Santa Claus will surely be there, along with carolers and free hot chocolate for all, but something will be missing from this year's Community Tree Lighting Celebration. Its star attraction, the tree, will not be there.
The huge cedar at Mountain View's Civic Center Plaza, best known as the light-covered tree at the center of the annual tree-lighting event, is on its last limb and must be torn down by the end of the month, according to city officials.
The tree, believed to be 80 years or older, has withstood a lifetime of changes in downtown Mountain View, persevering through earthquakes, hailstorms and plenty of dogs using it for some relief.
But the tree has been rapidly decaying in recent years. Since around 2015, its leaves have been sparse, stunted and brownish. After seeking advice from an outside expert, city officials say they decided it was time to take down the tree before it became a hazard.
The tree has essentially been on life support for the last few years, said the city's forestry manager, Jakob Trconic. City maintenance crews have tried different irrigation techniques and fertilizers to prop up the cedar's health, but nothing has pulled it out of a steady decline. A 2018 survey indicated the tree was at one-tenth of its original vitality, and its condition isn't expected to improve.
"Over the last three years, it's just been a downward spiral for the tree itself," Trconic said. "We really want to keep this tree around, but we just can't see doing another Tree Lighting. I don't see there being much left of it."
Notices announcing plans to take down the tree were posted last week. Assuming no one files an appeal, city workers say they plan to chop down the cedar by the end of October.
The Civic Center Plaza tree is an Atlas cedar, which is known as a hardy species that can reportedly survive for centuries, given the right conditions.
Trconic has his theories for why the tree may have deteriorated early. In particular, he believes the tree was likely dealt a setback in the early 1990s when City Hall and its underground parking garage were under construction. During that excavation, workers damaged part of the tree's root system, and it likely hurt the tree's lifespan.
On a side note, the Civic Center Plaza cedar actually wasn't the city's original choice for holiday events. Around the time when City Hall was being built, city officials thought a larger, more robust tree located in the roundabout at Castro and California streets would be a perfect candidate for holiday lights and decorations.
But that plan got the ax, literally. The story goes that construction workers got the two trees mixed up and took a chainsaw to the one on Castro Street before anyone who knew better noticed. City officials decided the cedar tree at the Civic Center Plaza was the next best option.
Now, city officials say they want to quickly find a replacement tree in time for the Tree Lighting Celebration. Trconic said he is trying to determine the right species and other details, but expects to plant a 72-inch box tree as soon as possible. Assuming the timing works out, he believes a nascent tree can be planted in time for the Dec. 9 Community Tree Lighting.
"We're going to buy a new large specimen, but it certainly won't be anywhere near the stature of the existing tree," Trconic said. "It may be a little Charlie Brown tree this year, but hopefully it'll grow into a nice big tree."