this tree had been removed and fed into a noisy chipping machine. It is truly frightening the power that modern man has over other living things, especially trees. This ancient redwood had two main trunks that separated about 20 feet above the ground, in the manner of the El Palo Alto, the originally twin-branched redwood tree that grows along the San Francisquito Creek and the railroad tracks at the northern boundary of Palo Alto. The City of Palo Alto was originally named for this redwood tree; the Spanish name loosely translates to “tall tree.” Of course, this particular redwood tree, being the living symbol of a wealthy town, receives the best of care and protection. 

In the early evening, I walked down the street and took a picture of the still intact massive base of the tree. I gathered up a couple of small leftover redwood branches and put them in water, so now my kitchen has a slight Christmasy smell. Tonight in the dimming sunshine of dusk, I took a couple of final pictures of what was left of this magnificent redwood. Several small birds, possibly House Finches, fluttered up to perches on the rough bark, and then gave up in disgust and flew off to a large chestnut tree in the next yard over as their new night roosting spot. The cut-down log sections of this redwood tree were not saved to be turned into fine lumber, they were merely cut into large chunks that the workers could carry to the waiting truck. I suppose that these chunks of wood will be added to some local landfill. This tall tree shaded part of my garden for a couple of hours each day in the wintertime, but I will miss its stately presence as a neighborhood landmark. In the fog-free evenings that we had actual sunsets, this redwood used to glow radiantly in the fading sunset. 


James K. Sayre is an Oakland resident.