Santa Barbara and Its Trees

By Sheila Lodge

I was much saddened by the negative comments on the City’s reaction to the unpermitted cutting down of trees on Paterna Road. Three were city owned trees on city property. One was in the front set-back of the property. City law protects its trees. All four required permits for removal.

Santa Barbara’s trees are protected because they are a vital part of its beauty, its clean air and its livability. They provide shade and a calming serenity.

In 1769 Santa Barbara was described as “dismal”. The Presidio was built in 1782 on a largely “treeless plain”. A visitor in 1793 said that there were “a few dwarf trees and groveling shrubs.”

Photo of Santa Barbara c. 1880 (photo courtesy of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum)

Some 50 years later large ornamental trees planted by new residents soften the no longer barren landscape.

Starting in the mid-19th C., noted horticulturalists imported plants from all around the world to this place where just about everything grows. Eventually Santa Barbara acquired its substantial urban forest. One-quarter of the city is covered by tree canopy.

Now whichever way you look, whether on a hill looking down or at street level looking up, you see mostly trees.

Even on parts of its main commercial street, State Street, you see mostly trees. They must not be taken for granted.

Today an estimated 320,000 trees grow along city streets, in parks and on private property, creating Santa Barbara’s urban forest. The urban forest touches the lives of Santa Barbara residents and visitors every day and profoundly enhances the city’s urban landscape as well as its economy.

Imagine what a loss it would be if the Italian Stone Pines on East Anapamu or the Magnolia trees on San Andres weren’t there. Imagine Santa Barbara without its urban forest.

Its quality of life would be dramatically and drastically reduced.

In addition to beauty trees bring many other benefits:

• Their leaves filter the air by removing dust and other particulates. They absorb carbon dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide and give off oxygen. They clean the air we breathe. • Tree roots capture rainwater and remove impurities, reducing creek and ocean pollution.

• They reduce noise levels.

• Their shade reduces the use of air-conditioning by as much as 25%.

• They reduce soil erosion.

• They increase real estate values.

• Their shade prolongs the life of asphalt.

• Workers with views of trees are generally more productive, less stressed and happier.

• Post surgery patients with views of trees recover more quickly than those without.

• People simply are nicer where there are trees; their presence reduces domestic violence.

I hope everyone will do everything they can to maintain and enhance our urban forest. We all will benefit.

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  1. We all love trees Sheila… it’s just, as per everything regarding getting a permit in this town, it’s a nightmare dealing with the city. The negative comments were from people who have tried to get permits due to invasive trees ruining sidewalks, driveways and sewer pipes…and the city (for the most part) truly not caring in the least.

  2. I’m glad you see the 100% fault here, but holy strawman argument! All of those reasons have absolutely nothing to with this. Private citizens should never, ever believe they have the authority to make a decision to alter or destroy public property without going through the proper channels. THAT is the only point there is to be made here. Listing these other issues conflates the true issue at hand.

  3. Ehhhh… Sheila is expanding beyond that singular point, which opens it up to the various grievances we all have with the city regarding pruning and cutting allowances. So yes… the homeowner was wrong here… but dealing with sb city gov is a nightmare and is fair game here for criticism.

  4. So many people think their situation is special. I hope there are harsh penalties for people who destroy trees without permission. If there’s a problem with getting approval to remove truly troublesome trees, then let’s fix that process. Thank you, Sheila Lodge, for your illustrated essay.

  5. DUKE, I disagree. That is a completely separate issue. Don’t like how a government functions? Get involved or don’t live here. Illegally and irreparably damaging public property is never the answer and it is never defensible, regardless of your perception of unfair or “nightmare” rules and processes.

  6. But that’s the point.. there is a massive problem dealing with our city regarding troublesome trees. They won’t let You touch invasive trees or shrubs on your property AND they won’t pay for the damage they cause after not letting you do anything about them.

  7. So.. The only options for disagreeing are moving away or running for office? Seriously???? I’m not defending the guy, I said he was completely Wrong, I’m defending the people who spoke out about dealing with the city. And considering what we’re letting fly with homeless cities and their trash/fires, it does seem silly to be throwing the book at this guy. Make him replace the trees and that’s that…

  8. In the original story, the fact the trees were on public property was not clear enough. This contributed to the triggering of the reminder of what a bad experience dealing with the city is, especially regarding tree maintenance. Only a week before we had another story of an elderly woman who was being prevented from removing a tree on HER property, because of these boneheads. I”m being polite here. When this story popped up, it sounded like more of the same. If it’s YOUR property, it’s YOUR business.

  9. Yes, I know that’s the point. But the solution is not to just kill the trees. The solution is to gather support from neighbors, arborists, plumbers, and city residents at large to force the city to improve their process.

  10. In one of the recent stories, commenters said that the “street trees” are on the homeowners property. I don’t know how it is everywhere, it might vary. But on the Westside where I live, the street trees are definitely not part of my plot. I know the exact dimensions of my plot, and the parkway is not part of it. I would still be upset if the parkway tree messed up my plumbing or my view, but I would know it is not mine.

