Is it time to significantly thin Irvine’s forest?
Why? Because we’ve been scared silly by the number of huge trees toppling over in Irvine’s older neighborhoods and along Irvine’s main roads. It’s not a concern that’s come with this year’s rainy weather. We’ve seen the danger for a few years as we walk, cycle and drive around town. Any windstorm or significant rain causes trees to fall, often ending up on sidewalks, paseos and corners near schools, playgrounds and parks.
If you haven’t witnessed this yourself, then drive along Irvine Center Dr. in the center of the city or through Quail Hill and just look for fresh stumps. They’re everywhere.
Another sure sign of our failing and falling forest is more subtle: most of our groves, whether planted during the age of agriculture or as landscaping of common areas during development, were planted with consistent distances between each tree. It’s just how planners like to do things. Now, drive around the city and see how many gaps there are between trees.
We’ve taken to looking up for falling branches from pines and eucalyptus trees while out walking. We don’t linger when walking past slopes planted with these trees, and we warily rush by any trees that tilt. We advise our friends with children to avoid areas with a significant number of trees (which is most places in the city), especially during or after any significant rain or wind.
Maybe we’re paranoid, you might think. A falling tree can’t be predicted, it’s an act of nature or God. We disagree, strongly in fact.
We believe an independent and hard-hitting study would tell us what we don’t want to know. Many of Irvine’s trees, especially the pines, Chinese elms and eucalyptus common in many neighborhoods are near the end of their lives. Some should never have been planted here in the first place.
Now, disease, over-watering and drought have taken their toll. Many of them are now a menace to our neighbors, our families and our children.
We’re not pointing fingers at any city agency, landowner, or the many HOAs that have landscaping committees, hire arborists and take the issues of safety very seriously.
One HOA member posted this on a NextDoor message board several weeks ago: “We have issues relating to poor initial planting decisions, years of relative inattention before the current regime, and the ‘natural order’ of dealing with living things.”
But despite the care and attention many thoughtful folks have given to Irvine’s trees over the years, we believe it’s time to change the way we think about the trees in our community. If there’s a danger, they have to go.
A few years ago the city of Newport Beach removed a grove of 100 eucalyptus trees in the median of Irvine Ave. and 17th St. after a 10-ton tree fell on a car and killed the driver. According to news reports, the city later settled a lawsuit with the victim’s family for $1 million. The suit alleged negligence by the city and its arborist.
And peril from Irvine’s trees is nothing new. Reports from 1992 show the Irvine city council considering removing some of the oldest eucalyptus trees in Northwood “after several nearby residents said they believe that the trees are unsafe,” according to a newspaper report at the time. “The old eucalyptus trees regularly drop huge branches, they said, creating a hazard for residents and pedestrians using the path.
“One resident told the council that a limb suddenly tore away last month from the eucalyptus behind her home, barely missing her son.”
We love our trees. Many in Irvine have childhood memories of two-lane country roads lined by towering eucalyptus trees. Those roads are now busy thoroughfares, but remnants of the trees planted as fast-growing windbreaks to protect citrus groves still exist.
But it’s time to face that many of them now pose a danger. We need to know which ones, and they need to be removed. Let’s replace them with drought-tolerant natives, including heritage trees like the ones flourishing at the Great Park. We can’t say who should pay for the process, but it needs to start now.
That’s what we’ve been meaning to say for months. But we never wrote that piece. We’re sorry to admit that other issues seemed more urgent, so we didn’t publish an opinion piece on the topic.
By now most know that a teenager was severely injured by a falling tree in Irvine’s oldest neighborhood. Our hearts go out to her family and friends, and we know everyone in the community joins us in praying for her.
We’re not saying an opinion piece here would have changed anything about the tragedy. But we’ve strongly believed for some time that many of our mature trees pose a danger, and yet we didn’t do anything to warn our community.
We won’t let that happen again, and pledge to be a voice for safety and prosperity in Irvine.