On a sunny day in mid-April, it’s already springtime in San Veron Park. Trees scattered across the green space are covered in new leaves and the grass is lush after a particularly rainy winter.
But one tree in the middle of Mountain View Park stands out: it’s brown and practically leafless, surrounded by orange fences. The tree is a coast redwood, but hardly recognizable. It was transplanted to its current location last summer, and within a few months it looked from full and healthy to brittle and scrawny, say residents nearby.
It is unclear who is responsible for the fall of the tree. The city of Mountain View says the time constraints of a PG&E project left them no choice but to move the tree during last year’s summer heat. The utility says its project won’t start until later this year and that the city could have moved the tree at any time before construction — including during the colder months when the tree might have had a better chance of surviving.
The city denies: Employees say the tree was transplanted before it became clear that PG&E’s project would be delayed.
The tree was transplanted from a nearby location in San Veron Park last summer to make way for a new PG&E gas regulator station. According to a city employee report from when the new equipment was first approved in February 2022, the stations will reduce pressure as large gas pipelines feed into smaller pipelines that serve nearby homes and businesses.
Mountain View’s chief communications officer, Lenka Wright, told the Voice that PG&E and city officials were working together to determine if moving the tree was feasible and that it was a pilot program.
PG&E agreed to pay for the transplant, which the city said was completed on Aug. 16 last year by a tree relocation company, Mighty Tree Movers.
“Unfortunately, the day of the transplant happened right around the time we had a record heat wave,” said resident Albert Jeans, who lives near San Veron Park. “The tree burned immediately. There were a few semi-green twigs, so we thought it might be able to hold on, but over the next few months it got browner and browner and browner. It’s looking pretty shabby now.”
Jeans reached out to the city in early April, asking for an update on the tree.
“The fact that it was transplanted during a severe heatwave while we were in extreme drought likely contributed to its demise,” Jeans wrote in his email to city officials.
Mountain View Urban Forest Supervisor Matthew Feisthamel responded to Jeans’ inquiry and said the city was aware of the dead tree.
“It is unfortunate that the sequoia was transplanted in the heat of summer,” Feisthamel wrote in his response, which Jeans shared with the voice. “But due to project schedules, the tree had to be transplanted in the summer.”
Who decided it was time for a transplant?
When asked if the city had any control over when the transplant occurred, city officials said the timing was determined by PG&E’s project schedule.
“PG&E communicated its schedule to the city and transplant work took place to accommodate the submitted schedule,” officials said.
But according to Jeans, the new regulator station wasn’t installed last summer – and as of April this year, he said, there’s still no sign of it.
“You don’t transplant trees in the middle of summer, in the middle of an extraordinary drought,” Jeans said. “PG&E hasn’t done anything there yet. If they had waited and done it now after months of rain I am sure the tree would have survived just fine.”
PG&E confirmed that the new regulator has not yet been installed and is scheduled to be installed this summer. A spokesman said the tree did not need to be moved last summer, “just before construction began, and the city had full visibility into the project schedule.”
City officials disagree with this characterization. Wright told the Voice that based on what the city knew last summer, “the transplanting of redwood trees and the installation of the new regulator were occurring on parallel schedules.”
“However, PG&E’s installation of the regulator took much longer than expected due to legal easement issues,” Wright said. “The transplant remained on the original summer schedule due to the uncertainty of how long it would take to reach easement terms and a contractor was hired for the tree transplant pilot.”
Wright added that given the redwood’s age, there was never a guarantee it would be successful in the new location.
What happens next
Mountain View city officials say the city followed the recommendations of the tree transplant contractor and his arborist to give the tree the best chance of survival. This included giving the tree extra water the week before the big move.
Since the transplant, the city said it has been watering the tree regularly. The workers also added fencing around the base of the tree to maintain a root protection zone. But despite these efforts, the tree started to show signs of shock after the transplant.
“The staff hoped that the tree would respond quickly and that cooler fall/winter temperatures and rain would help the tree improve over time,” Wright said. “The health of the tree continues to decline at the moment.”
The city said the plan is for the contractor to inspect the tree a year after the move, in August, and provide the city with a report on the tree’s condition.
“City forestry workers will review the report, grade the tree and determine if they agree with the contractor’s review,” Wright said.
If the tree needs to be removed, the city will replace it with two new trees to meet the 2:1 reduction ratio that the city council approved when the plan was first approved in early 2022.
“When it is determined that it has not been successful, there are some lessons to be learned, and at this point I think staff need the opportunity to go through that process and do a debrief,” said John Marchant, director of community services, in an interview. “To take this as a case study and see whether or not things could have been done differently.”