BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The telephone poles at Rosedale Ranch are about 12 feet away from the 140 year old palm trees that represent the area’s unusual ties to the 19th Century. And that, PG&E says, is too close.
In 1890, the Kern County Land Company, an indirect forerunner of Castle & Cooke, came up with a marketing plan to sell off pristine farmland northwest of Bakersfield that was international in scope. It targeted, among others, English gentry — second borns, so it is said, who had been deprived of their inheritances by eldest brothers. The Land Company’s pitch that they try farming in California sounded sufficiently promising to 250 of them.
Ten years or so earlier, in order to give what was then called the Rosedale Colony an auspicious appearance, the Land Company planted more than 100 palm trees in a distinctive cross pattern.
Fatima Bugharin, vice president of the Kern County Historical Society, said the palm trees meant something in 1890.
“Palm trees were a big significance of wealth,” she said. “…. They were made to symbolize some kind of a tropical, Mediterranean weather and climate — and fertile.”
One hundred-forty years later, the palms are still there — the vast majority anyway.
Pilots call them the cross palms. They’ve been used as navigation markers to train pilots out of Minter Field since World War II. But perhaps not for much longer. In 1956 PG&E established a utility easement that runs parallel to the long lines of palms. The power poles erected in 1978 on that easement today are in most cases just 12 feet away.
So they’ve got to go. The palms, that is, not the power lines.
PG&E’s Katie Allen provided KGET with a statement explaining why. It says, in part:
“We understand the landowner does not want the trees removed. However, the trees are located near distribution power lines, are in poor health, and are at risk of failing and falling into the facilities.”
Keith Gardiner, who owns 3,000 Rosedale Ranch, which today includes 1,200 acres of almonds, says long-running efforts to negotiate have been fruitless. He said he offered to pay $100,00 to relocate the lines in exchange for credit on electrical bills for two years. No dice.
“I understand they got a problem but I thought we could get by on (historical perspective),” he said. “These trees were there before you (PG&E) were. You guys made a mistake in putting your lines there. You know? And I would think they would recognize that it was their problem. I thought I’d get somewhere with it but I didn’t.”
The tree service contracted by PG&E was scheduled on Monday to remove seven of the trees that pose the greatest hazard. This, two weeks after the company removed six palms. Gardiner said PG&E has removed 15 to 20 palms over the last 10 years — with more to come.
And PG&E has the legal right to do so.
Historic preservation — not codified in any meaningful sense — looks like it will lose again. At Rosedale Ranch, it’s history versus safety, history versus legal right. That doesn’t make it any easier to see these 140 year old trees go, a half dozen at a time.