Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Santa Barbara and Its Trees title=
Drawing of Santa Barbara in the mid-1830s (image courtesy of Santa Barbara Historical Museum)
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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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Sensibly Common Jan 03, 2021 02:20 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

In my opinion, it was 100% wrong of the home owner to cut down the trees. That being said, in response to Ms Lodge, the city lacks a practical approach to managing certain situations. For example if the tree is causing damage to water lines or sewers. City owned trees can damage private lines and the city won’t take responsibility. Also the amount of sidewalk damage makes me question the appropriateness of tree species selection. Some trees just aren’t meant to grow in narrow strips between the sidewalk and street. The amount of money the city spends on sidewalk repair must be huge.

a-1609717600 Jan 03, 2021 03:46 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

dukemunson Jan 03, 2021 04:01 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

a-1609719950 Jan 03, 2021 04:25 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

dukemunson Jan 03, 2021 04:35 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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...

ChillinGrillin Jan 03, 2021 08:24 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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?

edney Jan 05, 2021 01:03 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Isn't the question really about what property is "public".
Are all trees "public property"? Because if you look at City of SB regulations and ordinances, your backyard trees will soon need official City Approval for trimming or removal. (that may be in effect already). Call the City Arborist and show him the tree in your back yard and tell him you are going to remove it due to reasons XYZ. He will say NO and follow up on that "NO" in writing. You can appeal to a board and they will probably say NO.
The incident on Paterna is interesting because some many people assumed that the land there was owned by the City. The article nowhere disputes who owns the property. The land is owned and taxes paid on that land by the person who had the trees cut down. The City is asserting its "rights" over the Right of Way and has extended the initial right to unencumbered passage by the public to asserting rights over the trees within the Right of Way. The City is now asserting a "right" to control the entire urban forest and over every tree dubbed as specimen by height and/or caliper. Backyard, front yard, back 20 acres.
vote this post up if you believe all trees in city limits are public, down if you believe the owner of the property, the property tax payer owns the trees.

I'm leaving out the Right of Way issue because, well, only two arrows, but also because so many people have a problem with what a Right of Way is. People keep saying the property is public and no one should get away with "damaging" and "defacing" public property. It is private property the public had the unencumbered Right to Pass over. The City now claims that the public right of unencumbered passage also gives them, by ordinance, unencumbered right to the trees within the "Right to Pass" area on privately owned land in order to have an absolute control over "street trees".
The City is dead set on extending its right onto ALL trees by ordinance.

I think in the end, the idea that the City can control every tree on privately held land is an over reach of local government that is likely unconstitutional, but very few property owners have the money to take challenges like these all the way to the Supreme Court

a-1609952701 Jan 06, 2021 09:05 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Edney, I agree with your post. Are you asking readers to down-vote if they also agree? : "vote this post up if you believe all trees in city limits are public, down if you believe the owner of the property, the property tax payer owns the trees." I'm not going to down-vote your post because Edhat removes posts after a certain number of down-votes (and the number is not that high). Were you not aware of this?

Jence Jan 06, 2021 09:24 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Edney, if I recall correctly, the backyard thing actually happened some years back. You gotta read “Arborist in a Tear”, SB Independent, January, 2011. Gene is a very passionate man and I believe he brings up many valid points. You’ll get a kick out of it. Happy reading!

dukemunson Jan 03, 2021 02:41 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

Ahchooo Jan 03, 2021 04:16 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

dukemunson Jan 03, 2021 04:31 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

Ahchooo Jan 03, 2021 06:12 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

a-1609779854 Jan 04, 2021 09:04 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

biguglystick Jan 04, 2021 11:19 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

Watcher237 Jan 03, 2021 06:02 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

edney Jan 04, 2021 09:03 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Its private property with a public right of way over that part of the property.
The City of SB has a Right of Way over it that is nearly absolutethat extends beyond passage back and forth

biguglystick Jan 04, 2021 11:17 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

Watcher237 Jan 04, 2021 01:32 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

a-1609797317 Jan 04, 2021 01:55 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Everyone should have the right to turn their property into a vehicle wrecking yard. It's the path of freedom!

Ahchooo Jan 03, 2021 06:17 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

PitMix Jan 04, 2021 07:53 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

On my lot, westside, I own the parcel to the curbline. City has easement over 1st 10 ft.

Ahchooo Jan 03, 2021 06:18 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

And yes, I do understand that the city has say over trees that are actually *on* residents’ private property.

RHS Jan 03, 2021 06:24 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

Ahchooo Jan 03, 2021 08:37 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

RHS, on my street the parkway is definitely not part of private lots. I don’t know about your area, but our parkway is city property. Also, I have seen very large, old Eugenia trees that do look like trees. I don’t like them, but if left natural, they can be tree-like.

Bird Jan 03, 2021 10:07 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

RHS Jan 04, 2021 09:54 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Bird, the "elitist" aspect of the comment is to the point that Lodge, without any economic investment in the issue, thinks it appropriate for the government to protect her interest in the benefits of trees without giving the person actually impacted by the problem a good alternative. It is also interesting to me that the values she promotes are somewhat alien to the idea that we should protect our native flora (and fauna) from invasive non-native plants. Would we decide to plant the Carizzo Plains with pine trees to give us more oxygen and shade and some camp sites? Perspective is important and the idea that the chance tree here and there is sacred is not a healthy balance.

