Overheard conversation drives neighbors from Santa Cruz up a tree to avoid rescue

SANTA CRUZ – A strawberry tree within the car parking zone of a Santa Cruz office constructing was spared after residents of a neighboring constructing protested its planned cutting down – with one man climbing the tree and occupying it.

“I've always considered myself an activist,” said neighbor Brett Garrett, who climbed the tree Tuesday morning. “And I like trees in general, but I didn't consider myself a tree activist until last week.”

The strawberry tree, believed to have been planted about 10 years ago, towers over a patio within the neighboring Walnut Commons, an apartment complex. One of the office constructing's tenants – the nonprofit Ecology Action – had planned to remove it on Tuesday to make room for a shed to store electric bikes.

According to Heather Henricks of Ecology Action, the situation of the shed had been planned for a yr and the tree's welfare had been taken under consideration, however the nonprofit's leadership saw its existence as a possible nuisance to neighbors.

“We gave a lot of thought to the location and whether to remove the tree,” Henricks told the Sentinel. “Until last week, we were under the impression that the residents of Walnut Commons would welcome the tree's removal, as they had complained about its tree debris on their patios and the possibility that thieves could use it to climb over the dividing wall between our properties.”

But about every week ago, some Walnut Commons residents on the patio overheard the office constructing's property manager discussing the tree's removal. Word quickly spread to other residents, including Garrett, who has lived within the constructing because it was built nearly 10 years ago.

“The news spread like wildfire throughout the building and everyone was really concerned that we might lose this tree,” Garrett said. “It's right next to our patio and feels like a part of our environment even though it's on their property.”

Neighbors put together a petition against the removal of the strawberry tree, and nearly every resident within the constructing signed it — 23 signatures. Garrett said he and his neighbors thought the tree's removal was supported by Cruzio Internet, one other tenant within the constructing, and were surprised to search out out it was Ecology Action. After residents created the petition, they reached out to the nonprofit.

  • A note was attached to the strawberry tree informing...

    A note was attached to the strawberry tree informing him that it was going to be cut down. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

  • The strawberry tree, seen through the fence at Walnut Commons. (Shmuel...

    The strawberry tree seen through the fence at Walnut Commons. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

  • Brett Garrett sent an email on Tuesday morning saying: “I am…

    Brett Garrett sent an email on Tuesday morning saying, “I’m in the tree now, inspired by Julia Butterfly Hill!” (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“As the climate crisis worsens, we need passionate environmental advocates more than ever,” Henricks said. “We were deeply touched to learn that our neighbors felt a strong connection to the strawberry tree and felt compelled to ask us to adapt the plan.”

As of Monday afternoon, the tree was still scheduled to be cut down. But Garrett, who is often involved in environmental issues akin to clean energy and transportation, decided he needed to take drastic motion. At around 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, he climbed the tree – inspired partly by Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in an old Humboldt County redwood tree for greater than two years within the late Nineties to forestall it from being cut down.

“I don't know how many weeks she spent up in that tree,” Garrett said. “I was prepared to spend a few hours.”

Garrett said climbing the tree was an empowering experience and that he felt peaceful as he sat there Tuesday morning. After about two hours, Chuck Tremper, chief operating officer of Ecology Action, gave him some excellent news.

“He pulled into the parking lot, noticed me in the tree, came over and said he wanted to know the tree wasn't going to be cut down,” Garrett said. “I was very relieved.”

Garrett mentioned that an activist's actions don’t at all times produce the specified end result and that he was thrilled that the neighbors' efforts saved the tree.

“As an activist, you're usually working on things and banging on walls and nothing ever changes,” Garrett said. “It was really satisfying to just work on it for a couple of days with a good group of other people and actually save the tree. It shows me that activism is really worthwhile and you can really make a difference.”

After Garrett safely descended the strawberry tree and returned home on Tuesday, Tremper sent a message to the residents of Walnut Commons.

“All of us at Ecology Action are touched by how many people in our neighborhood have come to love and appreciate the tree – and feel moved to protect it. And we want to protect it,” Tremper wrote. “After some late-night brainstorming and drawing, we've found a way to do just that. While we'll need to further reduce our parking and make some other adjustments that will increase our team's workload, we're proposing to move our bike storage building farther from the southern property line so the tree can stay.”

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