  11. The arguments posed her by Lodge are elitist. Her view is that she knows best. And she incorrectly states the facts. The parkway is not city property. It is the part of a lot that abuts a street and over which the city claims some sort of zoning or easement use. As noted before, it is highly unlikely that these plants were put in the ground knowing of that claim. It came many years later. Secondly, these were not trees but bushes. The city’s rights seem to be to control the removal of “trees” from this area. Had the plants been two foot high no one would have said anything about their removal. These were plants that normally would be used as hedges or shrubs but were “trained” to look like trees. This does not make them trees. No where in nature do they look like trees. So let’s talk about trees and the city. Lodge shows beautiful Jacaranda trees in here essay. The city is planning to remove very old and important Jacaranda trees on Mission Street to accommodate bikers. I hope her objections hold for this act of destruction. But probably not as she seems to easily segue from concerns about private behaviors as contrasted to public acts.

  12. I love the urban forest but I couldn’t have said it better myself. It is ridiculous and potentially illegal to put the burden of thousands of dollars in sewer repairs on people when they had no role in the root damage. I talked to a plumber and he said that Ventura County pays the cost of these repairs. Class action lawsuit, perhaps?

  13. Read the regs.
    Not only do most people own the parkway, they are also legally responsible for safety and maintenance thereof. There are rules as to what you can do with your property, what you can plant (plants can’t be more than 8 inches high… trees obviously can be taller but must be approved), whether you can use black plastic to kill the weeds (you can’t). The City has a right of way that is often interpreted as “ownership” because of how strictly the City enforces its rights over the property. Did you know that the City can require the property owner to keep the parkway weed free? They cannot enforce that if they own the property, Parks or Streets would have to do it if they own it outright. Trees are different, and there are specific rules regarding what owners can do to the trees in the City Right of Way (not much) and now ANY tree deemed a specimen on your property needs a review and permit to remove. It can be lifting your foundation, clogging your sewer, the roots can be creating a giant dam so rain ponds in the yard and floods your garage… if the board votes no, you are SOL.
    My guess is the Paterna landowner’s lawyer will argue something like 15.20.090 in the link I provided and say the tree roots were pushing up the sidewalk creating a safety hazard or the fruits were slippery or something similar. The property owner is still is supposed to go through channels though and will lose and have to pay a fine…
    I’ve dealt with Nathan Slack, the new City Arborist, on some Eugenias that were inside a fence. They were originally planted two feet apart as a hedge, but the previous owner had gotten old and had stopped maintaining the height and they’d all grown to over 20 feet. The idea was to restore them to a hedge height of 6 feet. He said no, those were trees (most hedges are made of trees) and their height made them specimens.
    He gave us a letter telling us to clean the dead out for health and to not reduce the height.
    In other words, he gave us work to do, and denied us the ability to restore the 50 foot line of overcrowded trees into the original hedge. In his favor, he did say if we could find an old original landscape plan approved by the city specifically calling this a hedge he would reconsider… which was impossible because the previous owners had planted the hedge form 1 foot skinny seedlings themselves multiple decades ago when no one cared.
    Like I said, these Eugenias are unhealthy, they were planted inside an existing fence that was 10 feet from edge of pavement. There were 50 plants and he noted he could/would fine me per tree if I disregarded his directions.
    In spite of all that, he’s a pleasant guy to talk with, but has a bright close line beyond which he gives zero *bleeps*.

  14. I don’t think it is “elitist” to speak for the trees — and under the code, chapter 15.20 and sections under Urban Forestry. And the Eugenias there were trees, single trunked, not “bushes”, as defined in the code, those with multiple trunks. True, they had been tortured into unnatural shapes, probably without permission. Why is it “elitist” to stand up for the Municipal Code requirements? If it is anything beyond purely selfish, it is elitist to maintain one has the right to chop down what are public-owned trees in the City’s easement zone for one’s own selfish benefit! Thank you, Sheila Lodge, for providing information about the city’s historic self and our present urban forest.

  15. All those “Beautiful -non-native” trees POLLUTE our creeks and waterways that are vital to the health of the beaches and ocean with all their “tree-litter”… That non-native organic material has a huge environmental impact on what was once the natural state of our creeks and waterways that feed to the ocean…

  16. It is HOPED, that in time, the fine citizens of the City of Santa Barbara will rise up and take back the individual liberties that have been stolen from them by their local government. It starts at the ballot box, or the RECALL box.

  17. Most people aren’t willing to go through the ridiculous bureaucratic process to address landscape issues on their own property!! I for one am not. We have removed problematic trees ourselves, and our yard is on its way to becoming its own little urban forest, with the right tree in the right spot – at least 20 of them.. the largest ones in back and the smallest ones in the front. Trees add value to a property. Most homeowners know this and act accordingly. We don’t need Big Brother controlling every move we make.

  18. Very thankful that our community values trees.
    Trees cannot defend themselves. Any idiot, kid, or profiteer with a saw can cut down a tree in a few minutes. Replanting another tree is not the same as one with an old existing root structure.
    It is all our jobs to protect the trees.

