Photo By: ELIZA RIDGEWAY/TOWN CRIER
When the Town Crier previously wrote about Los Altos resident Bea Teer’s historical home on University Avenue in 1996, she confessed to civil disobedience – watering beloved redwood trees on the property during a drought. The violation of water-rationing rules earned her a $500 citation.
Teer loves the massive trees, which have grown to a girth far exceeding that of their devoted owner, and soar far above her 1929 home’s red tile roof. The house has made it onto Los Altos’ historical registry, a milestone enthusiastically documented by Teer.
“I was so excited I couldn’t stand it,” she said.
When Teer bought the property in 1989, her parcel included the historicalo house but few of the giant trees that soared overhead. This summer she got a harsh reminder when a neighbor with a side yard in deep shade and a foundation attacked by cedar roots got a permit and removed the trees on her adjoining property.
Teer, who acknowledges she didn’t have a great relationship with her neighbor, only learned of the plans when the trees started coming down.
She accepts that she had no legal claim whatsoever to the trees, but she wonders – doesn’t the city want to give residents a crack at speaking up for the city’s landscape heritage?
She said she barreled over to Los Altos City Hall when the arborist “started chopping” but didn’t get traction with staff. Los Altos’ Municipal Code does protect several kinds of trees, including those larger than 48 inches in circumference, those designated as heritage trees and those included as part of a development permit. The code requires that property owners obtain a permit before removing them.
But neighbor notification is not generally required as part of the tree-removal process. City Planner Zach Dahl said the permit application evaluates the tree’s condition, why it might need to be removed, the aesthetic effect of its removal and whether other trees exist on the property, among other things.
“It’s that balance of making sure a property owner can use and enjoy that property, and at the same time maintaining the city’s urban forest,” Dahl said.
“The city said they did not have to tell me, all they have to do is issue permits,” Teer said. “Wow – let’s change that!”
She figures her neighbor was totally justified in removing some of the cedars but mourns the total eradication next door, stretching to the back of her property.
Trees don’t often win the protected status awarded to man-made structures in Los Altos. The city’s registry includes approximately 120 properties, about 1 percent of the houses in Los Altos.
A property owner can apply to designate a heritage tree or the city government can vote to initiate the process. But only two tree groupings have won heritage status – the apricot orchards around city hall and the Canary Island date palm trees on Rinconada Court. A neighborhood effort got the century-old palm trees listed in 2003.
When Roy and Myrtle Frothingham built Teer’s Monterey-style home on University Avenue in the late 1920s for the princely sum of $7,500, they employed a local architect to design a two-story, stucco-clad structure with a gabled roof and long, romantic balcony. The family often went to Big Basin, where they gathered redwood seedlings to bring back and plant alongside the house. Over the ensuing 80 years, the dozen trees grew huge and spread among subsequent subdivisions.
“If I could have appealed the back trees, I may or may not have had a legitimate beef, but I think I did,” Teer said.
Teer figures her mourning for the privacy, shade and beauty of the cedar boughs is a relatable grief. She wonders if there might be enough lovers of living, green historic artifacts in town to support writing neighbor notification into the city code.