Apr. 16—Just how historic is the "Cross of Palms" in northwest Bakersfield?
A public hearing to be held next week before the city's Historic Preservation Commission may help answer that question.
For Preservation Commission Vice Chair Stephen Montgomery, the answer is already obvious.
"As far as I'm concerned," he said, "we can't approve this thing fast enough."
At issue is whether to designate the Cross of Palms an Area of Historic Interest.
The 140-year-old stand of palm trees is believed to have been planted in the 1880s on Rudd Avenue near 7th Standard Road. Recently, it has been the site of a standoff of sorts between landowner and local grower Keith Gardiner who wants to preserve the palms and their history, and PG&E, which has hired contractors to cut down more than a dozen trees.
PG&E reserves the right to cut down more palms, citing safety issues.
Gardiner said the trees are part of his family's heritage and that they go back even further to when a colony of British settlers moved there in hopes of setting down roots.
Nearly a century after the trees were planted, PG&E built a power line 12 feet from the trees. Now the utility is arguing that the trees present a safety threat.
PG&E says it routinely manages vegetation located near power lines that may pose a safety concern.
"We understand the landowner does not want the trees removed," PG&E said last month in a statement. "However, the trees are located near distribution power lines, are in poor health, and are at risk of failing and falling into the facilities."
In applying for the Area of Historic Interest designation, reached late Thursday, Gardiner said his hope is "to not only save the palms but also to preserve our history and the significance of the early-day settlement of the Rosedale Colony.
"Our history is important," he said.
Montgomery acknowledged the designation, if approved by the Commission, does not explicitly prohibit PG&E from cutting down more trees.
"It doesn't have a lot of teeth," he said.
But it may slow down the process, and it could lead to the installation of a historic marker.
"The optics of workers cutting down trees at the site of a historic marker would not be good for PG&E," he said.
The Commission is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Development Services Building's first floor conference room, 1715 Chester Ave. The room will have limited public access to preserve social distancing.
The public may instead address the Commission by submitting comments via email to the Economic and Community Development Department at email@example.com no later than 1 p.m. the day of the public hearing.
Emailed comments should clearly indicate they are related to the Cross of Palms item.
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.