Letter to the Editor re: Palm Tree Danger

October 24, 2011

John Buchanan, Mayor
CITY OF SIERRA MADRE
232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.
Sierra Madre, CA 91024

Re:  Palm Trees – Danger from dead palm tree branches

Dear Mayor Buchanan,

I am writing to draw attention to something that poses a threat to the residents of Sierra Madre, as well as a liability to our City.

A short time ago my wife and I we were doing our exercise walk on Orange Grove, between Baldwin and Michillinda.  There were a couple of other people walking ahead of us, a mother and her young daughter.

Suddenly, a large dead palm tree branch fell and hit the street ahead with a thud, just barely missing the young girl by only a couple of feet.  If this dead palm tree branch had hit her, she could have been seriously injured or even killed.

There are a lot of tall palm trees on this street, as well as on of other streets throughout our city, and a lot of them have dead branches.  Many of those trees are very tall, maybe up to 100 feet, so when their dead branches fall they come down with a lot of speed and force.  And wherever the palm trees are located, we all notice that there are usually dead palm branches in the street, especially on windy days, so falling dead palm branches are a common occurrence.

These falling branches can be very dangerous, as I’m sure you will agree.  The problem is with the dead palms tree branches (not the live ones), because they become loose and the slightest breeze can cause them to fall to the ground.  If the dead palm tree branches were trimmed from the trees when noticed, that should alleviate the problem.  However, it appears that no one is trimming the dead palm branches from the trees.

As a result of my concern I emailed the City Manager (Ms. Elaine Aguilar), and inquired as to who owned the parkway and trees in front of the properties, and who was responsible to keep them trimmed.  Her response was:

“In most situations, the parkway is the “city’s right-of-way”. Which means the trees are “city trees.”  However, we have a municipal code section that states: Section 12.20.070 it is the property owner’s responsibility to care for and trim “parkway” trees.”

She also sent me this excerpt below, as supportive information:

“It is made the duty of all owners and persons having the possession and/or control of real property within the city to properly cultivate, care for and maintain all trees now or hereafter planted or set out within any public street planting areas immediately adjacent to their respective real properties, subject, however, to: (1) the general supervision, direction and control of the director of public works as described in Section 12.20.040, and (2) the right of the city and franchised utility companies to perform any emergency or maintenance work deemed necessary. The city shall, at no cost to adjoining property owners, when recommended by a cognizant tree expert, remove, cut, prune or trim any street or public tree which is found to be dangerous to health and safety.”

If this is the city’s policy, which is that the city owns the parkway and trees, but the residents are required to trim the city’s trees, then it is obviously not working, because the dead palm tree branches are not being trimmed by anyone, city or residents.  This creates a very dangerous situation, so it is clear that some action needs to be taken by the city to remedy it.

This also brings up an interesting question, which is, Can a city legally require the residents to trim or maintain the city’s trees?”  It seems unusual to me that residents can be required to do this and I doubt it would stand a legal test, but I am not an attorney and just guessing based on past experience.  You should get a legal opinion on this, if you have not done so already.

Regardless, in these tough economic times we are all experiencing, I sincerely doubt that most residents will go to the expense to trim the city’s trees, unless forced to do so.  The fact that the dead branches are not being trimmed from the tall palm trees, seems to prove that point.

The question is, “What can we do to solve this problem before someone is seriously injured or killed?”  And if something terrible like that should happen, who will be sued and held liable, the resident or the city?

The bottom line is whatever your policy is now, and however we are enforcing it, is not working and a dangerous situation exists that needs to be addressed and remedied.  I am bringing this to your attention in the hope that you will take action before something regretful happens.

Sincerely,

G. Vernon Hensel

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