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Historic conflict

The towering 118-foot sequoia tree with massive, swooping branches has long complemented the Gold Rush-era Edward Coleman House in Grass Valley.

The historic significance of the two symbols, each about 150 years old, has not been contested, but their harmony was disrupted when the tree began uprooting the house and shedding thousand-pound limbs, which pierced the deck of the house.

It was left to the Grass Valley City Council to decide what some said was inevitable. “We’re left with a choice of losing the house or losing the tree,” said attorney Ray Shine, representing the family living in the home at 318 Neal St.



The council voted 4-0 on Tuesday night to allow the tree to get axed, although it remains unclear as to when that will happen; councilman Steve Enos was absent. Councilman Gerard Tassone said the facts speak for themselves.

However, it may not be so simple, according to Public Works Director Rudi Golnik. He said every option to preserve the tree and protect the home has not been explored. He cited as examples the possibility of cultivating the soils to promote the growth of roots away from the structure or trimming the roots.




Golnik denied the Johnson family’s application to remove the tree, which is why attorney Shine appealed to the City Council on behalf of the family. He said aside from the shallow roots destroying the house, the falling limbs are endangering lives.

The public works director admitted the tree posed some dangers, but he urged solutions less extreme than removing the tree.

“I am not trying to diminish the hazards associated with the tree, because those are real, but those can be mitigated,” Golnik said.

Consulting arborist Randall Frizzell disagreed. He said trimming the roots could stop the tree from uprooting the house but would also make the tree unstable and create a greater safety risk.

Shine said the tree limbs have impaled the deck of the home and destroyed cars parked in the driveway. And the juvenile tree still has about 300 years to grow.

The problem stems from the fact the Sequoia Gigantica was artificially planted in an urban area, Shine said. There are approximately 75 sequoia trees in Grass Valley and the one at the Coleman House is the largest – it has a 12-foot diameter at the base.

The tree was brought to Grass Valley by Edward Coleman, an Englishman who moved to Nevada County in 1860. The number of trees planted during the Gold Rush era suggests a significant effort by the community to import and cultivate them in Grass Valley, Golnik said.

In documents provided to the council, local historian John Olmsted stated anyone who wanted to cut the tree probably didn’t know the value of what they had. He said while the trees can do significant damage over time, there are ways to offset their danger.

The Johnson family acknowledged the beauty of the tree, but Rey Johnson said the falling limbs, known as “widow-makers,” pose a significant threat to his family.

Frizzell agreed, saying the tree’s charms did not outweigh its threat.

“The size, age, beauty of this tree have no relevance when lives are at risk,” he said.

It was unclear as to when the tree would be removed.


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