Noble sequoia was worth saving |

Noble sequoia was worth saving

At 318 Neal St. in downtown Grass Valley, a beautiful giant sequoia tree has been growing for the last 132 years. Planted in the Gold Rush era, this marvelous specimen has now, in the Internet age, reached amazing stature, standing 118 feet high with a 12-foot diameter at the base.

The tree is well proportioned and captivating. For the last 15 years, we have both looked forward to our weekly visits to the bank next door so that we could stand a while and admire this tree, which is truly a magnificent esthetic and historic resource of our community.

Giant sequoias grow naturally in the Sierra Nevada and nowhere else. They are rare, inhabiting some 65-76 isolated groves on the western slopes. They are the largest living things and, with a maximum life span exceeding 3,000 years, second only to the bristlecone pines in longevity. Because of their uniqueness and grandeur, people each year flock to California from all around the world to see them.

In Grass Valley we can enjoy them every day around town, and the one on Neal Street is by far the most impressive. It is a great privilege to have these trees among us, a privilege we owe to the early settlers of Grass Valley.

The Neal Street tree is no ordinary sequoia. According to a U.S. National Park Service publication (, sequoias have been planted around the world, with an estimated 10,000 plantings in Europe alone. Based on the Park Service publication, the sequoia on Neal Street appears to be surpassed in size by only one other planted sequoia in the world, one growing near Madrid, Spain, with a height of 130 feet and diameter of 13 feet.

But now, as reported in The Union on Feb. 26, there is trouble in paradise. Some three years ago, the property at 318 Neal St. was purchased by a new owner, Rey Johnson, who wants to cut down the tree and secured Grass Valley City Council approval to do so. He claims the tree is a hazard, both to people and his house.

However, Public Works Director Rudi Golnik denied permission to cut the tree on the grounds that other options to preserve the tree while maintaining safety had not been exhausted. This sensible position was reversed by City Council members Gerard Tassone, DeVere Mautino, Patti Ingram and Linda Stevens, primarily in reliance on the opinion of consulting arborist Randall Frizzell, whose services had been retained by Mr. Johnson.

The council chose to give credence to Mr. Frizzell’s contention that there is no solution but to remove the tree, while conversely ignoring the views both of Mr. Golnik and well-known local naturalist John Olmsted that remedial alternatives might be feasible. This seems to us to be poor judgment on the part of the Council. Since Mr. Frizzell was hired by Mr. Johnson, there is palpable potential for conflict of interest.

Several years ago, we hired Mr. Frizzell to advise us about a magnificent blue oak some 200-300 years of age on our property, which had developed a serious lean. We expressed a strong desire to save the tree. Mr. Frizzell recommended a one-third crown reduction, and we defrayed the cost for him to perform the work, which extended the life of the tree for several years.

We can’t help wonder what Mr. Frizzell’s opinion about the giant sequoia might be if Mr. Johnson wished to save rather than destroy it. Neither Mr. Golnik nor Mr. Olmsted has a financial stake in the matter. Why did the council make short shrift of their recommendations? After 132 years, why the rush?

Let us remember what famed naturalist John Muir had to say about the giant sequoias. “These kings of the forest, the noblest of a noble race rightly belong to the world … we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians.”

We confess to being heartsick about the sequoia on Neal Street, which has grown with our town and might otherwise stand sentinel for centuries to come, continuing to record local history in its tree rings and spreading happiness among our successors. Cutting down this tree is surely a callous and ill-considered course of action, which should weigh heavily on the minds of Grass Valley citizens and redound to the discredit of our City Council.

Mahlon and Bobbi Wilkes are biomedical consultants based in Grass Valley. The giant sequoia came down this week.

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