'Widow maker' tree limb nearly hits Crescent Park resident | March 5, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 5, 2010

'Widow maker' tree limb nearly hits Crescent Park resident

Neighbors concerned about eucalyptus trees near Pardee Park playground

by Sue Dremann

A large tree limb from an aged eucalyptus tree nearly struck a Crescent Park resident and has sparked a debate about the safety of the aged trees at Eleanor Pardee Park.

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Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.


2 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth Culpepper
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Eucalyptus are not native to our area. I think we must consider our responsibility if this issue is not addressed and someone becomes seriously injured. Let's replant with more appropriate trees for the park.

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Posted by C-Parker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2010 at 12:45 am

I agree. We shouldn't wait for a child (or adult) to die before we act. Children and parents go there for a nice time out, not a ride to hospital or worse. Lets act, rather than wait and then have to react.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2010 at 3:07 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Remember their contribution to the Oakland fire. I suggest we remove any "Heritage" protection from Eucs, and encourage their removal.

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Posted by JW
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 1, 2010 at 8:51 am

The large circle of stone pine trees in Mitchell Park was removed last year because a limb fell and broke a young child's arm; the old pine trees were then deemed dangerous as their roots were rotting with age. No one except Canopy complained when they were taken down.

This winter the City has finally replanted the area with several types of native deciduous trees. They will grow quickly and the area is revitalized.

I suggest the eucalyptus trees in Eleanor Pardee Park be taken down and the area replanted. Trees like people have finite lives, replacing them is a good idea.

Walter: eucalyptus are not a historically protected tree, only native trees such as oaks and redwoods of a certain size are protected by our heritage tree ordinance. That's why I'd never plant a redwood tree, you can't remove them when they grow too big.

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Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 1, 2010 at 10:26 am

So, trim the trees. Everybody flipped when trees were removed from California Ave, now they want to remove trees from a park?

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Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 1, 2010 at 10:44 am

Pay ATTENTION when you walk.

Look up and around. Pay ATTENTION!!!!!!!!

Stay off your IPOD and cell phone...

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 1, 2010 at 10:55 am

A year or so ago, early in the morning I drove to drop off a book at Mitchell Park Library and missed a huge limb, the size of a tree itself, drop off the eucalyptus tree on the corner by the tennis courts, just feet away from the drop box. It missed dropping right on my car by a fraction of a second.

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Posted by C-Parker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm

THAT'S why some people go to the park, to relax and enjoy some music on their iPod, or chat with mom while enjoying some air. We shouldn't have to keep looking up at every tree and hoping that part of it won't fall on us!
I have kids, 2 boys, they are active enough that my ATTENTION is on them, not on the trees, esp those ABOVE me.
As you can read from the posts, MOST people are concerned for their and their children's safety in a public place where we all go to relax and unwind.

So not sure which demographic you are shouting to!

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Posted by Grant
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm

the photo looks like yard trimming... there was a wind storm friday morning, isn't it common sense to stay out of the park during a wind storm?

all types of trees will drop branches during storms, that doesn't mean they should be chopped down.

The trees are what make this town truly unique and beautiful. I don't think they should be cut unless they have been proven to pose a real threat.

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Posted by Glen Kacher
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Spare Me,

If you read the article carefully it will tell you that six of the trees are infected with sulfur fungus, which impacts the structural integrity of the tree. If the tree "drops" a limb on an adult or child and it kills them or disables them, from a business point of view the city is probably liable for millions of dollars. From a human point of view, I think you might feel somewhat irresponsible for suggesting that people are being "over protective" for addressing a known hazard that could kill or maim a citizen walking on the sidewalk.

These are not trees in the middle of a wooded area where people aren't likely to walk under them. They border a sidewalk that surrounds a heavily used playground. The branch that dropped this week fell on one of the three walkways to the playground. We all like looking at trees but when a tree shows a high risk of killing someone, its time to replace them with trees that are much less likely to kill someone.

This is a common sense issue to me. It is not an issue of "over-protective paranoids."

To your point on cars or dogs, no one would suggest that cars or dogs that are being driven or walked in a reasonable fashion are any problem near the park. But, if there were a car driving speeding down the sidewalk, potentially maiming or killing pedestrians I'd hope you'd consider than a risk that would need to be addressed by the police. And, if there was a rabid dog running around without a lease, you'd probably consider calling animal control.

