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Santa Barbara Homeowner Fighting City to Let Him Cut Down ‘Destructive’ Tree

Carey Ludford, set to address the council Tuesday in an appeal hearing, says the huge Brazilian pepper tree has damaged pipes, the sidewalk and cars

Carey Ludford stands beneath the hulking Brazilian pepper tree that he says is ruining the house he owns in the 3700 block of Pescadero Drive in Santa Barbara. He wants it removed, but the city won’t allow it.
Carey Ludford stands beneath the hulking Brazilian pepper tree that he says is ruining the house he owns in the 3700 block of Pescadero Drive in Santa Barbara. He wants it removed, but the city won’t allow it. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The hulking Brazilian pepper tree in front of Carey Ludford's house offers a brilliant canopy of shade over his yard, sidewalk and street.

The tree, planted in the late 1960s, is healthy, vibrant and could live another 30 years.

But, unseen by most, the majestic, 40-foot giant also has a dark, seedy underside.

Its sap and droppings destroy cars and everything beneath it. Its roots lift the sidewalk like some sort of underground claw. And those same roots spread out underneath Carey's property in search of water to satisfy its thirst, while crushing any water pipes along the way. 

Ludford wants to put an end to his daily nightmare, but the City of Santa Barbara won't let him.

"It's extremely messy," Ludford told Noozhawk. "And three sections of my pipe have roots going through them."

Ludford is set to take his fight over the tree to the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday in an appeal hearing. The city's Parks and Recreation Commission already rejected his request to cut down the tree.

The tree is located in front of the sidewalk in the public right-of-way. The city owns the tree. It has replaced the sidewalk three times and trimmed the tree in 2012.

The city acknowledges the tree is not the best for the street, located near Las Positas and Modoc roads. Several have been removed since the 1960s. The official designated street for that area is the evergreen pear, which wreaks considerably less havoc on the ground. The Brazilian pepper tree, from South America, is considered invasive. 

Ludford's tree removal request will go before the City Council on the same day as discussion about the city's budget, a sales tax to pay for infrastructure, utility rate increases and other major city matters.

Ludford, a 63-year-old, mostly retired electrical contractor, hopes the council gives his issue adequate time for deliberation.

He has no flashy PowerPoint presentation planned. He hasn't lobbied or met with any of the council members individually. He will represent himself when he walks into City Hall.

"This is important to me," Ludford said.

Santa Barbara adopted an Urban Forestry Management Plan in 2014. The city has about 23,000 street trees, an investment that brings in about $2 million in annual benefits related to storm water reduction, carbon dioxide reduction and reduced energy costs, according to city officials.

They also estimate the city is home to about 323,000 trees, all contributing to what officials call "an urban forest," which creates about a 25 percent canopy cover.

"There is a benefit to the urban forest," said Jill Zachary, the city's assistant director of Parks & Recreation

Ludford is going up against these ideals in his request to take down the tree.

He hopes the City Council will understand his plight. His elderly mother, who recently moved into a retirement home, had difficulty walking in front of the house because of the raised sidewalks.

Every few months he has to pay someone to snake the pipes to clear about a clog or backup inside the house.

He believes that the roots have cracked a water main because his water bill is too high for the amount used.

Ludford said he is willing to plant two smaller trees on his own dime to replace the existing tree.

"The tree is very messy and drops caustic peppers, leaves and sap," he said. "We hate this messy, destructive tree and want it removed."

Tuesday's council meeting is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m at Santa Barbara City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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