The Menlo Park City Council voted 3-2 last night to let a developer cut down one of the biggest redwoods in the city so she could extract the most possible profit from her investment.
In tree vs. cash, cash wins.
This developer, Kim Lemieux, referred to for the rest of this post as The Once-ler*, bought a house on University Avenue in 2007 with the intention of tearing it down and building a bigger, "better" house to then sell for a huge profit. She has done this about a dozen times before in Menlo Park. Because of her experience she knew about Menlo Park's Heritage Tree Ordinance, which says that you have to get permission from the city to chop down any tree bigger than 12 inches in diameter. From the beginning it was her intention to chop down the tree, and she assumed her request would be rubber-stamped. (She has not said this publicly, but it's pretty obvious to anyone who has followed this saga.)
As is their right, the next-door neighbors (my new colleague on the Environmental Quality Commission, Christina Smolke, and her husband) filed an appeal after the planning commission approved her house design, with the tree removal included. The Once-ler said she couldn't possibly build a viable house on that lot with the tree in place, right in the middle of the deep, narrow lot. We on the EQC said we didn't believe her. In October the city council listened to her sob story about how she just had to bigger her house in order to bigger her money. They decided they couldn't possibly make a decision about this without paying some experts $7,500 to tell them if a house could be built with the tree there.
These experts said it could. The Once-ler said it would be too expensive, and no one would want to buy the house under the redwood tree anyway, because it would make the house oh so sad and dreary. The council (or at least three of the five present) bought it and said, "OK, Once-ler, it's only one tree."
I hope the city is working on a new logo this morning.
*The Once-ler is the villain in the great Dr Seuss book, The Lorax. In it, the Once-ler discovers the beautiful Truffula trees, and uses them to knit Thneeds until they are all gone and he and all the animals who lived in the Truffula forest are ruined.