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Posted by mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

this reminds me of the SNL skit - "oh killer tree oh killer tree"

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Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I previously lived on a property with many 60' blue gum eucalyptus trees. Several widow makers fell on sunny days and we avoided that part of the yard during storms. One still day a 30' tree just toppled over. I complained and threatened to sue until the local public works dept, who had neglected them for 30 years, cut them down to about 20'. Then I trimmed every year and they made a pleasant hedge.

These trees are non-native and invasive and don't belong in a suburban landscape. Nothing can grow beneath them because they poison the soil with their droppings. They are dirty and messy and many people are allergic to them. And they are extremely dangerous -not only because of their propensity to randomly drop large limbs, but also because of their highly flammable nature. One reporter during the Oakland Hills fire described them as "giant tiki torches."

They should be immediately and substantially trimmed so no one gets hurt during the endless debate that will accompany this issue. If the city gets rid of them, they should not do it all at once a la Califonia Ave. PS why are we still listening to Mr. Krebs - didn't he totally bungle CA Ave?

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Posted by Glen Kacher
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I said rabid dog, I meant aggressive dog running around without a leash.

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Posted by big trees
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Most established communities deal with big trees in public areas by planning the turnover. They know that city trees have a lot of people living around them, so they plan to remove them when they reach a certain age and replant new ones before they become dangerous. They are renewable resources. Unfortunately, Palo Alto had so many trees planted within the last 100 years that they might all be reaching the age of needing to be replaced.... vs. a lot of attention and careful pruning.

I think the city is rather bizarre and all over the map in the way it deals with trees. That said, the city was already sued (at least once) when a tree limb fell and broke both(!) femurs of a boy on a play structure at Mitchell Park. So, given the current budget issues, does the city feel lucky? Or is the city ready to be practical?

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Posted by Value people first!
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm

A two year old child was killed in San Jose in January. He was seated in his parents car when a 10 ton tree limb fell on him. It broke his parents arms.

A few weeks later, in Cupertino, at the "Oaks" Shopping Center on Steven's Creek by De Anza College, a prized oak tree limb fell injuring a few shoppers that needed to be hospitalized.

Value people over trees and if the trees are diseased, the trees need to go. Plant better species. Have volunteers check the health more regularly. There are lots of people that could be tree spotters, looking out for the health of these trees.

Falling tree limbs are getting to be common here. I don't remember this happening as regularly in years past.

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Posted by simplejoy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm

There seems to be some simply equations constantly being touted. All trees drop limbs, therefore all trees are equal. All cars can roll on 4 wheels and can have accidents, so one car is no different from the next. All dogs can potentially hurt people, hence all dogs are the same. But are they really?

Not all cars are the same in their safety design and performance. When Pinto was available, would you want to buy it knowing full well that it has a fatal flaw - rear impact can cause the gas tank to ignite and explode? Would you not be nervous if you have your children riding in Pinto's backseats? Volvo was selling very well because of their safety designs until other cars catch on with the idea that improving safety is not only the right thing to do, but it sells car. Is a pit bull similar in temperament to a golden retriever? If true, why is it then that more families, especially those with children, have golden retrievers than pit bulls?

Yes, flowering cherry can drop a limb just as an eucalyptus can. But the consequences are quite different. With flowering cherry, you get a good jolt. With eucalyptus, if its limb falls on you, it is big, and it is heavy, and it definitely delivers a crushing blow. If a dropping tree limb hits and kills someone, it is not just life, it is taking a life. No, life's equations are never simply, despite efforts to simplify them.

As for checking the eucalyptus, after the January accident, the city has assured us that all the eucalyptus trees have been checked and have been found safe. Yet two big limbs fell 3 days ago, right on the entry to the playground. This is not because the arborist did not do a good job. Our city arborist has a very dangerous job, and he does it conscientiously and does it well. But eucalyptus is, by all accounts, a uniquely dangerous tree. It grows quickly, on average 6-12 feet a year in height with corresponding rapid growths in its limbs. The pruning cycle in Palo Alto, based on budgetary consideration, is 7 years. With these numbers, no amount of pruning is sufficient nor adequate for eucalyptus. The eucalyptus limbs are also notoriously unpredictable. They simply drop even when it is not windy, with no rime or reason, and they drop often. The dropped eucalyptus limbs have perfectly healthy woody tissues and green leaves, not like they are dry or rotted. The most careful visual inspection cannot tell when and if a eucalyptus limb will drop and should be pruned. It is the mass and size of falling limbs, and their unpredictability that makes eucalyptus so uniquely dangerous.

