Acacia totals car in downtown Palo Alto

Driver had only left the parked car 10 minutes earlier

A woman who had only been at work 10 minutes received a phone call from Palo Alto police Jan. 12 that she couldn't imagine. Her car had been in an accident, the officer on the line said.

"But I'm at work," Jia Wang told police.

"Yes, but your car was in an accident with a tree," Wang said the officer responded.

Wang said she couldn't understand.

"I kept thinking that my car somehow hit a tree," she said.

When Wang checked her car, she found a large acacia had crashed onto her red Honda Civic sedan shortly before noon, crushing the passenger-side door, roof and windshield. The tree was completely blocking Waverley Street on the 900 block near Homer Avenue.

Police told her the car was probably totaled. Wang said she felt lucky that she was not in the car.

"There is also a baby seat in there," she noted, being grateful that her child was not in it.

A City of Palo Alto employee estimated the tree was about 35 years old. Acacias have shallow root systems, and in an urban environment they don't tend to live that long. Constricted in a strip between the sidewalk and the street, the tree roots had limited access to water, the worker said. Recent strong winds probably weakened the tree, which fell down on its own.

The tree's roots snapped, raising the sidewalk to about a 60-degree angle.

City crews were planning to hoist the tree off Wang's car and remove it this afternoon. They did not have an estimate for how long the road would be closed to traffic.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Who is responsible for the damage to the car? The car owner? The city? Or the owners of private property adjacent to the tree?

Related question is who is responsible for inspecting and maintaining trees throughout the city? If a homeowners are responsible for trees on parking strips near their homes, a catastrophe (such as a tree falling on a pedestrian) could bankrupt the homeowner.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2015 at 3:24 pm

It can't be homeowner's responsibility because they are not even permitted to cut a tree and all they can do is report it to the city.

Definitely, not the car owner's responsibility either because she parked in a legal empty parking spot. I assume there was no sign anywhere that parking was prohibited because of the tree nor was their a street sign that has a disclaimer similar to parking lot tickets - "Park at your own risk... we are not responsible for any loss or damage..."

In my opinion, this becomes the city's responsibility. When a tree is very old or gets to a height/size that can cause harm or damage to property or individual, it needs to be trimmed or replaced.

Again, just my two cents thus the name.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 12, 2015 at 3:55 pm

With all the complaints about on-street parking, are we sure it was an "accident"?

5 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 12, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Hulkamania is a registered user.

If a tree falls in Palo Alto and no one is around to hear it...

6 people like this
Posted by don't hold your breath
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2015 at 4:43 pm

When a large branch fell from a city tree and speared a visitor's back window and seat, the City denied our claim. Something about an act of God... An arborist was sent out and said all was well with the tree.

Two days later we had another 10 foot branch fall as a jogger was running by - and the next day another large branch came down. They finally pruned the tree - but we were left to pay our visitor's damage.

I will be interested to follow this one.

1 person likes this
Posted by John
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2015 at 6:16 pm

There are two dead pine trees along Palo Alto Ave, (between Bryant and Emerson), that are leaning toward the street. It is only a matter of time before they too fall on a car

7 people like this
Posted by Slowly Exhale
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 12, 2015 at 7:40 pm

A few years ago, the sycamore tree in front of our house had several branches extending out into the street that looked brittle and rotten. We called the city arborist, who informed us that he had come out to look at the tree and that there was nothing wrong with it. It was obvious to anyone with eyes that the tree needed some trimming and pruning, but over the next two years the arborist insisted there was nothing wrong with the tree.

Well, during a rather gusty wind two large branches fell to the street with a terrible crack heard two blocks away. We called the arborist and again, he came out, inspected, and found nothing wrong with the tree.

A few weeks later, a neighbor's guest parked under this tree which had nothing wrong with it. During the night, the crack of a breaking limb awakened us, followed immediately by a car alarm. Sure enough, another large limb had fallen onto the trunk of the guest's car, denting it deeply and shattering the rear window. To make a long story short, the car owner and his insurance company tried to get the city to pay for the damage, but they refused. The insurance company ( Allstate) sued the city and won.

Finally, last year, the city contracted a tree surgeon to prune the tree. We had a talk with the contractor as he was preparing to prune this tree, and he told us that if we had tried to do the job ourselves, the city would have fined us $500!

Just unbelievable.

2 people like this
Posted by lucky escape
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 12, 2015 at 9:52 pm

I am thankful nobody was injured when the tree fell on the car - I was driving nearby and glanced down the street nd saw the large tree in the street but I couldn't see the car.
We had an enormous poor quality street tree and I called to get it examined after a well known professional arborist warned me it might fall and kill/injure/damage. Thus began a multi-year situation with the city - they were VERY VERY SLOW to respond to me. We had several years of periodically contacting and expressing our concerns, which annually the arborist warned were serious. We knew we could not legally prune or touch the tree and some neighbors disliked any large tree being removed, although they may not have realized the major danger this tree posed.
I was TOO POLITE in my inquiries. The tree was pruned several times in an odd, unbalanced way, it looked awful, but because it was large we were left in some fear about it's condition and risks. Huge branches, aside from the actual trunk, could have toppled down and this was a major risk.
What I realized was neighbors who were/are apparently much more pushy in their phone calls and followups to the city got/get better results/response to their street trees which were/are much less risky/obviously deteriorated than mine. I regret I let so much time go by each time (between evaluations, prunings, removal, stump removal, planting of new treat (not an optimum - we got the leftovers despite being on the list for months..)
The upshot in this city:
THE SQUEAKY WHEEL gets a response, I hope I am helpful to someone out there who is not naturally pushy. You need to get pushy. I am really breathing a sigh of relief that our tree did not injure/kill/damage our property, cars, persons or any others including schoolchildren who walk right by here on our sidewalk. A lucky escape, as I named myself.

