Dozens of people gathered beneath the shade and softly sloping branches of a gargantuan deodar cedar Monday afternoon. They were there to sign petitions and show support for the downtown heritage grove and its nearby historic bungalow at Yuba and Oregon streets. That site is slated for the construction of a new courthouse.
Frank Treadway, the self-described community activist who helped plan the vigil, said he was motivated by a note written by a city official that mentioned that the courthouse planning staff would consider saving “some of the trees” – a phrase that gave Treadway pause, then propelled him into action. Treadway wrote letters to city and county officials, as well as to key project managers, architects and planners involved with the proposed courthouse construction.
“I am asking you to work closely with the Seattle architect and save all of the trees in an urban park for the employees of the courthouse and the citizens of Redding,” Treadway wrote in one letter. He added that during his 65 years in Redding, he’d witnessed the destruction of too many Victorian homes and ancient trees in the name of progress.
Cynthia Adamson, the courthouse project manager, emailed a March 23 message in which she sought to clear up an “erroneous statement” written in one citizen’s letter.
“…There is no ‘proposed removal of heritage trees’ at this time,” wrote Adamson from her Sacramento-based Office of Court Construction and Management.
“We have not yet begun the design phase of the project, and when we do, appropriate consideration will be given to maintaining the trees. We are working with a very good architecture firm, and environmentally sensitive design is important to all of us.”
Treadway’s hope is that by the time Adamson and others do begin the design phase, they will be fully aware of north state citizens’ passion for preservation.
Carolyn Bond, who’d helped spearhead a heritage tree ordinance in Redding decades years ago, shook her head sadly as she recalled failed efforts to get an ordinance with “some teeth in it.” Bond recounted a long-ago city council meeting in which noted horticulturist Gary Matson took leaders to task for recommending a $1,000 penalty to developers who cut down the first heritage tree, and then $500 penalties for subsequent trees.
“Gary said, ‘What are we doing – giving a bargain for cutting down more trees?!’ “
Bond gazed toward the tree tops.
“These trees are a lot older than I am, if you can believe that,” she said with a smile.
Art McBride of Redding echoed his awe for the trees’ longevity.
“These trees have been citizens of Redding for over 130 years,” McBride said. “I don’t want to see our most senior citizens of Redding killed.”
Lynn Fritz, a licensed marriage and family therapist, ventured a more expansive solution.
“I’d like to see mindful planning – one that takes the value of the past and links it to the future,” Fritz said.
Likewise, Tom O’Mara of Olinda, whose placard said, “Real architects save trees,” acknowledged the grove’s beauty, yet also addressed both practical and fiscal issues.
“Shade trees? In Redding in the summer? Good idea, bad idea?” asked O’Mara. He added that shade and oxygen were just part of the trees’ positive features.
“I don’t know of any other asset that could create a more livable, walkable and a better quality of life in downtown than these trees,” O’Mara said.
“Plus, they’re paid for, and they have a value that far exceeds their lumber value. They’re magnificent. Look around in any direction and there’s not a tree half as tall as these.”
Meanwhile, Marcella Thompson, who owns the refurbished grand bungalow that’s in the cross hairs of an eminent domain proceeding to clear Thompson’s lot for the new courthouse, took a break from her work as a licensed clinical social worker to step outside, enjoy the sunshine and offer coffee and support to those who’d gathered on the sidewalk.
Although Thompson declined to speak of her property’s legal status, she appreciated the concerns of those who’d organized the vigil.
“Today is about the trees,” she said. “Any architect can save a tree by a sidewalk.”
Apparently, saving a building is more challenging. Despite that, Thompson exhibited a glimmer of optimism regarding the fate of her bungalow, and the restaurant next door, carefully remodeled to mirror the Craftsman style of its easternly neighbor.
“I am very hopeful that if this all comes to fruition, both buildings will find homes,” said Thompson.
As new waves of people arrived during their lunch hours to sign save-the-tree petitions, Thom Berry, Redding musician and landscaper, walked up to the trees for a closer look, then returned to and pronounced the redwoods and cedars, in his professional assessment, “beautiful and healthy and pristine” and that they should be saved.
He summed up his thoughts with a line from a song.
“They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot,” Berry said. “Unfortunately, that’s the mentality here.”
Photos by Alan Ernesto Phillips.
Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.
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