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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 11:44 pm | Fair 45º


Ron Fink: Italian Stone Pines Falling in Lompoc

One of the most scenic streets in Lompoc, South H Street, between Cypress and Olive Avenues, has a gravity/draught induced problem. South H is lined on both sides with Italian stone pines whose canopies create a scenic but increasingly dangerous view scape.

Frequently photographed by visitors and residents, the pictures don’t reveal the trees' dangerous nature.

According to the Lompoc Museum website, the trees were “Originally planted as Monterey Pines circa 1940, the mistake produced a majestic stand of Italian Stone Pine trees that is one of the healthiest and most beautiful in the world.

"The trees have an estimated value in excess of $3 million and are considered a great asset and historic resource to the community.”

Apparently, whoever acquired the young trees for Boy Scouts who planted them didn’t get the type of tree they thought they were getting, hence the mistake. Nevertheless, the resultant canopies offer a million-dollar view.

According to Wikipedia: “The (Italian Stone Pine) tree is native to the Mediterranean region, occurring in Southern Europe, Israel, Lebanon and Syria. It is also naturalized in North Africa, the Canary Islands, South Africa and New South Wales.

"The species was introduced into North Africa millennia ago, such a long time that it is essentially indistinguishable from being native.”

When the trees were planted, they were taller than the Scouts who were putting them in the ground. These trees have now grown to tower over the surrounding two-story apartments and stately homes common to that area.

But, as reported in Noozhawk on Aug. 31, “One of the beloved and behemoth pine trees on South H Street in Lompoc toppled Thursday afternoon, blocking the roadway.”

This has become an all-too-common occurrence as the trees age and the longstanding drought takes its toll on their root systems.

Street residents' cars and their homes have been hit by falling tree limbs several times over the past few years as gravity does its work; most of those limbs are as big as the tree's main trunk. Fortunately, no one has been injured in these mishaps.

Besides the drought conditions and age, there are other challenges for trees that normally grow in the wild.

Trees on South H are planted in a relatively narrow strip between the sidewalk and curb, and their roots extend under the street. This makes it difficult for water to get to the root system even in the wettest of rainy seasons.

How long will city management keep rolling the dice? With these trees failing on a fairly regular basis, considering their proximity to homes in the area and the fact that they hang over the sidewalks, it’s only luck that’s kept people from getting hurt.

The city of Lompoc has an aggressive inspection program for the trees. They are regularly looked at by professional tree services, trimmed, and in some cases, thick cables have been stretched to help support the limbs. But they still can’t keep the trees from falling.

These trees are old, and over the years have become a genuine problem to manage. Townspeople are saddened when limbs are trimmed, or dangerous trees must be removed, and may object to any serious thinning.

New trees are planted to replace the old, but they take decades to reach the grandeur of their elders.

An objective look-see and a risk-management plan is needed to address this situation. Paying for a car or replacing damaged sidewalks and curbs is minor in comparison to settling a case for a disabling injury or death.

The Lompoc City Council should ask for a detailed report on the condition of the trees and the long-term plan for maintaining them in a safe condition.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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