The floss silk tree responsible for the cracked walls, blocked steps and distorted walkways at the entrance to Mission San Luis Obispo will be moved this January, city officials said.
The decision to move the tree to a new location instead of cutting it down entirely was not an easy one, but after a citizen donated $30,000 for the move, a plan was set in motion.
“(Mission officials) decided that the tree needed to go because it’s possibly causing damage to the mission,” said Keith Pellemeier, the city’s urban forester. “Originally, they asked if we could just remove the tree, cut the tree down.”
The tree sits in a planter at the top of the mission steps, and will be removed by a crane in January when it will be dormant after its December bloom, officials said.
It will only be moved a short distance across Mission Plaza to a larger planter near the fountain containing the statue of a Chumash child and a bear.
“The actual physical moving of the tree will probably take the moving company about a week,” Pellemeier said.
“It would be on the same side of the creek (as the mission). It’s basically the planter between the fountain and Mission Grill.”
The plan to remove the tree sparked controversy during the summer because the 44-year-old tree is a city-designated “heritage tree.”
“We have 21 of those in San Luis Obispo, and those would be any tree of a significant size, species or historical significance,” Pellemeier said.
Greg Hind, founder of the Hind Foundation, which is geared toward preservation and restoration of cultural heritage, donated $30,000 toward the tree removal after he read about the possibility of its destruction.
Hind agrees that the tree’s roots are a hazard, but it remains a cultural landmark in San Luis Obispo.
“I think a lot of people that have come here and seen the mission also have seen that tree, and I think a lot of people who have been here for a while kind of associate the two together,” Hind said.
“So, I think it’s important to keep a little bit of that cultural heritage going and try to save it.”
The current location of the tree is a planter about 13 feet by 13 feet, and its growing roots have all but destroyed the mission stairs, flagstones and stone and concrete walls.
The new planter is larger, 30 feet by 35 feet, which will give the roots more room to spread out before disrupting the sidewalk, Pellemeier said.
“It’s probably about a 90-percent probability that we’re going to go ahead and do this, but the way I look at it right now is that I still have a little bit more homework to do on my end of it,” Pellemeier said.
The mission is undergoing several other renovations, including the installation of a new roof, repairs to the foundation and possibly some earthquake retrofitting.
John Fowler, project manager for the mission’s current renovations, told The Tribune that fixing the steps and restoring the area will not be paid by the $30,000 donation to move the tree.
Instead, the costs will be added to the fundraising currently undertaken for the mission renovation project.
Finishing the reconstruction work at the mission will cost about $2.7 million, Fowler said.