By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cotati has always been known as a special little town, and City Council members think saving a rare chimera redwood tree and planting it near City Hall may be the perfect addition to that image.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to help relocate an unusual green and white coast redwood tree from near the SMART railroad tracks to a parcel of open space across from city offices.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency says the tree is in the way of a second side track that is planned for the location, just north of the Cotati depot, where SMART plans commuter rail service as early as 2016.
SMART, saying the tree will be too close to the tracks to meet federal safety standards, planned to cut the tree down but has postponed a decision pending additional arborist input.
Cotati’s pledged adoption of the tree returns the focus to SMART.
SMART representatives could not be reached Wednesday. They have said they don’t have a timeframe for making a decision about the tree.
In addition to vowing to accept the tree should SMART allow it, Cotati council members Tuesday selected the Veronda-Falletti Ranch for replanting the 52-foot-tall tree, which has grown since at least 1947 along the railroad tracks at East Cotati Avenue.
The Veronda-Falletti land is a vacant piece of land that has county Open Space District protection. It is an example of local history, agricultural study and land stewardship in Cotati, City Manager Dianne Thompson said.
“I wanted to do it at the Veronda-Falletti farm because it’s preserved open space, so if there is any future development, it won’t take place there,” said Councilwoman Wendy Skillman.
“It will have long-term protection. Also, in the longer term, we want to turn that into more of an educational facility,” she said. “It’s another way to make Cotati a unique place.”
The unusual tree is called a chimera because it exhibits both albino and normal green foliage from separate sets of DNA. Arborists who study such chlorophyll-deficient redwoods say the tree may be one of only about 10 chimeras in existence, and possibly the only mature specimen producing male and female cones — an invaluable scientific resource.
Cotati also committed to watering and maintaining the tree to help it become reestablished. City costs are expected to be less than $10,000 and would come from an existing park fee fund.
Arborist Tom Stapleton, who has spearheaded the effort to save the tree, submitted several bids by tree movers to relocate the tree.
He said public sentiment — including more than 700 signatures on a Change.org petition and a Facebook page dedicated to saving the tree — should persuade SMART to allow the relocation. A local sign company donated a banner supporting its relocation. The banner is at the site now.
“Cotati sees the economic value, how it can improve the city — so many benefits all of them recognize,” Stapleton said. “SMART needs to right their wrong, do the right thing and move this tree.”
Four bids submitted to SMART for the relocation vary widely in their cost estimates, from about $17,000 to $89,000. SMART officials haven’t said whether the agency would fund the move.
“It’s up to them,” Skillman said, adding that the city has committed to maintenance and irrigation costs. “We’re hoping they will step up and pay for that.”
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or email@example.com.