In the heart of an office park just east of San Jose's airport, Jan Petersen used to like to stroll down Technology Drive because of the shade. Even on the hottest summer days, the street's line of imposing redwoods kept the temperature several degrees cooler.
Not so much anymore. By my count, work crews have already taken down 23 of the trees, which often soared 65 or 70 feet high. And the City of San Jose has granted permission to the developers to take down 45 more in the immediate area, the big majority of them redwoods.
California's vaunted tree is falling victim to an old imperative of an office park -- creating visibility for the buildings. And while you can understand the need for the building's owners, Equity Office Properties, to market their property, you have to wonder if they're being shortsighted.
Equity Office has embarked on an ambitious plan to upgrade the buildings it calls "Airport Place," adding new signs, fitness centers, outdoor lighting, bicycle cages, etc. This only makes sense: Most of the buildings are at least 25 years old and wearing a bit. (see goo.gl/SiZqvr for more).
In an opaque note to tenants on Dec. 27, Equity Office revealed a program for "select tree removal," promising that the trees would be replaced by 24-inch box Jacaranda trees, a much smaller flowering tree. The note said nothing about redwoods. Instead, it promised "a new sense of open space."
Darkness at noon
"The trees being removed were originally planted in the late 1980s when the properties were built," said Andrew Neilly, a spokesman for Equity, by email. "They've been selected because they have grown too close together, created darkness issues in some offices, or impact the visibility of the property."
Whoa. Darkness issues. I can understand. With electric lights being as spotty as they are in the 21st century, nobody wants a shady office that could save on the air-conditioning bill. And those people enjoying a latte at Starbucks look pale. They could do with a little sun.
Equity says that its occupancy rate at Airport Place is hovering around 80 percent, less than comparable office parks on the Peninsula. So anybody would prefer a big monument-style sign out front rather than a few shaggy redwoods, wouldn't they?
Well, not everyone. A few redwood lovers linger nearby. "If you've lived here and you value the trees, you're shocked at what is happening," said Bill Class, a manager at an electronics firm on Gateway Place.
"These trees are beautiful," says Petersen, the woman who likes to stroll down Technology. "Especially those here, they're almost pristine. They haven't been trimmed back."
Patrick Kelly, a planner for the city, told me that the idea behind the project was to create visibility for the buildings while trying to retain as many trees as possible. (The arborist on the project was hired by the property owners. San Jose remains a developer's town).
But as I passed a commanding redwood surrounded by the plastic fencing that marked it for chopping, I wondered if the owners had it right.
The office buildings are no great landmarks. The redwoods are. What if they marketed the whole place as a grove? What if the pitch was pastoral rather than the usual view of glass and steel?
Too green? Too dark?