Falling trees create hazards, headaches for Long Beach residents

In addition to leaving muddy messes behind, the recent rains have felled a number of trees—and that has spelled disaster for some Long Beach residents whose homes or cars got in the way.

Keith Tunison and Greg Vaccaro, who own a home in the Los Cerritos area, had been worried about the stability of a eucalyptus in their parkway that was more than 60 feet tall.

On Tuesday night, the worst happened.

They were watching TV when they heard a sound Tunison likened to the start of an earthquake.

There was a rumble, then “just a big ‘whump!'” he said. “The minute I heard that noise, I said, ‘Bye, tree.'”

On Wednesday, a city-hired company’s workers were chainsawing at remaining chunks of tree, some of which lay in the street, while Vaccaro swept debris off his front walk. The eucalyptus had ripped down some of the overhang around the front of the couple’s 1950s home and crushed a neighbor’s car.

A more than 60-foot eucalyptus tree fell Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, damaging a home and a car on Pine Avenue in Los Cerritos. Photo courtesy of Keith Tunison

About 2,800 of Long Beach’s 140,000 street trees are eucalyptus, according to data compiled and made public in 2020 by the Los Angeles Times’ Matt Stiles. They’re not the only species prone to toppling—last year at Whaley Park, a large carob tree limb fell on a family, who was uninjured—but it might feel that way to residents.

Earlier this week, a Reddit user posted a photo of a downed eucalyptus on North Virginia Road and said five of the species have fallen on that street in the past two years. On Wednesday, the sawed-off stump of one still lay where it had fallen, with dislodged sidewalk bricks and a length of curb still tangled in its roots.

“Since the start of the stormy weather in the area, the (Long Beach) Department of Public Works received 80 services requests to pick up fallen palm fronds and have responded to 50 fallen tree/tree branches calls,” spokeswoman Joy Contreras said in a text message.

Arborist Don Hodel, an emeritus environmental and landscape horticulture advisor with the University of California, said it’s difficult to say whether eucalyptus trees are more prone to fall or otherwise fail than other species—but trees that fail tend to have a few things in common.

Trees planted in unsuitable areas may not be able to get enough water or nutrients, so they weaken and die. A large species with broad, spreading roots may not be able to form an adequate support system in a 3-foot parkway, or city crews may prune the roots when they start lifting the sidewalk, Hodel said.

Mandated cutbacks on watering during drought can hurt trees, but a sudden deluge doesn’t always help.

With storms like the ones that hit California over the past few weeks, “excessively wet soil loses some of its ability to anchor trees adequately, and then the wind comes along and pushes them over,” Hodel said.

The wet, windy weather has gone for now, but some residents are still warily eyeing the trees in their neighborhoods.

Sandy Wells, who lives about a block from Tunison and Vacarro, came by to take pictures of the aftermath in their yard to show a friend who has a leaning tree. Wells also has a eucalyptus in front of her house.

“I’m going to drive down my street and look at my tree,” she said. “This just makes me nervous.”

Vaccaro and Tunison said they’d contacted the city about their tree before it fell but didn’t get any results; the city did send the contractor who was dissecting its remains Wednesday.

Tunison said he’s sad to see the mighty eucalyptus go—it provided shade for his home and habitat for falcons, hawks and other wildlife. But he’s using the opportunity for a fresh start.

“I’ll finally get my xeriscape garden,” he said.

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