Pardee Park trees are hazardous -- one extremely

Independent arborist recommends removal of eucalyptus trees around the children's play area

Ten mature eucalyptus trees in Eleanor Pardee Park are in poor condition and should be removed, according to an independent arborist's report.

The City of Palo Alto hired the consultant to determine the safety and condition four manna gums (Eucalyptus viminalis) and five blue gums (Eucalyptus globulus) that surround the children's play area.

Sixteen trees attracted attention after several large limbs suddenly crashed to the pavement in January, nearly striking a man who was strolling near the park.

The city removed five trees earlier this year after they were determined to be hazards. A sixth tree is scheduled for removal in a few weeks, now that nesting birds have vacated the tree, according to Paul Dornell, assistant director of public works operations.

Residents' groups have come out strongly on both sides of the issue, with some demanding removal of all 16 trees and others for their preservation.

Torrey Young, registered consulting arborist for Dryad LLC of Castro Valley, gave a presentation to about 25 residents on Sept. 23 at Lucie Stern Community Center regarding his findings. The conclusion: All 10 trees pose a hazard to residents and property and should be removed.

"It is my opinion that the high-traffic nature of the site combined with the method and long-term impacts of previous pruning renders inevitable the need to eventually remove these trees," Young wrote in his report.

Most conditions cannot be remedied and stopgap measures are minimal, he said. The trees currently have a significant potential for failure of smaller limbs and branches and potential for larger limbs and stems to fail, he said.

Young said he did not evaluate one additional tree already scheduled for removal.

Risk assessments for each tree were based on ratings following the Pacific Northwest Chapter International Society of Arborists' Certified Tree Risk Assessor Program protocol. Each tree has a metal marker: 1, 5, 6, 9 and 11-16 that residents can see at the site.

Two trees, numbers 5 and 6, were given risk ratings of 10, with 12 being the most hazardous.

Young characterized tree 5 as "extreme. Failure is occurring. Immediate action is required." Five other trees were rated 9 and three merited an 8. In some cases, the trees could be retained for one or two years with monitoring before there should be concern for failure, Young noted.

The large trees, some of which are up to 58 inches in diameter, have suffered from years of pruning techniques that weakened the branches and made the trees vulnerable to sulfur fungus, a condition that cannot be remedied and leads to extensive trunk decay that "suggests there is also a potential for whole-tree failures," he added.

An earlier report by Eric Krebs, managing arborist for the the city's Public Works Department, also concluded that pruning techniques (in earlier decades) contributed to the overall failure the trees are now experiencing.

"These trees are very large and majestic, providing critical shade to community park and playground as well as adjacent homes and streets, Unfortunately this very size and location also renders them a significant risk.

"All large landscape trees, regardless of species or condition, present some degree of risk in proximity to people, vehicles, structures and utilities.

"Some risk is often accepted in consideration of the dramatic aesthetic and functional benefits of living with large trees. However, this site presents multiple targets to tree failures, including pedestrians and park users, adjacent utility lines and residential streets and parking as well as homes.

"Whole-tree failure would inevitably result in catastrophic damage with a high risk for injury as well," he noted.

Young said long-term, phased removal of the trees would require substantial and continuous maintenance that would add to costs.

Removing all 10 trees at once and promptly replanting with native species would entail substantial cost initially but would eliminate maintenance and debris cleanup over the long term, he said.

The benefits of a large tree canopy would also be lost for a number of years. But the city would not be exposed to lawsuits and other financial burdens if the trees caused injury, according to Young. He recommended replanting with California native species, such as California live oak, valley oak, black oak and coast redwood.

The city has not yet made a decision regarding immediate or phased removal. "Staff will now meet to quickly develop a work plan and present that plan to senior management," Dornell said.

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Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2010 at 8:21 am

How ironic that the hired consultant/arborist came to the same conclusion as the city's in house arborist. This is a prime example of fiscal waste brough on by the managers of the city buckling to cry babies making the most noise.

Now it is time for the city to tackle the other hazard trees like the dying oaks in the foothills due to sudden oak death. There are dozens in the foothills along Page Mill Road that will fall soon. Should we wait for a car or bicyclist to be crushed?

Like this comment
Posted by Tree huggers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2010 at 8:38 am

Trees are more important than people in Palo Alto--that has been known for years. The trees must be preserved, cry the PA tree huggers association, no matter what their condition--if someone gets injured or killed by a falling branch/tree, it is their own fault. All trees must be preserved no matter what--time for the tree huggers to organize en masse and whine before the city council. The council will then buckle to their demands, as usual

Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm

The eucalyptus trees is Pardee Park are magnificent but like people they have finite lives. Leaving potentially aged and dangerous trees standing near a children's play-ground is irresponsible.

Now that some of these trees have been positively identified as dangerous I just wonder how much liability our City is under should there be a death or serious accident caused by a limb or tree falling?

Don't forget a tree limb fell off an old stone pine tree in Mitchell Park and broke a five year olds arm. We don't want a similar accident to happen again just because some residents are being stubborn about removing dangerous trees.

Look forward to the new plantings and enjoy them.

Like this comment
Posted by Tree Lover
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2010 at 11:15 am

It's interesting that Eleanor Pardee park rates an outside expert to weigh in on the tree's viability, while the trees in the Mitchell Park area (South of Oregon, of course) were just chopped down with no stay of execution at all.

