"I heard a loud crack. It sounded like a rifle shot. I ducked. Two limbs pancaked down on the sidewalk on Channing just 20 paces from where I was standing. The heavy butt ends of the branches were 5 1/2 to 6 inches in diameter. They thudded right where my head would be.
"You know what they call those trees, don't you? 'Widow makers,'" he said.
The Jan. 18 incident has neighbors concerned whether the 50- to 100-year-old trees should be removed. The 16 trees, which city officials say are 120 to 150 feet tall, surround a children's play structure area and canopy two sidewalks around the park's perimeter.
Worried residents and mothers of small children have taken up the issue with City of Palo Alto staff.
Longtime residents said the trees have been part of the landscape since Eleanor Pardee lived in a ramshackle house on the property in the early 1950s, well before it became a park.
But some residents said it's time to reconsider if the trees are safe, given their height and the area's high density of foot traffic.
Amy Kacher, a mother whose three young children play at the park, said a 36-foot limb fell on the path to the entry gate to the playground on the Channing side on Friday morning. She could not budge the limb, she said.
"We're not trying to be over-dramatic. They're beautiful. But having them there is not logical," she said.
Steve Bisset, who was born and raised in Australia, said on the neighborhood e-mail that he was camping under a eucalyptus tree in Australia in 1965 when another eucalyptus fell over "with a deafening crash about 20 feet away, under windless conditions. More recently I was on the Stanford campus when a giant eucalyptus branch crashed to the ground nearby, again in windless conditions."
Reached by phone, he said he didn't necessarily want the trees removed.
"The Pardee Park eucalyptus are among the most beautiful of trees," he said.
But the danger to life is real, he said.
"Many arborists in Australia are experts in identifying which branches are dangerous. I would hope someone who has expert knowledge that is specific with eucalypts could identify and remove the branches that are in danger of falling. It would be better to keep the trees than not," he said.
But if that can't be done with certainty, the trees should be chopped down, since the area is a park where children play, he said.
City officials met with residents at the park on Wednesday, Feb. 24, and another meeting will be scheduled soon, according to Eric Krebs, city arborist.
Krebs said as many as six trees are being considered for removal. He has been watching the trees for sulfur fungus, a disease that causes rot in certain trees.
Pardee Park has two species of eucalyptus — Eucalyptus globulus or blue gum and Eucalyptus viminalis or white gum, he said. The trees are native to Australia.
"Eucalyptus has very heavy wood and has very strong wood. Without defects, it's a pretty strong tree. They get a bad name because they do drop limbs," he said.
The label "widow maker" is a bit unfair to the eucalyptus, Krebs said. Quite a few other tree species also habitually drop large limbs, he said, especially during "summer limb drop," when trees try to reduce water loss from the trunk during drier periods. The drops occur mostly in windless or light-wind conditions between noon and 4 p.m., according to arborists' reports.
Liquid ambar, oak, sycamore, silver maple, poplar and others drop horizontal limbs up to four inches in diameter, according to the California Tree Failure Report.
"I never say a tree is 'safe.' There's no such thing. To have no hazard with trees is to have no trees," he said.
On average, arborists inspect each tree on city property every seven years, he said. He has regularly watched the Pardee Park trees because of the sulfur fungus and the city will properly trim all branches deemed a hazard, he said.
In 15 years, Eadie said he has never encountered such a massive limb fall. He has occasionally jumped over 2-inch branches that have dropped onto the sidewalk, but his Martin Luther King Day encounter has left him shaken. He won't walk under the trees anymore, he said.
His wife, Pat Eadie, said she often worries about his walks.
"I worry about him with his iPod. I say, 'You're just a sitting duck for somebody to mug you.' But I was not thinking it would be a tree limb."
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