Living Christmas tree in SLO’s Mission Plaza deserves a chance

The Tribune Editorial Board

An illustration of how the historic view of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa may change if a newly-planted cedar grows tall.
An illustration of how the historic view of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa may change if a newly-planted cedar grows tall.

A 20-foot-tall living Christmas tree recently planted in front of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa already could be headed for the chopping block.

We say bah humbug to that; it’s much too early to declare the tree a bad fit.

Some background: The city and the Downtown Association have partnered on putting up a large Christmas tree in Mission Plaza for 25 years. For the past 20 or so years, there were off-and-on discussions of planting a live holiday tree, instead of hauling one in and out every year.

From an efficiency standpoint, it made sense: City staff was spending about 40 hours putting up the tree, maintaining it and taking it down each Christmas season.

Several weeks ago, a deodar cedar was finally planted behind the fountain in Mission Plaza.

Since then, there have been complaints that it doesn’t fit in with existing landscaping, blocks the view of the historic mission and will make it difficult to see the menorah displayed in front of the mission during Hanukkah.

The City Council will discuss the tree’s fate when it meets Tuesday. Options include keeping the tree, moving it to another location or getting rid of it entirely after Christmas.

With all this fuss, this must be one heck of a huge tree, right?

Not really. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if many — maybe even most — passersby haven’t even noticed it, given the number of other trees in Mission Plaza. Several of those trees are much larger than the cedar, and at certain vantage points they block views of the mission. So why pick on one particular tree?

We agree blocking the menorah is a problem, but city staff says there are other spots in the plaza where the menorah can be properly displayed.

Bottom line: Keeping the tree — at least for a few years — is the most viable option.

Moving it would be silly because city staff already considered and rejected other locations.

Removing it would be premature. The tree hasn’t even been up for a year. Why not give it a chance to grow on us, so to speak? Like a new piece of furniture that initially sticks out like a sore thumb, even critics of the tree may get used to it after a while.

Also, once the tree is more established, some of the lower limbs will be removed to enhance the view of the mission. It also will be kept pruned to a manageable size and height.

If that’s not enough of an argument for keeping the tree for the time being, here’s another: The city is just starting work on an assessment and master plan for the plaza. In other words, now is not the time to go out on limb where any tree is concerned.

We urge the City Council to let the tree be.