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Russian Hill residents are fighting over a redwood tree

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Campaign to declare local tree a landmark draws neighborhood ire and tears

The contentious redwood tree on Montclair. Google

There’s a redwood tree on Montclair Terrace, just a few feet from the world-famous but contentious wobbling stretch of Lombard Street.

This doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that should divide a neighborhood, but the tree has provoked what might be called a Not In Your Backyard drama.

A few Russian Hill neighbors want the city to declare the tree a landmark. According to the Help Landmark This Redwood, “This healthy, majestic Redwood [...] was planted in memory of the homeowner's late husband and two children who were tragically lost in an airplane accident.”

Meri Jaye, 95, owner of 4 Montclair Terrace, says in city paperwork that the 85-foot tree has been in place since 1962. She planted the tree because her late husband proposed to her in Muir Woods. And the city does indeed have a program specifically for the landmarking and preservation of “the city’s best trees.”

The tree puts in an appearance in a vintage postcard.
Courtesy Urban Forestry Council.

An evaluation report from September 2016 observes that, while a sequoia of this type is not particularly rare in the city, “it is uncommon to find any tree of this size on a private residential lot.” Although not old by redwood standards, the Montclair redwood “would be considered a very mature tree in a private setting.”

An online petition supporting the tree’s landmark status is just shy of 500 signatures today.

And yet, because this is San Francisco, an arboreal fight over the redwood has erupted.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that at a January meeting of the Urban Forestry Council, one area resident said, “The neighbors are incredibly concerned and vehemently opposed to this nomination.”

One reason cited: An eight-story tree that is nowhere close to done growing will eventually be bad for properties’ views.

But some who live nearby also insist the tree’s size poses a public health risk, as one Russian Hill mother tearfully commented in December.

Another neighbor, Heidi Bioski, fought back tears when she testified to the Urban Forestry Council in December about her concerns for the safety of her three children who often play in the street near the tree.

“The branches are huge and if the branches were to fall on my child is that worth it? Is that worth anything?” Bioski said, citing an accident last November where a woman was paralyzed by a falling tree branch in nearby Washington Square Park. “I don’t know why we would look to preserve a tree over a child.”

If the city of San Francisco declares the tree a landmark, it will be difficult for future property owners to remove it unless it’s deemed too unhealthy to remain standing.

The council has put off a decision several times and will take it up again at a meeting later this month. The Board of Supervisors has final say on tree landmarking. Currently the city has only 21 trees or groups of trees declared landmarks.

4 Montclair.