From: S.L. Wykes, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.
Published October 28, 2004 12:00 AM

HP Asks Palo Alto, Calif., to Delay Request on Axing Tree at Historic Site

Oct. 28—The five-story-tall coastal live oak that's confounding Hewlett-Packard's restoration plans for Silicon Valley's most famous garage may not get the ax after all. At least, not yet.

HP has asked Palo Alto officials to suspend its application to remove the tree, less than a week after the company asked for permission to cut it down.

The reprieve comes so HP can research whether removing the tree will jeopardize the company's effort to win national landmark status for the Palo Alto property where William Hewlett and David Packard cooked up their groundbreaking audio oscillator.

The tree, with a canopy large enough to shade three yards, is upending a shed on the Addison Street property, which already is a state landmark and touted as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

Within a couple of days, HP will hire a consultant to find out whether moving the shed in which Hewlett slept — or changing its appearance in any way to accommodate the tree — could prevent national recognition, HP spokesman Sid Espinosa said.

"We love the tree and we love the shed," he said. "We want to step back and get more information." HP spent $1.7 million to buy the property in 2000 and earlier this month presented the city's historic resources board with details of its proposed restoration plans. The board approved the project's approach — to restore the property to its 1938 condition — from dormers to dark-green trim — when Packard and his wife, Lucile, rented the first floor. The garage served as Hewlett's and Packard's laboratory.

City planners insist they aren't forcing HP to remove the tree in order to keep the shed in its original spot.

HP's project planners told the resources board the fate of the tree was "a little bit up in the air," city planner Dennis Backlund said. The trunk is touching the shed, which could be moved out of the tree's way or could have a special foundation built under it to allow the tree's roots to pass by without further damage to the shed.

The board, according to its recorded decision, "encouraged the applicant not to move the rear shed if at all possible," which gives HP some flexibility to choose the shed's fate.

Espinosa said HP left the historic resources board meeting with "the feeling that the HRB wanted them not to move the shed." City arborist Dave Dockter, like many others, would like to see the tree stay put. The tree could live for another 100 years, he said.

The board, Backlund said, wants HP to work with the city to find a solution. "Where there's a will," Dockter said, "there's a way."

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