The 120-foot colossal coastal redwood tree next to Santa Cruz High is slated to be cut down after the Santa Cruz City Council on Jan. 23 rejected an appeal by local resident Keelan Franzen.
The decision came after Franzen was given a 90-day appeal period last September to make the case for saving the tree. The twin-trunked redwood’s roots have damaged the adjacent sidewalk and may in the future compromise the foundation of the Lynwall apartment complex on Walnut Ave.
According to the city’s heritage tree ordinance, if a listed tree “is to have an adverse effect upon a building,” it may be removed.
Two professional arborists and a structural engineer agreed that the tree’s roots penetrated the building’s foundation, and that “there is no way to mitigate this property damage,” according to the city’s report.
Urban Forester Leslie Keedy approved Santa Cruz Property Management’s tree removal request on behalf of the owners of the property, Barfield LLC, in May 2023. Franzen brought his appeal in September in hopes of saving the ill-fated tree.
City council members at the Jan. 23 meeting expressed disappointment that they could not save the tree.
“The issue with my heart is I want to see it there, but with my head, given the current ordinance I don’t see how we can do anything but deny the appeal,” said Mayor Fred Keeley.
Keeley pointed to his substantial environmental record as president of the Sempervirens Fund and his support for $500 million in the legislature for redwood forest.
“I don’t see a feasible path forward. I don’t think we are responding blindly. We’ve done our due diligence, and unfortunately I don’t see a way of maintaining the building and moving forward” said council member Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson.
In the lone dissenting vote, council member Sandy Brown said the council had taken too narrow a view of their powers, limiting themselves to the question of whether the tree was a potential financial liability. She did not believe that city staff actually considered the possibility of saving the tree.
“I challenge anyone here to find a building built around this time that doesn’t have cracks in its foundation,” said Brown.
Brown was also disappointed that the property owners had not allowed Franzen’s structural engineer to inspect the property for the benefit of a fair assessment.
After the tree is cut down, six replacement trees will be planted, according to council member Scott Newsome who represents the tree’s district.
Leslie Keedy said during the meeting that while it may seem that the city council often votes to cut down heritage trees, there are many cases where she denies the applicant’s request ministerially before it reaches council. However in 2016, Keedy said she approved 85-90% of heritage tree removals.
“Everyone loves trees,” said Keeley at the end of the meeting. But to some in town, the majestic sequoia sempervirens became a cause célèbre after being profiled in the Sentinel.
Andrea Ruiz, a self-proclaimed tree-talker, told the city council that the tree’s name is “Thom.” He was born 254 years ago. Cutting him down will cause “a sickness to take hold in the other trees and they will choose to perish,” she said after consulting Thom.
However, the city presented photographic evidence that the Lynwal complex predates the redwood. In a Santa Cruz High yearbook photo from 1959 the Lynwall is clearly visible. The tree is absent.
Days after the council voted to remove the tree, Ruiz hosted a rally for Thom on Jan, 25, with about a dozen people gathered in support for the immense lifeform. High schoolers, environmentalists, and residents of the Lynwall huddled around Ruiz as she explained how Thom is “grief stricken.”
As she finished her remarks she told everyone: “He wants to thank you for coming out.”