Cotati council picks new spot for unique tree
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By Dave Williams  April 11, 2014 12:00 am

The rare tree in Cotati standing in the way of the SMART train’s progress may have found a new locale.

The Cotati City Council at its meeting Tuesday night unanimously voted to adopt a resolution to relocate the Albino Chimera Coast Redwood tree to the Veronda-Falletti Ranch, located right across the street from City Hall.

“The City is very pleased to offer a home and continued maintenance in order to keep this unique specimen in Cotati,” said Mayor John Dell’Osso. 

The ultimate decision on the tree, however, rests in the hands of authorities at SMART, which is still doing its due diligence on the tree.

According to a city staff report, Cotati will provide financial support of the costs associated with irrigation and maintenance. This will include an extension of an irrigation line, installation of a backflow device at the water meter and, depending on location, possibly temporary fencing. The work is expected to cost the city less than $10,000 and can be funded by park-in-lieu funds. Funding for the physical relocation will come from other non-city sources.

Local arborist Tom Stapleton believes SMART should foot the bill. He told the council that in 2012, he had spoken with representatives about rerouting the train tracks, which would allow the tree to stay in its current location. He said this could have been avoided had SMART taken this action back then.

He said the 52-foot tree, the tallest of its kind, can contribute so much in terms of education. These types of trees normally grow to 15 feet. The tree in Cotati is one of only 10 in existence in the world. The tree is rare because it contains two sets of DNA in one plant, having both normal chlorophyll producing green needles and white, albino needles on the same branch. The Cotati albino tree is the only known mature tree to exhibit this unusual condition.

“There is so much to learn with this tree,” Stapleton said. “If we can understand the symptoms this tree is showing us, we can better manage the redwood forest and find out what’s going on out there. SMART should be 100 percent responsible for paying for this.”

SMART has not yet said whether or not it will pay for the tree’s relocation.

Greg Karraker, one of the council’s most consistent critics, agreed with the Veronda-Falletti Ranch site but had other issues with the tree.

“By authorizing the relocation of the tree, you’re helping SMART in a way that negates the agreement they made when they solicited funds for SMART,” Karraker said. “They wanted to build a train, not preserve a tree that was a scientific curiosity. People talk as if this tree is priceless. If the people in this room want to fund that (relocation), more power to them. I do pay taxes for SMART, and I don’t want one half of one cent of the money that was supposed to go to a train that was of limited use anyway going to somebody’s hobby project.”

Councilman John Moore said the price of moving the tree should not be the final decider.

“Money comes and goes, but apparently albino redwood trees don’t,” Moore said.

There were two alternatives for the tree location in Cotati – the Veronda-Falletti Ranch or Helen Putman Park. Both sites have established redwoods either on the property itself or in the immediate surrounding area. Both are relatively large locations and have conditions conducive to maintaining the long-term health of the tree. The tree should not outgrow its surroundings and can be located in a spot that best protects public safety should the tree transplant not be successful.

The tree and its root ball will need to be secured by a fence during at least its first year in its new location. That point was the deciding factor. The ranch is already fenced and may require some minor additional fencing to protect the three from livestock. Helen Putnam Park isn’t necessarily secure, the staff report said.

Relocation crews will need to dig a hole roughly the size of the tree’s root ball. The hole will be approximately 15 feet in diameter and 5 feet deep. According to Stapleton, who has spoken with four contractors who move trees, the success rate for moving a tree of this size is nearly 95 percent.

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