RHS Jan 04, 2021 10:39 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

AHCHOO: Here is a map which seems to show the plots of each SB lot and the street right of way and location. If I read this correctly it appears that the streets are often immediately abutting the lots while in other cases there is a large gap. Sometimes the streets appear to be built on one side of the easement leaving no buffer while the other side of the street has a huge margin. Probably there is something technical here that I do not understand but if it is as it appears, some lots are not in the street easement and some are. https://maps.santabarbaraca.gov/Html5Viewer/Index.html?configBase=/Geocortex/Essentials/REST/sites/City_of_Santa_Barbara__
Public/viewers/SantaBarbaraPublic/virtualdirectory/Resources/Config/Default&
run=ParcelQuery&apnValue=019-090-015

biguglystick Jan 04, 2021 11:13 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Thank you, RHS, I couldn't have said it better myself. Her views here are elitist. The city does whatever it wants and the rest of us be damned.

edney Jan 03, 2021 09:56 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Read the regs.
https://www.santabarbaraca.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=17169

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*.

Bird Jan 04, 2021 08:11 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Sounds to me that city arborist is not acting according to the city muni. Code which says that hedges in the interior setback must be no higher than 8’. http://qcode.us/codes/santabarbara/view.php?topic=28-28_87-28_87_170

edney Jan 04, 2021 09:06 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

The ruling was that once the Eugenias were allowed to grow to Specimen dimensions, they became a closely spaced row of street trees and were no longer a hedge

edney Jan 04, 2021 10:36 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

The ruling was that once the Eugenias were allowed to grow to Specimen dimensions, they became a closely spaced row of street trees and were no longer a hedge.
(it is height and caliper) The Eugenias cut on Paterna possibly did not have the height dimension for specimen but definitely had the caliper

qmc Jan 04, 2021 10:49 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

To bad the likes of Dan Condon, the City Arborist back in the 1980s and 90s, couldn't be City Arborist. He was proactive and spent much of his time in the field which upset the City pencil pushers.

a-1609826863 Jan 04, 2021 10:07 PM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

The property owners on the corner of Cota and Alisos were ordered to hack their tall Eugenia hedge down to 3 1/2 feet due to safety reasons. The trunks are about 8" in diameter. It looks hideous.

a-1609779797 Jan 04, 2021 09:03 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

The first drawing shows that there were few trees here early on. Why? because they need a lot of water. Our droughts are increasing. Connect the dots.

Rinconer Jan 04, 2021 10:00 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

a-1609785082 Jan 04, 2021 10:31 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

Babycakes Jan 04, 2021 11:06 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

The owner of the property should not have taken down the trees - agreed. However, looking at the "before" photos, these trees were fantasy/joke/whimsical in nature. No one raised any concerns that these "lollipop" trees had been maintained in such a manner. They had been lopped/topped as to not interfere with the homeowner's view. I do not understand why the city is spending one dime on prosecuting/fining/jailing the home owner when the entire downtown and waterfront areas are falling apart. From my perspective, it's like a roof that has a giant hole in it and rain is pouring into my house, but the focus is on polishing the doorbell button. ....and 50 feet away is a massive junkyard of frog-this and frog-that....crickets.....

PitMix Jan 04, 2021 11:11 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

Branch on city tree breaks off and smashes windshield. City says we're not liable. City tree roots invade sewer line requiring costly repair. City says we're not liable. If the buck stops at my desk, I should have the right to decide how to manage my property. If I don't, City should assume liability. They want their cake and mine also.

ZeroHawk Jan 04, 2021 11:20 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

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.

biguglystick Jan 04, 2021 11:26 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

ZEROHAWK, Could not agree more! The city arborist should be fired. We need a better city government. The priorities are all messed up, and yes, it's overreach, for SURE.

biguglystick Jan 04, 2021 11:22 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

I have got a real complaint with the city arborist! On our street they have planted bottle bush trees up and down, lining the street. These trees are MESSY and drip sap and tiny red needles that RUIN any car unfortunate enough to have to park underneath them! When I called the City Arborist to talk about this I got an answering machine and NO call back. He doesn't give a rat's a$$. Meanwhile, neighbors complain because you have to park in front of their houses in order to avoid the drippy mess of these tress. I don't care if they are native or not, they are a MESS!!!! There are other native trees that don't absolutely ruin a car and cause a ground hazard from shedding. LOOK INTO THIS, Santa Barbara!

PitMix Jan 04, 2021 11:38 AM
Santa Barbara and Its Trees

And bottlebrush branches randomly break off and smash your car if you are parked underneath. The breaks do not coincide with excessively wet or dry periods so there is no way to figure out when you shouldn't park under them. My neighbors avoid their trees during the spring sap period and live with the pollen the rest of the time. At least the hummingbirds and bees make use of them when the sap is running- I hate non-native trees that don't provide ANY benefit to wildlife or birds, except sometimes rats. No disrespect meant to rats.

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