Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Court Orders Eucalyptus Sawed Down in Larkspur

When I was a kid, I thought eucalyptus trees were native to California. (I can admit this now because I have thought so many dumber things over the years.) Each year, I ran the Bay to Breakers, turned into the park, and enjoyed their smell immensely before the sea-salt-spray smacked me in the face at the final turn onto the Great Highway.

Yes, now I know they're not native. But I retain a soft spot for the groves of them in Golden Gate Park. Which is why I noted with interest a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about a dispute over eucalyptus trees in the Bay Area.

I can empathize with Anne Wolff. She's a clinical psychologist who bought a piece of property in Larkspur in part because she loved a grove of eucalyptus globulus - decribed by the Chron as "notoriously flammable."

The flammable part caught her neighbors' attention.

Besides the fire danger, Wolff's next-door neighbor, Michael Mindel, said the trees regularly drop branches and debris, endangering their children and property. Arborists hired by the Mindels declared the trees hazardous and recommended their removal.

A judge ruled that the cost of getting the trees out should be split by the neighbors and the Wolffs. So the saws went to work this weekend.

Eucalyptus is, as the Chron article points out, scorned for being fire vulnerable and hailed for growing fast and serving as good carbon sinks. And as a hitchhiker from Australia going back centuries, it's been around a while. I'm guessing we worry more about fire risk in California these days: and I'm guessing at least one reason why is climate change. Do you think our local rules are keeping up with our changing environmental values?

Last thing: lawsuits over environmental issues seem either more common or more well-reported in northern California. Different legal issues, but another conflict between trees and some other environmental good I remember was almost 3 years ago now - a solar panel feud reported by the AP where redwood tree owners had to cut back their trees to protect homeowner Mark Vargas' right to sunlight.

I can't recall cases getting that much attention down here in southern California: can you? I would think the density of the population here would, you know, make lawsuits like this likely. But somehow these stories are always out of the Bay Area, making them look oddly litigious.