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Gone With the Wind

By Jorge Casuso

This week's windstorms claimed the lives of two large trees in Santa Monica, including a eucalyptus that had stood in Christine Reed Park for more than 60 years.

Fallen Chinese Elm at 1500 Block of Oak St. Photos by Julie Moosbrugger

City officials said further damage - the only other reported casualty was a small tree in Joselyn Park -- was averted by more regular pruning of branches.

The City Council recently increased pruning funds from less than $100,000 a year to $500,000, allowing city trees to be trimmed every two years.

"The tree and limb failures are a fraction of what they have been in the past," said Walter Warriner, the city's community forester. "Compared to some of the windstorm damage before the council increased the budget is the difference between night and day."

Warriner said the winds that swept through Santa Monica earlier this week were worse than expected.

"That wind snuck up on everybody," Warriner said. "We were expecting a breeze, and the next thing we know, we're picking up trees."

The eucalyptus tree's demise was hastened by poor pruning practices that were routinely used decades ago, Warriner said. Instead of pruning the trees, the old arborists would lop off the top branches, leaving wounds that failed to heal.

"When we examined the tree, we discovered it had soft tissue from old pruning cuts," Warriner said. "The wound doesn't heal, and the tree eventually decays from the top down.

"We know better now," Warriner said. "We don't take the top off. People have this misconception that because a tree is big, it has to be trimmed. You have to know where exactly to cut the limb and reduce the crown without cuts."

Some eucalyptus trees have been standing since they were introduced to California in the middle of the last century, Warriner said.

The other tree felled by the winds was a Chinese elm that stood on the 1500 block of Oak Street. The tree, which was on private property, was between 20 and 30 years old, Warriner said.

In addition to the trees, the wind toppled a Caltrans light post Monday on Ninth Street and Olympic Boulevard.

"It had been hit by a car and bent," said Manny Pina, the city's electrical supervisor. "The winds just blew it over."

The pole, as well as the dead trees, have been removed.

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