Lifespan of Cedars Weighed

Hecker Pass corridor looking west with Santa Teresa and First

City to hire arborist to diagnose health of trees along Hecker
Pass, in hopes of narrowing options of future construction
Gilroy – City leaders hope a diagnosis of the health and lifespan of the majestic cedars lining Hecker Pass, the city’s scenic western gateway, will help them make tough decisions about the future of the trees.

Two major construction projects – the relocation of the Uvas Creek bridge and the widening of Hecker Pass – could require cutting down 30 or more Deodara cedars as just one of several measures that could drastically alter the bucolic landscape.

During a one-hour study session Monday night, council members and planning commissioners expressed little enthusiasm for any of the half-dozen options for the bridge or road widening.

“I can’t say there’s any plan I saw last night that I liked,” Councilman Bob Dillon said. “I think everybody was lukewarm on what we saw.”

City staff briefed officials and an audience of several dozen residents on two alternatives for the bridge project and six options for the road widening.

Caltrans, the state’s transportation department, has ruled out repairing Uvas Creek bridge, eroded by years of water flow, and instead proposed plans to move the bridge to the north or south. City Planner Melissa Durkin said the southern option could mean the loss of 50 trees, 30 of them historic cedars. The northern bridge plan would spare the historic cedars to the south but would mean losing a greater number of trees to the north to clear the way for a 20-foot-high, 1,600-foot-long retaining wall along the hillside.

The other project involves widening the two-lane road between the Uvas bridge and Santa Teresa Boulevard, a move prompted by development plans for the Hecker Pass corridor.

The creation of two intersections to connect hundreds of future homes to Hecker Pass have triggered state requirements to widen the highway’s shoulder and add acceleration and deceleration lanes.

City staff presented six alternatives intended to meet those requirements that involved:

– adding a shoulder to the north or south sides or a mix of those options

– expanding the road to four lanes and retaining the cedars as part of a median

Dillon led the call by council members and commissioners for a study of the cedars to help winnow the options.

Meanwhile, residents of the Hecker Pass area and other stakeholders expressed mixed opinions about the projects, with some Burchell Road neighbors favoring the road widening while others questioned the need.

“Our biggest concern is those trees,” resident Henry Rubio said, pointing out that they have withstood decades of extreme weather. “I would hate to see them go.”

Connie Rogers, a former councilwoman and member of environmental group Save Open Space Gilroy, said she liked the median option but opposes an expansion of Hecker Pass to four lanes.

“Between the two projects, we really stand to lose a lot of the trees,” she said. “I think maybe the councilmen are right that we need to find out the lifespan of the trees. It’s still pretty early in the game and I was able to take home (the engineering) plans for the area. People from the SOS group are going to be studying it carefully.”

Caltrans plans to release an environmental report on the bridge relocation options Thursday. The public will have a 30-day comment period on the study before the state begins public hearings in January.

Council members plans to meet with state officials following the release of the report, though it remains unclear if that meeting will take place before the new year.

In the meantime, the city plans to hire an arborist to diagnose the health of the trees.

“If you drive out on Hecker Pass, you see them drop limbs all the time,” Dillon said. “I don’t want to spend all that money out there (on the road widening) and see them blow down.”

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