The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

LA region's mighty wind could lead to mighty federal stimulus

Tree down in Old Town Pasadena By Susan Long
Tree down in Old Town Pasadena By Susan Long

I didn't wake up to carnage at my house this morning, but many other people in the Los Angeles region did — especially in Pasadena, which got hit hard by the Santa Ana wind event that's ongoing over the next few days. We've had gusts in the 80-90 mph range in the region's canyons, while in places like Pasadena, it blew 60 mph overnight.

This was enough to take out, evidently, hundreds if not thousands of trees. Tree limbs, too. And, of course, it's LA, so there are dead palm fronds all over the place. 

My question is, with unemployment in excess of 12 percent regionally, is this not an opportunity to hire some unemployed people to cut back the "urban forest" to levels that won't create such a mess the next time we have a Santa Ana? And we will have another Santa Ana...

Pasadena actually has an Urban Forest Advisory Committee. I plan to check in with them to to find out what kind of money Pasadena spends on tree maintenance, and what it demands of homeowners with trees on their properties. I did spend a year recently learning a lot about forest management on a large scale (for bioenergy and real-estate investments), and the consensus is that a well-managed forest — meaning one that's logged and cleared frequently — is a healthy forest.

Just sticking with Pasadena for now, the urban forest there doesn't exit for the purposes of making money. It's all about...well, pleasure. People who live in Pasadena are happier with trees around.

However, we don't want them blowing over and losing branches and limbs in epic fashion. My experience with LA tree maintenance is purely anecdotal. I had a tree in my front yard that lost a limb a few years back. It fell into the street and because it was a problem for traffic, the city came out and removed some of it. 

Otherwise, it was up to me to maintain the tree. Fair enough, but that was before the financial crisis and 12.5 percent unemployment. The LA region is probably going to have to spend millions to clean up after the wind event subsides this week, so why not supplement what are already clearly stretched urban services?

I'm not sure, but if Gov. Brown declares the LA area a disaster (not a major one, however), we should be able to pay for this with federal funds. And, as it turns out, the feds provide mitigation grants through FEMA to prepare for future disasters. 

If the region hasn't taken advantage of this stimulus, we should.