At 46 Cook Street, a tall tree of 100 years old and as many feet high is at the center of an Inner Richmond neighborhood feud, because of course it is.
The Chronicle writes that the ancient tree, a pine species experts are unable to agree upon, is endangered by a newish property owner (yes, the Chronicle points out he is a tech consultant, so do with that whatever you will I guess they mean) who has already removed two palms and one similar pine from his yard in April, though it's unclear why.
The problem is that a family previously living in a carriage house in the back yard on the property have been crying foul, speaking up for the remaining tree. “It’s like the tree has no representative,” Richards, said, none too subtly channelling his inner Lorax. “It can’t say, ‘Hey, don’t cut me down, I’m historic.’ I was the advocate for the tree.”
That advocacy has so far included calling on help from neighbors and securing an initial 90-day restraining order from the PUC prohibiting it from being cut down. “These trees have been an important part of the landscape of the street and the history of the entire property," one nearby neighbor and longtime neighborhood dweller said. “They are beautiful trees. They tower over all our gardens. The birds constantly sing.”
That was in June, and the tree is still standing. The Planning Commissioner agreed to help nominate the pine for landmark status, which is held by just 16 trees in the city currently. Cutting down a landmark tree can result in jail time.
The question of its landmark candidacy is twofold. Is the tree itself a common species? It could be a Cook Pine, and in that case, no, it would be rare. But it could also be a common Norfolk Pine. Also, it's been said that the tree was planted historically by a director of the Odd Fellows society after he brought it from the Lone Mountain Cemetery as you can see on this map from the 1870's, the Inner Richmond was all cemeteries at one point, with the Odd Fellows and Masons each having their own.
The Planning Commission then voted to recommend landmarking the tree, but ultimately the Urban Forestry Council, which was called upon to make a final decision, found itself deadlocked. After another restraining order and a rebuff from the Board of Supervisors, the tree's fate is uncertain.
The couple in the carriage house, however, have since left the property after a payout of tens of thousands of dollars. They can no longer advocate on behalf of the tree according to the terms of that original agreement. But that didn't stop them from consulting a shaman in Indonesia — looks like they really did get some money — who told them there are not one but multiple spirits living in the tree.
Multiple! Where will they go? Who will speak for them?
Update: A follow up from the Chronicle holds good news for the tree spirits, if not for the wishes of the property owner. In a 9 to 2 vote, the Urban Forestry Council granted the tree landmark status for its physical attributes and relative rarity.
Council member Michael Sullivan was one of several who changed his no vote to a yes, but added that the council doesn't want to set too strong a precedent going forward. "In general, I think we ought to defer to property owners when a tree is in the backyard. I think we have to be really rigorous about ... not landmarking every large tree that comes before us even if it tugs at our heartstrings,” he said.