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[whitespace] May Day looms for 100-year-old trees

Saratoga--Many long-time Saratogans have a special place in their hearts for the trees in their community. As May 1 draws near, the day on which Saratoga Union School District arborist Deborah Ellis will decide the fate of one of two large eucalyptus trees on the Saratoga School campus, some Saratogans are hoping they can work with the SUSD to keep both 100-year old giants standing.

"Most people think we have saved them, and I have to tell them we have not," said Jill Hunter, an advocate for the trees who resigned from the SUSD board over the issue.

Gay Crawford, also an advocate for the trees and a neighbor of Saratoga School, sent a letter to board president Stephanie Petrossi requesting that the issue be discussed one more time.

"We want to work with the school and do what's best for the children. If it's a safety issue, we can top the trees. If they are both healthy after the construction, why not let them live?" Crawford said. She believes it is important to put the trees in the context of history. According to Crawford, when the trees were young Teddy Roosevelt was president and the Wright Brothers had recently made their first flight.

SUSD superintendent Mary Gardner said the subject will most likely be discussed at the April 18 board meeting, although it is not agendized. "At this point the board has not agreed to reopen the negotiations," Gardner said.

Deliberation over the fate of the trees began in the summer of 1998, when the architect's preliminary plans for the expansion of the school called for the removal of both large eucalyptus trees for safety reasons.

Some felt the trees should remain standing for their historical and intrinsic values. Others argued they should be removed to make a larger, more level play field for the children and for safety reasons, such as the potential for falling branches.

What followed was nine months of parent meetings, petitions, city council involvement and Hunter's resignation.

On April 27, 1999, a compromise was reached. The district would keep the two large trees until May 2000, at which time Ellis would recommend the removal of the less healthy of the two. Ellis will also determine the health of four eucalyptus trees near the classrooms. Any diseased or unsafe trees will be removed.

Dissent has calmed since the agreement, and construction is well under way, but Hunter, Crawford and a handful of other concerned neighbors and citizens have kept a careful watch on the Saratoga School trees. While they commend the SUSD's efforts to protect the health of the trees during construction such as fencing, mulching, watering trimming and hiring consultants, they also say a lot of damage has been done.

The group has documented that about 40 trees have been removed so far, according to Crawford. They also are concerned with root damage to oak trees along the front of the school as the result of large trenches. Because of damage caused during construction and the large number of trees already removed, the group advocating for the trees hopes negotiations will be reopened again for the two large eucalyptus. "I don't know what the answers are," Hunter said. "But we would like to see if there is any way at all to save them."
Leigh Ann Maze

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