Claremont takes stock, begins the long clean up

by Steven Felschundneff |

A day after the devastating wind storm, the City of Claremont and its residents are busy assessing the wreckage while beginning the process of cleaning up and repairing the damage.

The stories all sounded so familiar and yet uniquely tragic. Five enormous pine trees toppled on Briarcroft Road, west of Sumner Avenue causing extensive property damage to cars and homes. A row of massive pine trees fell onto townhomes in the Claremont Club area, displacing curbs and sidewalks even as the surrounding lawn held on like a carpet torn from the floor. Eighth Street at Berkeley was completely blocked by another giant pine, while the residents of Via Zurita Street found themselves stranded at home by more downed trees.

Around 8 p.m. Saturday night, city maintenace crews went home after working for nearly 24 hours without a break, according to Public Information Officer Bevin Handel. Both city workers and West Coast Arborist, Claremont’s contract tree service, were back at work on Sunday.

“We have hunderds of trees down with 91 trees down in our parks alone. Our city building inspector went to more than a doazen houses with structural damage from downed trees,” Handel said.

Claremont Police received more than 300 calls for service related to the storm, according to Handel. The Claremont Hills Wilderness Park will be closed until further notice while rangers assess wind damage.

On Saturday about 1,400 Claremont homes did not have electricity, however, power was restored in some areas by Sunday morning, including parts of south Claremont.

Tree removals are being prioritized to address public safety first and then crews will begin to remove trees that block public rights-of-way. If a tree is obstructing the street but there are other ways for people to get around, that tree will be cut up and hauled off after those where residents are stuck, as is the case at Via Zurita. Once all streets are clear, the city will clear trees that are blocking sidewalks.

While working on a “windshield survey” driving through the city to get a complete picture of the total damage, Community Services Manager Kristin Mikula stopped by Eighth Street to get a close-up view of the pine that was blocking the road.

“We are driving every street in the city to identify our top priorities so we can get our crews out to address the most pressing issues. And then throughout the week we will be doing the remainder of the cleanup,” she said.

It’s hard to provide an exact estimate of when blocked streets like Eighth will be cleared, but it would be a higher priority than those which partially block a street or are encompassed by a median, according to Mikula.

“We have been working closely with [Claremont Police], West Coast Arborist and our crew who have been working around the clock,” she said.

Lenore Brashler, whose home on Eighth Street in Pilgrim Place was partially covered by the top branches of the fallen pine, gave a tour of her property to Mayor Pro Tem Ed Reece on Sunday. The tree did not appear to have caused any significant damage to the home but she said it was scary when it fell.

“Our neighbors came by to see if we were all right. They were trying to find the security guy from Pilgrim Place,” she said. Not too much later she was able to reassure everyone that she and her husband Jim were fine.

“Wouldn’t you know, in the City of Trees we get really hit by a storm like this,” Brashler said.

“All day yesterday for about 12 hours I went throughout the city and made contact with residents that had downed trees in their yards or in the street to check on them and see how they are doing, while updating them on what the city is doing in regards to the downed trees,” Mayor Pro Tem Reece said. When asked, he said three trees had fallen in his own yard.

He said people had a lot of questions about how to handle fallen trees and how to determine whether a tree belonged to them or to the city. He told residents as long as the tree is not a hazard or impeding the way out of the house, Claremont officials will find out as soon as possible who is responsible for removing the tree. Still, any tree blocking the public right-of-way, regardless of whether it’s a city tree or not, will be removed by city crews.

Marie Williamson lives on Seventh Street adjacent to where two large trees fell, one of which damaged a vintage bungalow on Indian Hill Boulevard, as well as buckling the sidewalk on the north side of Seventh.

She said another severe windstorm in 1987 toppled two 80-foot Italian cypress in much then same manner as the ones tat fell Friday.

“In the ‘87 storm, just about this time of year, they fell over and just touched the window of that house across the street,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Pro Tem Reece had a moment to reflect on the loss of the huge coastal live oak that stood in front of Garner House at Memorial Park.

“That’s always been a city gathering place,” he said. “You can replant but it’s going to be decades to get that shade again. It’s really devastating, but Claremont is resilient. We will get through this.”


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