Like this comment
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Did the police really say that to the car owner, or was she paraphrasing? If that's what they really said, it's a lousy way to give someone bad news that they didn't cause.

I'm glad that no one was hurt, and I hope that whoever is responsible pays up promptly.

5 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 12, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Why the presumption "someone" is responsible? Sometimes accidents happen. Buy extra insurance if you are paranoid about accidents.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Very pleased that this tree didn't hurt anybody and only damaged (albeit totaled) a car. It could have been a lot worse.

I have a similar experience with the City about a tree. Our driveway is right beside our neighbor's with just a small patch inbetween and there was a city owned tree just on the neighbor's side. Both the neighbor and ourselves parked our cars on driveways which were under the tree. For a couple of years I felt the tree was dying and spoke with the neighbor who said they would call, but I felt that they weren't going to so I called.

The City first off did not like the fact that I was calling rather than the neighbor whose property it was on, even though I parked right under the tree. Eventually I got an arborist to inspect the tree and was told nothing was wrong. The following spring this tree did not produce any leaves and in my opinion was dead. I called the City again and once again it took a long time to get anyone to come and inspect it, particularly as the tree wasn't on my property. Eventually I did manage to get the arborist to come and he reluctantly agreed the tree was dead. It still took many months before the tree came down and during that time the tree was squeaking and making other odd sounds whenever there was the slightest breeze.

We were fortunate that the City removed the tree before it came down by itself. It could have damaged several cars, and it could have come down on a pedestrian or people using the driveways.

Yes I love the trees in Palo Alto, but there is a responsibility that the City is reluctant to bear. They do have an arborist, but with one arborist and so many trees, it would make a lot of sense for them to pay attention to the residents who complain about dead or dying trees. We are the ones who see the trees all the time and can tell if they are looking different this season to last. I don't want to make a call on whether a tree is dying or not, but I do feel that I can make a call as to when it needs to be seen by an expert. I hope the arborist is an expert.

Canopy has a lot of power in keeping old trees remain when they should be gone. The arborist should be someone who can decide whether a tree should be removed from the point of view of public safety, not whether Canopy would be upset.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 13, 2015 at 5:34 am

Per ordinance 8.10.110 it looks like the civil penalty for unauthorized tree removal is up to five thousand dollars or cost of replacement, whatever that means ("utilizing the most recent edition of the Guide for Plant Appraisal, published by the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers"). Can't tell whether that is just a fine, or an infraction, misdemeanor or felony.

If I had a threatening tree, the fine plus another couple thousand for professional removal would be a lot to pay for peace of mind, but might be worth it, particularly if any potential damage would be my liability and on my conscience. Could probably recoup the expense by suspending my normal charitable contributions for a few years.

2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2015 at 8:55 am

Bad "Car"ma....sorry, couldn't resist.

4 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 13, 2015 at 10:36 am

We recently had a go-around with the city tree people. We have a number of ash trees on the block that had branches extending over the street. It appeared during the summer that some were dead. We eventually got the city to come out and trim back all of the trees after the leaves have dropped but there is still evidently dead branches extending over the street and properties.
We got lectured about doing anything our selves to give the trees a haircut. However - they would only come out every 4 years for maintenance.
It should be noted that the people that came out are a subcontractor to the city so have no authority to cut anything except what has been directed by the city.
I am interested in the final decision as to who pays for what here - If the city owns the trees and is the only authorized group to provide service then they should be paying for any damage.
Where is the city attorney on this subject - get her / them involved.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 13, 2015 at 10:39 am

I made a post early in this thread but after reading the experience of other residents, the best thing to do in my opinion is:
1) report any tree that is too high, old or causing some concern, and record the date/time of call or better yet a copy of the letter and delivery receipt.
2) when someone from the city inspects it, get a copy of their decision in writing so you have proof that you had some concerns and reached out to the city.

This should be enough to prove that you are a responsible homeowner who's following the law by not cutting any tree but reported concern to the city. The only problem with this approach is no one knows what way the tree will fall so it can still cause physical harm. There's insurance for any property damage but it is the physical harm and possibility of death that is the main issue.

Like this comment
Posted by Deb
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:01 am

Regarding the insurance, I believe if the owner had collision coverage, her car would be covered minus the deductible. Though it could possibly be covered under comprehensive. Yet another reason to get collision because you can't get comprehensive without it. I'm with her, glad I wasn't in the car when it happened!

