Dead Trees Walking

by on October 6, 2020 · 5 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The community is about to lose a whole bunch of trees again, and the landscape will be very obviously altered after it happens.

I’ve walked my dogs for several years along the top of the slope, on the east side of Bill Cleator Park, between the park and Correia Middle School.  There is a tall chain link fence at the top that separates the school grounds from the slope and the park at the bottom. We walk along a narrow path at the top from Famosa north to the YMCA where we descend to the park by the indoor soccer field.

The slope is covered with giant eucalyptus trees that can be seen from some distance away.  In our years of walking there, we’ve seen hawks, ravens, hummingbirds, and a whole raft of other bird species in these trees. And another critter that I don’t care for, spiders, love this area. The display of webs can be absorbing.

All photos by Geoff Page.

Every tree at the top of the slope has a recently painted big red X on it.

The tree slaughter may possibly have a sound reason this time, but it is only one possibility.  Some months ago, my wife and I began to notice some fairly large branches had fallen from trees that looked healthy. This did not look like wind damage. We also began to notice that some of the trees looked like they might be in distress.

Some weeks back, we walked up to a very large branch that had fallen from one of the trees.  It was big enough to hit and bend the perimeter fence, as the picture shows, and long enough to hit the new softball field fencing about 15 to 20 feet away.  That was the biggest one, but we’d seen others that were not small branches.

It’s not clear if the trees are all affected by something, but that seems unlikely when you look at the individual trees.  Another possibility is that the School District is worried about liability from falling branches.  But, there is another possibility, that they are too dirty for the school. The falling branches may have given the school district an excuse to do what it really wants to do.

The school district just completed a multimillion-dollar renovation of the playing fields at Correia.  What had for years been mostly a huge, unkempt dirt lot with some tennis and basketball courts tucked into one corner, has been transformed.  The area now has an all new women’s softball field with new dugout, pitching or batting facilities, bleachers, a large soccer field, new tennis courts, a long jump, irrigation, and what appears to be expensive, very dense low-cut grass.  The school spent some coin on this project.

But, there was a problem with the design that we noticed and laughed about at the time, but I’m not laughing now.   The new softball diamond is within about 20 feet of the perimeter fence and the big trees tower above just on the other side of the fence. The prevailing winds blow west to east.  The wind blowing through those big trees scatters leaves and twigs and debris all over the roof of the buildings, all over the bleachers, and all over the playing field for some distance east of the trees.

If the big trees are removed, the problem of debris falling on their shiny new field goes away. If this is the reason, it is shameful that the designers did not account for this possibility when they laid the facilities out.  If the reason is liability, it is shameful to massacre all the trees instead of addressing individual problems.  If the reason is disease, it still seems shameful to take out all the trees wholesale.

The problem is that the school district owns the trees.  Almost all of the slope land belongs to the school district from the bottom to the top. For some reason, the school district operates in a manner similar to Native American lands.  That is, the school is not bound by rules that apply property outside the school boundaries, they are an independent nation within our city.  It is hard to influence them.

That is not to say that folks should not speak up, if anyone thinks these trees should be spared.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Peter from South O October 6, 2020 at 3:31 pm

Falling Eucalyptus branches are killers. They are an invasive species that must be maintained (at considerable cost) rigorously when they are close to people’s activities. That bent fence should be a clue as to why they don’t mix well with the populace.

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Avatar retired botanist October 6, 2020 at 5:12 pm

Have to agree here. Eucs are not good, whether along highways or school fences. They have very shallow root systems and are especially prone to blow over, lose limbs, and collapse when soils get saturated. Some species reach incredible heights and mass, which makes them particularly unpredictable. And there are hundreds planted in San Diego along freeway merges and other areas of slope where they pose a risk.
Without beating a fallen horse, compared to Torrey pines, THESE are the trees that need to be removed from particularly hazardous areas. Torreys self correct, have massive, low girths that Eucs don’t have, and have really extensive root systems. Sure, they tear up a few sidewalks, but don’t pose anywhere near the potential hazard that Eucalyptus does.
Any massive tree demise is a chink in the canopy, and a deficit in the offset of all the benefits we’ve enumerated before, but safety is a relevant concern with this genus.

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Avatar Geoff Page October 6, 2020 at 5:58 pm

I can’t disagree with any of that, retired. What I find interesting about this collection of trees is that they are all growing on a steep slope, about a 2 to 1 and some places a 1 to 1 slope. Knowing they have shallow root systems, you have to marvel at these trees growing to such heights in that kind of footing. And, I wonder how much danger they are to anyone, I think if any of the marked trees fell, they’d fall downslope and not toward the school grounds. The slope is probably 100 feet from brow to toe. And, assuming it is possible, why not just trim them back?

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Peter Peter from South O October 6, 2020 at 9:51 pm

Check out Hosp Grove in Carlsbad for an example of a “plantation” of Eucalyptus, one of many that were planted to supply the railroads with cheap wood for ties. They were planted on the side of hills and in canyons, places where planting other crops or building were impractical (all part of the get rich scheme which failed when the wood turned out to be too brittle for railroad use).
You see, the trees were imported from Australia, and were never intended as ornamental items, nor were they intended to get so big and old . . . they were a crop that was going to be harvested at interval.
So, a big, old Eucalyptus is an aberration, a veritable monster waiting to rain clubs down from the sky, or to kamikaze across a street or highway.
Save a few to feed the Koalas, but get rid of the rest.

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Avatar retired botanist October 7, 2020 at 7:29 am

yep, Geoff, good points all. Whomever had the idea to plant Eucs on slopes, anywhere, was pretty shortsighted. And almost all the short, freeway merges (like onto Rt 8 from Hillcrest) have steep slopes planted with now leaning Eucalyptus- I used to think about it every winter!
Don’t know what to say about the trimming v felling, except that it sounds like if the school owns the trees, they’ve taken advice from the City which, as we know, is always “cut the damn thing down so you don’t ever have to worry about it again” mentality. Its a shame, they are a handsome part of the viewshed, and comprise a nice chunk of urban canopy. Next head-scratcher? What are they going to replace them with? Hope someone is leaning in on THAT question….

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