A roughly 70-foot-tall oak tree with roots in Atascadero’s history was on the verge of being chopped down this week.
Last month, the commission voted 4-3 to approve a request by the owners of Sylvester’s Burgers at 6455 El Camino Real to remove the tree in the city’s right-of-way in front of their property.
Sylvester’s is responsible for the maintenance of the tree under city policy.
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The century-old tree has shown signs of decay. At issue is whether the tree presents a hazard with falling limbs or whether treatment and trimming can help preserve it under safe conditions.
A couple of concerned citizens considered appealing the commission’s decision to the council but said they didn’t want to spend $935 on the fee the city assesses.
As the deadline for an appeal approached Tuesday afternoon without a petition from the public, City Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi requested that the matter be discussed by the council.
A councilmember may submit an appeal application for council review without paying a fee.
No date has been set for the council discussion on the tree, although it won’t be considered at Tuesday’s meeting because the agenda and staff reports already have gone out.
“I haven’t made up my mind on this yet, but I think some of the citizens felt like they hadn’t had a chance to have their voices heard,” Fonzi said. “That’s the reason I pulled it for council consideration.”
Concerned residents say they don’t want to see the tree go that helps define Atascadero’s charm.
“This tree and others like it in the downtown area bring character to our city. They’re a tourist attraction, and they’re part of our heritage,” said Chris Johns, an Atascadero resident. “We need to fight to save them.”
After an examination, the city’s arborist, Michael Bova of Davey Resource Group, determined the tree is a hazard and has shown signs of decay and cavities, along with drought stress, and has cankers on its trunk.
The arborist reported a risk rating of between eight and nine out of a maximum of 10.
Last October, an 18-inch diameter limb fell from the tree onto a patio at Sylvester’s where people sit to eat.
“Luckily, there were no customers or pedestrians in the vicinity at the time,” a city planning staff report said.
The estimated cost of trimming and treatment is $3,000, which includes removing three large lower limbs over the restaurant’s patio and parking area and over the street; deep root fertilization; and mulching.
Future ongoing costs in monitoring the tree also could be necessary, according to the city planning department.
The planning staff report noted “pruning and treatment cannot guarantee success” and potential for “large limb failure would remain.”
Fonzi said one idea, which will need further discussion, is that concerned citizens could come up with the tree treatment costs. But she wouldn’t expect the city or Sylvester’s to foot that bill.
Brian Englund, owner of Sylvester’s, who filed the removal request, was prepared to pay the $1,066 in mitigation fees that would go to a fund to plant trees elsewhere in the city.
Atascadero resident Jerry Clay, a former council member, said he spoke at the last Planning Commission meeting on the issue, and was concerned that the City Council wouldn’t hear the discussion on this.
Clay, now in his 80s, remembers the oak trees that have helped shape the city’s character from his youth growing up in Atascadero.
“With any of these historic trees, the City Council should make the decision,” Clay said. “ I think we should treat and trim this tree. It’s worth a try at least.”