Yes, no children were hurt by the latest fallen eucalyptus limbs. But must we continue to roll dice with their lives?

Ultimately, it must be remembered - we demand action now, not because we desire a barren park. Quite the contrary, we insist on having replacement trees, so the park can continue to look magnificent, but also safe. If we are judicious with the choice of new trees, the park can look even better than having eucalyptus trees. This is absolutely possible.

We want to go to the park to play and to relax. Is it paranoid to ask for such simple joy?

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm

We understand that our very well paid arbourists are supposed to inspect trees, when they are not obsessed with clearing trees with no life threatening threat on CA avenue.

When can they document their last inspection of the tree in question?

It should be a mouse click away-- let us know-- or resign

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Posted by John
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Nothing like a headline news story about a tree that almost hit somebody...only in Palo Alto (maybe Atherton, too).

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Posted by CHinCider
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:42 am

Hmmm - Let's see:

City staff actd too fast in cutting down the trees on California Avenue, where it had been planned and discussed for years. Public outcry arose due to the lack of notice.

Now, staff is being accused of acting too slowly in removing the trees in Pardee Park, where it is a new issue and no process has been followed.

Ya think maybe there's a connection?

Ever wonder why the City staff thinks that there is no way to make everyone happy in a community such as this?

Just askin'.

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Posted by 527
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2010 at 12:47 pm

A politically motivated attack by a leftist tree?

Web Link

Web Link

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Posted by dk
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm

The 2 fallen limbs from eucalyptus tree in Eleanor Pardee Park were found at around 8 a.m. Friday, before the strong wind arrived. At the time, there was a breeze. The storm did not arrive until around 11 a.m. on Friday. Then it became really gusty for the next several hours.

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Posted by Lets be sensible
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Dear Get Real,

Unlike earthquakes we can actually preemptively take action to avoid damage and death. I think that is why this is important. Why wait for someone to get killed by a limb? Why not act responsibly and think about humans instead of trees in this case?

I wish that people in Palo Alto would take 30 minutes to go online and research the truth about Eucalyptus trees. If they did, they would understand that ALL ACROSS CALIFORNIA these specific trees are being REMOVED. Our state parks are cutting them down by the grove, as they are too unsafe. Bringing these trees to the USA was a MISTAKE. The state is no longer planting them along freeways because it is now knows that they have shallow roots and fall easily. It is now common knowledge that they drop limbs when HEALTHY in NO WIND conditions and are one of the top 3 TALLEST TREES IN THE WORLD.
Arborists and environmentalists across our state are in agreement that these non-indigenous trees have no place in our communities. It does nothing for our ecosystem and is a horrendous fire hazard (read ANY ARTICLE about the OAKLAND FIRES and you will learn that these trees were the FUEL of those devastating fires.)
This is not just about "the fear of a a tree limb falling". We are not talking about Redwoods here. We are talking about a tree that came here to be used for railroad ties because, among other reasons it grows 6-12 feet per year. Ironically, the wood proved to be too brittle to be used for railroad ties, but the trees stayed.
We now have eucalyptus around Pardee Park that have been there for over 50 years and over the years have been TOPPED (read articles about what this does to the structural integrity of the tree- and why the College Terrace LIbrary Eucalyptus fell). Our city's policy on these trees is to prune them "every 6-7 years' that is 36'-84' of growth that goes without pruning.
Having these trees hanging over a heavily used sidewalk and children's playground is not sensible. We must not lose sight of the fact that these trees are nice to look at, they are NOT A SAFE TREE. Our city has stated that they would "not plant this tree around a park today". This SPEAKS VOLUMES. Lets use our brains and replace these trees with indigenous trees that have deep root systems and limbs that don't "shed" on a regular basis.
People are making jokes about this situation. I'd like to hear how they feel if they are the reason these trees are not dealt with, and someone is killed. I'd like to see what they say if someone uses the bbq grills at the park and a spark flys to close by Eucalyptus and starts a massive fire. Will they be making statements such as "gee, I'm sure glad we kept those trees" or will they be saying "the city should have been more vigilant and acted on the facts they knew about these trees".

I hope that our city weighs the pros and cons of these trees and makes a responsible decision on behalf of the taxpayers of this city.