  19. The bottom line for me is that if the City claims ownership and control of these and similar “street trees” then the City should maintain them. But they don’t. It is up to the property owner to maintain them for the City following the rules laid down by our rulers.

  20. WATCHER, If only… it SHOULD be your property your business, but the overreach of this city’s government and it’s self appointed grandiose self-importance is insanity. If you want to change a quarter inch anything on your own property and you go through the supposed correct channels, be prepared to be handed a heft of bureaucracy, red-tape and ridiculous fees and fines! It’s INSANE. This is the worst city I’ve ever dealt with in California, and I know there are some doozies out there.

  21. EXACTLY. The best way to deal with this city is under the playing board. Seek forgiveness and not permission. They don’t let you do ANYTHING without a massive drawn out expensive fight and mountains of paperwork and ridiculous regulations.

  22. ok Sheila…ok. Glad you have had a chance to share your opinion. Let’s just start with a few facts. 1 of the trees is on his property. If the city is so concerned about their trees on private property, they should go collect them. The others were more or less in front of his house. I applaud him and hope he fights and wins in court. This is serious local government over reach. I’ve shared similar experiences with the city, their ‘aborist’ and his opinions and rotten attitude as well. They plant NON native trees in the city and they do not maintain them. They allow giant peruvian and brazilian trees to tear up the side walks, but do little to nothing to fox those problems. When those branches start encroaching on private property, blocking out sun, tearing up pipes, and then a large branch comes down and takes pwoer lines and internet lines with it. This has happened right in front of my house and it took the city 3 days to get there (downtown…) to fix and clean it and they did a very poor half hearted job, they also hired a bunch of unskilled laborors to hack and saw at the branches on the tree once we protested it. That tree has since died due to poor pruning and management. Why aren’t they up in arms about that tree? Because THEY screwed it up so it’s ok? Really this city needs to get off it’s high horse and start with a reality check.

  23. We’ve finally found the issue that unifies damn near everyone on EDHAT (and possibly SB!)…annoyance at dealing with the City regarding it’s insane permit process (and near universal denial of said permit) regarding non native trees!!!!!!!!!!

  24. Mayor Lodge,
    Pay the yahoos no mind. Most of our residents love having a robust urban forest and
    the removals were absolutely illegal. If they had applied for a permit they would have been informed of the law but they didn’t bother. Fine the heck out of them I say.

  25. my lot is off of ortega near bath. drive down that block and also on Cota and notice the massive peruvian and brazilian trees. notice they are much larger than the plot allows. Notice the side walks unlevel and broken. Mission creek ground water is there and those trees suck it up and grow very large. These are just some of the trees i’m referring to. 1 month of the year, the entire block is yellow colored from the cute little flowers that rain down on us…then comes 3 months of thick heavy sap that coats our cars/windshields. We spend $10 a week to clean our vehicles due to this (otherwise i’d probably wait for rain to get it washed). The city does nothing about that either. I’ve pleaded with the arborist, the parks and rec, the mayor, the city council. There is no money in it for them so they ignore mostly all of the letters they receive from residents. The response if you even get one is normally half hearted at best. Our current city council members are some of the worst we could have as well as our missing Mayor ( i say this because shes been pretty much MIA since she won the election). We need change here and not more of the same. People Like Oscar Guitierrez should be removed from the city council. That guys is an @ss of the highest level. He only cares about his constiuents and the $$$ along APS. The list goes on. We need to vote some better people into these positions so we can start to take back our city. They have run our city into the ground. Honestly…i’ve been here since 1982 and this is the absolute worst i’ve ever seen santa barbara. The police aren’t even allowed to roust out the junkies and homeless encampments nor can they prosecute most misdemenors. Ugh….i want my sail boat now please….so i can just go…far…away

  26. Imagine calling Santa Barbara’s native grassland and wetland environment “dismal” and “barren.”
    The word ‘beauty’ comes up in this more than most anything actually meaningful:
    like, for example, the fact that erosion and destruction of key ecosystems such as ~surprise!~ Santa Barbara’s original wetlands is one of the largest contributing factors to native species endangerment, or that Italian Stone Pines are particularly drought sensitive and susceptible to bark beetles and ours have required extensive irrigation intervention which will doubtless become increasingly unsustainable as our climate changes.
    Embarrassing take all around, Sheila.
    It’s clear that you, like the Council, are primarily concerned with maintaining Santa Barbara’s Costco Croatia aesthetics, but I’d like to see the time and funds being spent here put toward changes that actually make the city more “livable” for it’s residents, like a functional permit system.

  27. The barren wasteland described by Sheila was the result of cutting all the native oaks that once mostly covered the coastal plain. Perhaps it would be better if many street trees were replaced by natives, but I think the exotics are also valuable and beautiful. It’s ludicrous to suggest that the leaves are polluting the streams. Finally, I hope we never consider the affect of a tree on people’s cars as a factor in street tree choice. Park somewhere else if it bothers you or buy a cover.

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