1 person likes this
Posted by Lachen McClellan
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:01 am

The City has a responsibility to inform the public of the real danger that can be caused by trees with roots that have suffered from a lack of water for the last three years. Slow, deep watering is in order. Dry lawns harm no one. Dry tree roots are lethal. A flyer on doorknobs as well as in utility bills would be helpful in spreading the word.

Like this comment
Posted by allen edwards
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:06 am

Who is responsible? It is considered an act of God. God is responsible. Get insurance.

3 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:28 am

Allen Edwards - it is an act of poor city budgeting and negligence. Also poor city policy in which homeowners have no right to request city maintenance from a trained city arborist who is the "decision maker" in this scenario and receive it on a timely basis.
The city said that the branches were allowed to move out over the street so that during the summer the street would have more coverage. These branches are the weakest and during the winter are at an angle where they have no support and are the most likely to break-off.

If the homeowner is telling the city the tree looks bad then the city has a requirement to come out and remove the dead portion and get the tree in a less vulnerable position.

The problem here is that the city does not want to pay for more tree maintenance yet they want total control over the trees. That is called bad policy. The act of god follows after and is the logical conclusion of poor maintenance and bad policy. No - the city is not off the hook.

2 people like this
Posted by Tree Lover
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:33 am

But trees do not die in Palo Alto and trees never become ill or need to be cut down here. Outside of the City's schedule, they do not even need to be pruned. They are self-existent.

Trees, like the people here that are expected to live to be 150 years old, just give their beauty to our environment, and forever.

I do not believe any limb fell on this car, so it did not happen. No one should have to pay anything for any so called damage. The photograph is photo=shopped.

The tree is fine. The car is fine. The owner of the car ought not to have been disturbed at work, over hearsay that did not happen.

Our name "Palo Alto", means tall tree. Big tall, healthy trees that live forever. Nothing like that phony photograph ever goes wrong here. Do I make myself clear?

1 person likes this
Posted by grandmakk
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:46 am

"lucky escape" - your comments about being assertive are spot on. We have had ongoing problems with the City regarding water pipes. It took a coincidental meeting with the right person to finally get things fixed. And then with lots and lots of pressure and demands. This City person was great - she understood the need for assertiveness and applied such.

It's a shame that the workers can't just do their jobs without being treated like adolescents who don't want to do their household chores.

Like this comment
Posted by lucky escape
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 13, 2015 at 12:40 pm

allen edwards suggests to get insurance. Well, we are insured of course, as homeowners with a mortgage. But we still didn't want ourselves, passing schoolchildren or anyone else to be injured/killed by the huge limbs or the entire street tree of our previous problem tree. It was massive, leading some on my street to feel some odd sentimentality, despite the poor quality of the tree, unsuitability of the species for a street tree near sidewalks etc.
It isn't a question of getting insurance, it's a question of avoiding a serious injury or worse.
Oh, and yes, I would prefer that our cars parked on our own driveway or neighbors parking in front of our home on the city street also not get their vehicles smashed. Upon reflection, I fully realized I should have pressured the city much more often - I had a semi record of phone calls, a handful of visits (though never saw the arborist to my knowledge), but it took waaay too long to get the correct result. Meantime, I noticed others with far less serious issues with street trees get much more prompt results, thereby leading to my initial post and moniker here. And yes, I had full support from a famous arborist/tree care firm that probably has the longest tenure in Silicon Valley that the street tree was a major danger.

1 person likes this
Posted by Native Palo Altan
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 13, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Check your "city tree" well as the city does not do safety checks or maintain the trees unless you YELL or somebody gets injured (I saw a huge branch come off of my neighbor's Modesto Ash which by the way have a 30-50 year life span and should not have been selected as a city tree). If there had been a walker on the sidewalk they could have been injured. I told my neighbor to report the tree's condition and so far I haven't seen any city workers out to change the situation. I had two of the elderly beasts on my property that were full of termites and very large. I reported them to the city and after some bit of time they replaced them with the new city tree for our block which is the gingko. It seems as if the early city planners didn't do there due diligence in selecting trees for our streets. My previous home was in the Green Gables area and had Magnolias which were awful as they made huge messes year round of leaves and also sent gnarly roots to destroy driveways and concrete on the sidewalks.

Anyway, if you have a dangerous tree situation on your block, YELL to the city about it before a car gets flattened or worse yet there is a serious bodily injury as a result of the deferred maintenance that seems to be happening on so many of our streets.

3 people like this
Posted by Great Canopy - Great City
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jan 13, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Contrary to much of this thread, I have experienced nothing but great service by the CPA Arborists.

We had a concern about a Valley Ashe branch that was dead and hanging over the sidewalk on Louis Road. One call to the City and we had a CPA employee drive by the tree within two days. We got a note on our door the day of the inspection and call from the Arborist the next day. They scheduled a pruning by the City's contractor and the problem was solved in 4 days.

As much as I was suspicious of the process, I was pleasantly surprised that everyone in the City that I came in contact with was kind, attentive, communicative and efficient.

Maybe its all in the way you ask :)

I did not "YELL" at them. Simply treated them with respect...and thanked them for their good work.

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

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