Published Wednesday, February 19, 2009, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
By Ian S. Port
Construction of a high speed rail line alongside the Caltrain tracks
in Palo Alto could threaten El Palo Alto, the 1,069-year-old redwood
> after which the city
The 111-foot tree is just a few feet away from the current rail line
and the banks of San Francisquito Creek. If the new rail line is built
to the east of Caltrain, El Palo Alto would have to be cut down. If
the rail line went to the west, it could mean at least part of the
Stanford Park Hotel would be eliminated, and the tree still might not
survive, said City Aborist Dave Dockter.
In an e-mail to residents that the Post reviewed last night, Dockter
said that widening the rail right of way or digging a tunnel
underneath it would at the very least damage the tree's fragile root
"Excavating for a sound wall footing or other reason close to the tree
would probably result in tipping the tree's viability over the edge,"
Dockter wrote. "Even if deep cuts were vertical without leaving the
ROW (Right of way), they may have catastrophic effects."
Historians believe that Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola
> first noticed
El Palo Alto -- then the tallest tree around -- in November
1769, and camped under it while on an expedition to Monterey Bay.
The tree became both the symbol and namesake of the city of Palo Alto,
whose name in Spanish means literally "tall tree." It is California
Historical Landmark No. 2.
But at a community meeting held last night to discuss the state high-
speed rail project, Charleston Meadows resident Sara Armstrong raised
Dockter's concerns that the tree could succumb to threats from
widening the rail line or building a tunnel.
In his e-mail, Dockter said that the tree's proximity to the rail line
and San Francisquito Creek has forced it to gro a root system that
could make it more vulnerable to changes below ground or nearby.
"there simply are not roots where a typcal flatland tree would have
roots," Dockter wrote. "Root and soil removal could result in an
irreversible decline or even mortality whether by health or weakening
the tree's stability or catastrophic whole tree failure in any
The high-speed rail system,which is planed to run along the courrent
Caltrain line from San ose to San Francisco, will require adding at
least one new rail line in each direction, and possbily more. The rail
right of way will have to be 75 feet wide at a minmum to accommodate
the bullet trains, said John litzinger, a Caltrain engineer, at last
Bu tht erail line is only 50 feet wide in many places in Palo Alto.
It was not clear last night how wide the line is near El Palo Alto.
About 150 residents packed a conference room at the Palo Alto school
district's headquarters last night to voice their conerns abou tht
erial project, whcih many fear may reuire taking homes and other
property in the city widen the train tracks.
Also yesterday, the rail authority said that it would extend a comment
period deadline to April 6, after Palo Alto mayro Peter Drekmeier
requested the extensin in a letter. The orignal deadline wsa March 6.
Residents can comment on the project by sending an e-mail to