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Posted by Mary Goodnight
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Having been born and raised in the Crescent Park area of Palo Alto, I have very fond memories of the area. After school, (when Crescent Park was still there), we used to ride our bikes through Eleanor Park and around the Eucalyptus trees, they had the most beautiful scent and made us kids feel like we were transported to a different world with their fun dirt paths. We would race on our bikes or just run around the trees to play chase. This move to cut them down is absurd, I will fight the good fight to keep these trees!. It's absurdly parnanoid to make such a statement that they are unsafe considering the fact that so many other commkon things can hurt our children, these trees, if propoerly cared for, are part of a long standing history and tradition here in Palo Alto. No more will I accept the whines and cries from people (who clearly didnt grow up here if this is their arguement) who dont understand tradition and history of old Palo Alto. Either you need to avoid the park (and i guess all public areas where "danger" could occur), or suck it up and pay attention to your surroundings.

Old Palo ALto is going to stay old Palo Alto, if you dont like it, MOVE to the concrete jungle!.

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Posted by get real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 8:53 pm

my lord shall we outlaw tailgating at standford football games because a bbq spark might ignite the many eucalyptus trees around there?

or should we insist the univ chop them down?

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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 3, 2010 at 4:04 pm

A few stories, one from the far past and one more recent. For what it's worth.

Years ago I lived in the East Bay near Point Pinole Park in the Richmond area. That park had tons of eucalyptus trees planted. There is/was also old railroad tracks there. Story was that it was a munitions place and the trees were planted to hide the site and tracks from potential Japanese bombers during WWII. The park workers who lived there in a trailer reported to me that their dogs never got fleas because of the ecalyptus droppings. I would go walking/running there with the dogs, do some school work studying sometimes there all afternoon. I would be reading and quite regularly a huge branch or even a whole tree would just come down.

Now for other things dropping from above...

It was dark and I was biking up Valparaiso in Menlo Park, heading from El Camino towards the Alameda. Right near Sacred Heart the bike lane snakes a bit to the right as it goes around a tree. Just as I was approaching the tree I saw big branch drop in front of me and to the left, just where the bike lane would be if no tree was there. No big deal I thought to myself, yet it was not windy. Suddenly the branch on the ground came alive as if out of some demented Lord of the Rings scene where the trees come alive. Three squirrels had apparently all been on the same small branch and caused it to fall, the leaves and my brain reaction hiding the fur as the branch/squirrels all fell. But suddenly 3 squirrels darted right in front of me and I narrowly avoided hitting them. That was worth a couple cups of coffee.

Back to the Eucalyptus trees at Pardee Park. I wouldn't mind them being taken out, though they are majestic and do lend a certain charm to the area. Why not just plant Redwood Trees there instead though?

Is there any way that the arborists could periodically clear the area and do some "shake test" whereby any "soon to be coming down" limbs could have their descending agenda pushed ahead?

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2010 at 11:22 pm

I suggest we find a pond (Foothill Park?) and throw the eucalyptus trees into it.

If they sink they are OK and it is a sign they should be kept. But if they float they are clearly evil and supernatural and should be eliminated from all of Palo Alto.

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Posted by Lee
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2010 at 7:11 am

The entire ice rink at the Winter Lodge is surrounded by eucalyptus, I suppose these folks think we should halt skating immediately and cut all of those down as well.. Amazing, the things people have time to worry about with all of the real worries going on in the world..

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Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 4, 2010 at 11:01 am

If Eucalyptus trees are so dangerous we should pray for the millions of poor Australians who put their lives on the line every day by living among these beasts. Think of the mental anguish they must deal with 24/7. There should be a world wide campaign to rid the planet of these killers. Suck it up wimps! By the way, oaks are notorious for spontaneously dropping limbs. Shall we eliminate them from our parks? Oh no, they're native trees but the aliens must go.

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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 4, 2010 at 11:21 am

I know, we could turn this into a yearly money making event or celebration.

At Pardee Park there would be a Yearly "Shake It" festival. Eddie Money (reduced to playing in Clear Lake) could sing his "Shakin" song, as well as any other singers or songs with "Shake it" as lyrics.

Non-destructive testing could be used ("teachable moment" for kids and adults) to elucidate which limbs or trees might need to be removed. Then the limb and/or tree removal could also be turned into a ceremony. Combine with Art Fair, etc.

But then it was I who suggested making the Egg War also a yearly ritual and money maker.

