By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Bureaucrats, spare that tree!
Remember that big, beautiful Chinese pistache near the Music Box on the Downtown Mall? The one some of us think may be the most beautiful tree in the Mesilla Valley?
Many of us thought it was safe, after a controversy erupted in January and many of you wrote, called and e-mailed offering to petition, protest or even picket to save your favorite trees. Others suggested that the Downtown Mall plan be redesigned to accommodate the tree.
This is what some our city officials had to say then.
“I think it would be kind of nice to have the street curve around the tree. Maybe it would be like that street in San Francisco and people would come to see our street with the big tree right in the middle,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said, referring to San Francisco’s Lombard Street, known as “the crookedest street in the world.”
Assistant city manager Robert Garza called the tree “a cornerstone that’s fortunately strategically planted right in the middle, which enables us to design a solution around the tree” and said “mechanics have now been set in motion” for a redesign that could save the tree when the final phase of revitalization begins on the south end of the mall, possibly as early as next March.
Garza won the hearts of tree-lovers when he noted, “It’s a perfect tree and it’s a happy tree and has been there a long time and should be there as long as possible.”
Sounds like our tree dodged a bullet — or a bulldozer — yes?
Well, apparently, no. Maybe you missed some crucial information in the last paragraphs of Amanda Bradford’s Sept. 1 story on the demise of the towering Downtown Mall Afghan pine that has served as the city’s Christmas tree for the past two years. Robert Ebler, the city’s senior civil engineer, said our tree is likely to be among a group (once scheduled to be spared or moved) that will be destroyed, after all.
“We could lose over 20 on-street parking spaces by leaving the tree in place and transitioning the road into tight quarters on the sides. Ultimately, it's best to remove the tree. We are planting over 50 new trees for about the same cost as moving just the one. Also, we feel it is more business-friendly to provide parking and related amenities with the proposed plan,” Garza said in an e-mail.
Eber said costs to move the pistache could be $30,000 to $40,000 and designing around the tree could cost $50,000. He opined that the flow of traffic would be pushed to one side, creating safety hazards and reducing parking and landscaping possibilities for the area.
To which I say, let’s consider the landscaping reality of that tree that’s been green and growing with us for more than three decades, and find a way to let it be and make it work.
If it’s the design money, maybe we can find some volunteers who will help us or give us a discount. I’ve toured eco-friendly developments here where planners have managed to curve roads and sidewalks and readjust mega-buck developments to save old growth mesquite. Surely we can find ways to do the same for the prettiest tree shading the corazon y alma (heart and soul) of our city, a place we want to revitalize to showcase what’s best about Las Cruces.
So what, if it means a little jog in the road, the sacrifice of a few parking spaces, or some artful landscaping to reroute pedestrians? We aren’t looking for a high-speed expressway there, anyway. And won’t it be worth it, especially when the street is closed off for market days and festivals, to see another generation of kids playing under its leafy canopy?
After the Christmas tree came down, I was stopped on a Downtown Mall stroll by Tamie Smith, who’s mad and sad about the tree topplings.
“If (auto) mall traffic is so great, why don’t they put a street down the middle of the Mesilla Valley Mall?” she asked.
She said she’s been ignored by bureaucrats and city officials when she comes up with plans for Downtown revitalization. She shared a few with me: a railway line running through the mall, acting as a tourist attraction and a way of transporting people to attractions in our burgeoning cultural corridor. She pointed to a strip of grass across from the Rio Grande Theatre and suggested we ask the bank if they’d be willing to allow a line of shade trees there, if we could get the city to provide and maintain the trees.
And she wants to save the big, beautiful pistache.
“The new trees aren’t enough. I won’t have another 30 years until they grow. I won’t be alive to see it,” she said.
What do you think? If you feel it’s worth the effort to slightly alter the mall plan to save the tree, or have some other ideas, let us know.
To share comments, go to www.lcsun-news.com and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style, email email@example.com or write me c/o Las Cruces Sun-News, 256 W. Las Cruces Ave., Las Cruces, NM 88005.
There’s still time to save that tree, a symbol of so many things we love about Las Cruces. Let’s do it.
S. Derrickson Moore at can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; (575) 541-5450.