SMART vs. rare tree in Cotati
SMART officials claim keeping tree in place is recipe for danger
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By Mira Brody  March 28, 2014 12:00 am

A drive through Sonoma County will reveal a rolling sea of beautiful rich, green coastal redwoods. Of these thousands though, one stands unique and happens to reside right in Cotati, 10 feet from the new SMART train railroad tracks.

The tree, located off of East Cotati Avenue just next to Progress Glass Co., stands at 52 feet, is estimated to be more than 65 years old and is considered a rare and endangered breed; a mixed genotype of albino and chimera giving it both green and white needles. Only a few remain in the world. It is in danger of getting axed because of SMART train safety regulations, which has since caused a nationwide uproar.

“We started getting calls from newspaper reporters, from television stations; it’s been a wild and crazy week,” says Prue Draper, founder of the Cotati Historical Society.

She says not only has someone contacted her from Reuters, a news agency based in London, but there was also an article about this tree in the Miami Herald newspaper.

Draper estimates the tree was planted around 1947 when a farmer from the Rohnert Seed Farm named Peter Tapian planted it in what was then his family’s yard. In the colder months, he would shelter it by covering the sapling with a cardboard box.

“Nobody really paid much attention to it, hardly even knew it was there,” Draper said, noting that at the time, they were also unaware of it rare qualities.

Four weeks ago, Draper got a call from a woman at SMART saying they were going to have to cut the tree down, causing immediate uproar from local arborists who claimed the redwood was the largest of an uncommon breed. Tom Stapleton, a former Sonoma arborist who currently works in Amador County, calls the demolition of such a tree “unacceptable.”

“We do have safety clearances that have to be maintained and that dictates how close vegetation can be to the tracks,” explains Carolyn Glendening, Community Outreach Manger at SMART. “The track system would damage the root system in this tree, and when the roots are damaged in this situation it can create a wind throw.”

A tree of this size, weakened by construction over its roots, could fall either on its nearby residents or onto the tracks, becoming a safety hazard. As of now, the tree has been spared imminent removal as SMART pauses to speak with various arborists about their options.

“The City of Cotati can’t afford to dig up that redwood,” says Draper. “It looks like SMART can’t decide whether they want to or not. But they have other arborists that they are talking to.”

In situations such as this, where tree removal is necessary for city construction, there is usually a plan to replace foliage in more convenient spaces. SMART has promised to plant 20 more costal redwoods around the city and continues to stand by that promise no matter the outcome for this particular albino-chimera specimen.

“The original plan was to plant 20 extra redwood trees elsewhere in the city in order to offset the removal of this one,” says Glendening. “In addition to that, we would try and pass on this tree’s genome and grow new ones of this type in a special nursery.”

Some arborists claim that trying to recreate this tree through cuttings would not be successful, and that moving the tree would prove dangerous to its already suffering health.

“Our general manager (Farhad Mansourian) has stated that his preference would be a successful relocation of the tree, and that’s what being explored right now,” continues Glendening. “We’d love to see an outcome where we could work with the community to see this tree relocated outside of SMART property.”

So next time you find yourself traversing East Cotati Avenue, peer down the row of railroad tracks across the street from the new Cotati train station and catch a glimpse of the coastal redwood that not only has its own Facebook page, but has also captured the interest of news media across the country as well as support from arborists and other tree lovers.

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