They said I was mad at Masters and Johnson!

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Posted by In response to Lee
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2010 at 11:25 am

Lee don't you understand that this is the most important news in the world and the people of the world need to care about Palo Alto more!?! It's all about us remember? Hah you must not have lived here that long.. Let me be the first to say.. Welcome to Palo Alto!!

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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Web Link

And as regards the Australians.....if they can't even camp under them legally do you think they build their homes under them (Center) and put parks under them?

Web Link

"Blue Gums are dangerous," says Avant. "Dry branches break off all the time. Campers visiting from Australia told us it's illegal to camp under eucalypts there because it's so dangerous." The root system is fairly shallow, especially in sandy soil, and, says Cicero, "it's hard to predict which ones will topple over."

It could also be (speculation on my part) that the winds in certain parts of Australia aren't on a par with Chicago or Palo Alto.

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Posted by mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2010 at 3:14 pm

no worries, last i checked camping was not allowed at Eleanor Pardee
can we simply put up a sign that says warning pass at your own risk,
play in this area at your own risk etc. - just as they post on the play structure

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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 4, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Yes simply put up that sign. Are you really that ignorant-- or just trying to be cute?

I don't know what the real risk is that one of the aging trees or branches might come down and squish a child playing. Camping for days vs. hours of playing. and houses nearby. A campground is occupied for a few days at a time for certain days of the year. The playground is quite often filled up for entire weekends and each evening. Your analogy is both absurd and when a real comparison is made comes up short anyway.

Look I don't claim to be an expert on Eucalyptus tress. I have seen whole trees come down on a semi-regular basis.

What would an arborist who is very knowledgeable about Eucalyptus trees say? (OK probably something which would generate more income into their wallet)

In their native habitat is this semi-regular tree/limb falling a part of the natural regenerative process?

Is there some reason why out of their native environ they would be either more or les dangerous? If not crowded together in groves do they tend to stay up longer? How does the wind and soil erosion play out in their native Australian habitat vs. here?

I'm not "calling" for anything, just an objective assessment of the risk and possible solutions.

Their nickname is "the widow maker" after all. Just by accident? (heh heh)

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Posted by mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2010 at 9:59 pm

me like to be called cute and ignorant

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Posted by cpmom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I don't think there would be any disagreement on either side of this issue that the trees are part of what makes our community here in Palo Alto special. When we moved to the peninsula we were drawn to the beauty of the trees in Palo Alto. How lucky we are to have a community that cares so much about them. We were also drawn to the Palo Alto area because we knew that the people in this community were forward thinking and deeply cared about issues here.

On February 26th I drove by Pardee Park around 8:30a.m. I witnessed the branch that was blocking the path into Pardee Park. This branch was by no means small and if anyone had been on this path they most certainly would have been injured and I fear killed. I was so upset by the incident that I turned around and approached the gentleman that was using his chain saw to cut up the tree. I asked him to please relay my concerns to the city to consider closing the pathway. He agreed that the area seemed unsafe.

I know that people love these trees and I know that the trees were there long before the playground but at this point what I care about most is the children who play underneath them every day. Go and sit in the playground and look up at these enormously tall trees and imagine a large limb falling. Can we just cross our fingers and hope that there wouldn't be one of a dozen young children in it's path? Paranoid? Extreme? Let's just say that I am very grateful and relieved that no one was hurt by the fallen limb that I saw.

I prefer that we not roll the dice any longer on these trees. They need to be removed...if slowly....and replaced with something that is native, beautiful and that will continue to enhance this park, neighborhood and community.

After all, no one on either side of this issue wants to live in a concrete jungle.

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Posted by mom
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 7, 2010 at 9:28 am

cpmom - i am weeping like a willow

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Posted by Widow Maker Defined
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 10, 2010 at 8:35 pm

The term "widow maker" is the term that came from Australian loggers...if you read online about it, you will find that so many loggers have been killed by falling limbs that the term "widow maker" came to be.
“Eucalypts have a habit of dropping entire branches off as they grow. Eucalyptus forests are littered with dead branches. The Australian Ghost Gum Eucalyptus papuana is also termed the "widow maker," due to the high number of pioneer tree-felling workers who were killed by falling branches. Many deaths were actually caused by simply camping under them, as they shed whole and very large branches to conserve water during periods of drought. For this reason, one should never camp under an overhanging branch"

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