Still stung by the wholesale removal of 63 trees on California Avenue last fall, some Crescent Park residents are saying "not so fast" to the planned removal of six mature eucalyptus trees from Eleanor Pardee Park.
Some residents have demanded the trees' removal after a large "widow maker" limb nearly struck Crescent Park resident Ron Eadie Jan. 18.
Residents who want the trees removed say eucalyptus pose a danger to children at a playground beneath the trees. And some residents had near misses when large branches unexpectedly crashed onto the sidewalk, they said.
Residents wrote dozens of letters to city officials about the trees and the city held meetings on Feb. 24 and March 11 to discuss the issue.
The city public works managing arborist produced a report on maintenance recommendations for the trees. Six trees are planned for removal and 10 others would be seriously trimmed.
But at least one group of concerned residents is forming a committee to fight the tree removal. The perceived danger of eucalyptus, which are known to drop large limbs during the summer and in dry periods, is overblown, according to proponents for the trees.
"The inflammatory rhetoric is nonsense," said Keith Nicholls, an Australian native who is familiar with eucalyptus, a tree genus native to the Australian continent.
Two of the 700 species of eucalyptus are known for their dangerous limb drop, but the two in Pardee Park, Eucalyptus globulus and viminalis, are not, he said.
Eric Krebs, public works arborist, said he does not think the globulus or viminalis species are noted for dropping limbs.
"They are large trees, so when they drop limbs people notice. Other eucalypti, such as E. camadulensis are noted for limb drop. But limb drop can be managed through proper pruning. Many of the limb failures I have examined can be attributed to poor pruning practices," he said.
The California Tree Failure data base lists eucalyptus as number three for reported failures. It doesn't show what species or what type of failure, however, he added.
Nicholls pointed to other street trees that pose an equal danger. Outside his home, two liquid ambar trees have dropped 7 1/2- and 5 1/2-inch-diameter limbs, which damaged his fence, he said.
"There are two main reasons people move to Palo Alto: the schools and the trees. It's part of the amenity," he said.
The reason given for removing the trees is root rot, but Nicholls thinks that is a spurious reason.
"The small amount of rot could easily be removed and the damaged area sealed to prevent further rot," he said.
Nicholls and a group of residents plan to circulate a petition to keep the trees, he said.
Other residents are sending out e-mails to alert their neighbors.
"The trees definitely need some trimming, but cutting them down seems like a serious overreaction. They are a stately addition to the park/neighborhood and provide needed shade in the summer to the park and the neighborhood," wrote Melissa Caswell, who asked her neighbors to e-mail the Palo Alto City Council to save the trees.
But some residents familiar with the falling branches maintain the trees are a hazard. Since January, the trees have continued to drop large limbs, Amy Wardwell Kacher said. She was photographed cradling two 25-foot limbs that came down.
"These trees are beautiful and give a rich lush look to the park. I am the first to say that removing these trees will not be pretty, However, the risk of having these trees surrounding a playground is just too high," she said.
The City of Los Altos has an ordinance that eucalyptus can't be planted within 150 feet of a dwelling because of the dangers of sudden limb drop, she pointed out.
Michele Wang, a mother of two, said her family recently moved around the corner from Pardee Park specifically because they spend much time playing there.
"The trees are beautiful. But I don't think it's responsible to have those trees there. I believe they all should come out, as beautiful as they are, I don't feel safe with my kids walking under them," she said.
Wang has written to the City Council and to Krebs about her concerns and she is talking to neighbors, many of whom have also expressed concern, she said.
"I don't want it to be a vocal minority," she said, adding her aim is to get done whatever residents want. "It's a great park to have around the corner. I just want to feel safe," she said.
Kacher wants people to come from an educated position.
"My concern is that many people hear 'save our eucalyptus trees!' and take their stance as wanting the trees to stay. However, these people may not know the facts about these trees. Only a handful of people attended the city meetings at the park to hear first hand from our arborist and city officials about these trees," she said.
Krebs said in his 11-page report that the trees were most recently maintained in September 2006.
Six eucalyptus and one redwood in "very poor condition" are being recommended for removal. The eucalyptus in question suffer from fungal infection by an aggressive wood-decay pathogen, sulphur fungus.
By the time "fruiting bodies" that create reproductive spores of the fungus appear, the internal decay in the hosting tree is significant enough to warrant removal, he wrote.
"Due to the aggressive nature of this wood decay pathogen, my recommendation is removal," he wrote.
Krebs said he considered other means for treating the trees other than removal. Decaying eucalyptus can suddenly fail and topple over without warning. He concluded "the potential for catastrophic whole tree failure is too high."
In 2000, aggressive tree "topping" to eliminate limbs falling into the playground caused new growth of weaker limbs.
"This aggressive pruning negatively affected the health and physiology of the trees and made them vulnerable to insects, disease and decay," he said.
To help preserve the remaining trees, Krebs also recommended fencing areas underneath to relieve soil compaction caused by foot and vehicle traffic. Soil compaction can cause the demise of a tree over time, he said.
The city plans to replace the seven removed trees with other safer species.