Anyone have a tree for the city?

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By Martin Salazar

With less than two weeks left before Christmas, city officials are scrambling to find a tree for the old Safeway parking lot on Douglas Avenue. The city put out a call to the community Wednesday for a large Christmas tree that can be put up there.

Anyone who wants to donate the tree should call the city at 454-1401 and ask for the city manager’s office.

City Public Works Director Carlos Ortiz said in years past private citizens have come forward and donated a large evergreen from their yard. No such offer has been made this year, leaving the city without its traditional Christmas tree.

“Logistically, it’s not like going to Walmart,” Ortiz told the Council Wednesday evening. “If someone within the next week donates a tree, we’ll be more than happy to get it up.”

The city at one point had looked into the possibility of getting a tree from its watershed, but that plan was scrapped, Ortiz said, because there’s no way to get a crane there at this time.

The city has come under fire in recent weeks for not having the tree up yet and for the scant decorations around town, particularly at Plaza Park, which in years past has been drenched in lights.

Indeed, Councilman Dave Romero chided the administration for the lack of decorations on the west side.

“It’s a shame that there are no lights in Plaza Park,” he said. “… That’s embarrassing for all of us. I think we should move and put them on tomorrow.”

Romero said he has received many calls from upset constituents.

Ortiz pledged to have the remaining decorations up — with the exception of the tree — by Saturday.

But he said his crews won’t be able to drape the branches of the Plaza Park trees with lights because those trees have been trimmed, and absent a helicopter, it just isn’t possible. But he said crews are planning to put lights up around the park.

In years past, the city has put up its holiday decorations before Thanksgiving. This year there was a delay in putting up many of the decorations, and then the city was hit with snow storms, tying up city crews.

Officials said city crews have put in more than 300 hours of overtime on snow removal in the last few weeks. They have also gone through 420 tons of cinder, the amount the city normally goes through in a year, Ortiz said.

“We’re out at 2 a.m., 3 a.m.,” Ortiz said, adding that making the streets safe for motorists has to be the top priority for his department. Because crews have been focusing on clearing roads to the hospital and schools, and the runway out at the airport, there hasn’t been much time for holiday decorating, he said.

“I’m not complaining, not making excuses,” Ortiz said. “We’re doing the best possible.”

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said he was one of the individuals asking where the tree is, but he said he understands that clearing streets has to be the priority.

Nevertheless, the mayor suggested that the city start planning for the holidays earlier in future years so that there isn’t a repeat of what’s happening now.

The city has been putting up a Christmas tree at the old Safeway parking lot for decades.

“Mayor and Council, if we get a tree, we’ll put it up,” City Manager Timothy Dodge said.