Like this comment
Posted by Anna
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm

And again nature is intruded by humans, starting with planting trees by the city which might really grow to these beautiful green giants, the pruning which was not done the way it should be, then the traffic, the playground etc.

I think the planing of parks and their uses would need more thoughts. Where can we place a playground which is safe for children? Can we create a park for kids? If the existing park safe enough to build a play structure?

We need to learn to work together with nature better!

Hopefully the choice of trees will bring many, many years shade and joy.

Like this comment
Posted by Amused
a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2010 at 1:40 pm

What does Palo Alto City Staff do all day, if EVERYTHING in your city must have outside consultants?

Have residents been polled for their opinion of the health of these trees? What experts say is immaterial, if residents deem the trees healthy, right? That is, until a limb falls, injuring or killing THEIR kid. Then it's a different story.

Palo Alto city staff managers and all of City Council, 9 spineless chairwarmers, are hopeless.

Your community will have something REAL to gripe about, when the High Speed Rail comes in, taking not only (healthy) Palo Alto trees but Palo Alto homes too.

Those of us outside Palo Alto, that have been amused by the lack of leadership in your city for years, will enjoy using the HSR that will no doubt enhance the greater community, albeit changing the landscape in Palo Alto.

PA residents are like that little boy that cried "wolf!". No one listens to them anymore - except your own council that fears the handful whose career it is to gripe, whine, complain & second-guess everything. "Wolf! Wolf!"

Like this comment
Posted by dogluvr
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 30, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I agree with those who have decried the need for yet another independent consultant to opine on the need to remove NON NATIVE INVASIVE SPECIES fire hazard eucalyptus giants that have been improperly maintained and in fact, should never have been planted.
(like the four giants in front of our Eichler 30 years ago, within 2 feet of our eaves, that swayed in the breezes, planted by the previous un-informed owners, and that we paid to have removed)

Remove the trees at once for economy of scale and replant with an appropriate native species (not those dogawful liquid amber trees with the dangerous seed pods).

And kudos to the public works department for acting on the dying fruitless mulberry trees on Nelson Drive, before someone got hurt there.

Like this comment
Posted by Demi
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

This episode reminds me of WMD propaganda that led to two wars that cost us over a trillion dollars. Mind you that WMD report was prepared by "experts" who misled the entire country.
Here are the facts: Between January and September of this year, the city has picked up 183 fallen tree branches in city streets and parks. Countless other fallen branches have been collected and disposed of by property owners, or their gardeners. Only one of these 183 reported fallen branches fell in Eleanor Pardee Park. Does this means that 182 other city trees which lost branches are also in a dangerous condition and should be removed? We are not aware of any hysterical demand to remove any of these other 182 trees and question why Eleanor Pardee Park ?
The Eucalyptus trees have not hurt a single person over the years. They are old but they have not reached the end of their life. The city arborist has taken all the measures to keep them safe.
The slope for fear to insanity is quite slippery. These trees are Palo Alto's treasures and they deserve our care, not our fear.

Like this comment
Posted by Tree huggers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Demi clearly proves my point about trees being more important than people to some citizens of Palo Alto. The city and then an independent arborist have reached the same conclusion regarding these trees.
Demi either did not read the story or has chosen to ignore the facts:

"Sixteen trees attracted attention after several large limbs suddenly crashed to the pavement in January, nearly striking a man who was strolling near the park."


"The conclusion: All 10 trees pose a hazard to residents and property and should be removed."

But this is not enough for "who cares if someone gets crushed by a tree limb" crowd--trees must be protected at all costs.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Demi says "Here are the facts," but her facts are incorrect. She says only one limb/branch fell in Eleanor Park between Jan & Sept. It has been more like four limbs and they have all been by the path into the play area. Luckily no one was hit and this is very hard, heavy wood. Yes, the trees are beautiful, but more important they are a danger.

Like this comment
Posted by cieboy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2010 at 6:17 pm

I agree with Demi, trees are our friends.

Like this comment
Posted by Darren
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 30, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Let's do the math, folks. How many people have been injured by trees in Palo Alto, as opposed to being hit by a car or falling off a bicycle?
I don't hear anyone clamoring to ban cars or bicycles, which are clearly more dangerous than trees (or cheeseburgers, for that matter). If you are frightened by the trees, please stay home, and let the rest of us enjoy the parks the way they are. The eucalyptus tree grove in Eleanor Pardee park is truly one of the beauties of our city - please leave them alone!

Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Oct 1, 2010 at 11:20 am

No one every talks about the CO2 sequestration and shade features.
Palo Alto Tree Technical Handbook provides guidance on hazards trees.
You can fence off directly around tree to prevent pedestrian access directly under a tree. No need to go scorched earth.

If you have tree info you'd like the community to know about
please send info to:


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm

This article made me curious enough to go around Palo Alto and see other parks and playgrounds through a critical eye for safety. What do I find? Dangers everywhere! Are we going to chop down all those trees or shut down all those parks?
Here is something I propose as a optimum solution regarding Pardee park: 1. Build an arbor-like structure around the playground to insulate the play area. 2. Keep the trees and monitor them regularly for their health and safety(just as we do for all other trees).
At this point, trees have been pruned to the level of acceptable safety requirements and thus are not any more dangerous than other trees. Having a structure around the park provides additional protection sought by those who worry about falling limbs.

We live in Palo Alto for its trees. They are so integral to Palo Alto's character that we need to figure out ways to live with them safely and happily.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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