Not all that nice and shady under the trees

by John Pixley

Last summer, I wrote a column pretty much about a tree.  There had been two or three articles in these pages about the tree, which was on Seventh Street and well over 100 years old and had been badly damaged. Despite a good deal of effort, it wasn’t able to be saved. There was talk of using the wood of the tree to build a special memorial bench.

It was obvious, as I pointed out in the column, that the tree was a part of Claremont—an important, valued part of Claremont—and that its damage and passing was big news in Claremont. As I recall, at least one of the articles referred to the tree as “a long-time resident of Claremont.”

That, in a town which considers an old tree a resident, trees are a big deal goes without saying. We take our trees seriously here in Claremont. There was widespread outrage when a tree in Memorial Park was accidentally damaged and had to be removed, and there are debates and meetings on which trees should be planted, kept and replaced in our neighborhoods.

Yes, we are proud of our trees here in Claremont.  Fiercely proud. It isn’t for nothing that a tree is most prominently featured on the city logo, and it isn’t for nothing that Claremont is known as the City of Trees or the City of Trees and PhDs.

With or without PhDs, Claremont is known for its trees and is proud of it. Indeed, Claremont is fiercely proud of being known for its trees, and “tree” is practically a fighting word here. Look at how we argue over which trees should be planted where and anguish when a tree falls or is removed.

This is more than just enjoying some pretty trees and their nice shade. This is more than appreciating that trees are good for the environment, keeping things cool in the hot weather and helping to make the air clearer.  This is a special commitment, a passion.

So it is even more difficult, all the more tricky and challenging, when it looks like we shouldn’t have all our trees, when we are told that, maybe, it would be best to let them die or get rid of them.

In another column last summer, I wondered if I should feel guilty about enjoying the sound of the fountains in my backyard.  I was half joking, with Governor Jerry Brown having officially declared a drought in California, but it’s not so much of a joke this year.

Not when the drought is now in its fourth year, with talk of this being just the talk of a multi-year mega-drought, and when Brown, for the first time in state history, mandated a 25 percent cut in water usage (based on what was used in 2013). 

On the day that Brown issued this order, it was revealed that the state’s snowpack, usually a steady supply of water with gradual melting over the Spring and Summer, was 5 percent of normal, the lowest in more than half a century. Last week, regulations were ordered stating that new faucets and toilets have to be more efficient, restriction the flow of water.

And not when there was the news in these pages last week that Claremont has been using even more water than Beverly Hills, which the Los Angeles Times has highlighted as particularly water-greedy. This means that, according to the state’s recently announced formula in which cities that use more water need to cut usage more, Claremont has to use 35 percent less water.

This is serious stuff, definitely not a joke. It is true that my fountains recycle their water, but they do need to be filled now and then. Is it okay to use the several gallons of water it takes to fill them? And then there’s the lawn…Really.

 Likewise, what about Claremont’s trees? What about all the trees which Claremont is famous for, which we are proud of? After all, Governor Brown has suggested that cities stop watering their street medians.

Claremont has been doing a good effort in conserving water with those slow-drip irrigation bags. But is it good enough now, especially considering our newly revealed sky-high water usage? Claremont and its trees surely isn’t anything like Palm Springs and the desert cities and their lush, green golf courses in the parched, super-heated landscape. But are we getting there? And in how long?

Then what about when a resident wants one or more of Claremont’s famous trees removed?  As seen in the recent removal of two trees on Green Street at the request of a resident and approved by the city council, things get even more heated and prickly.

Never mind that there is a severely disabled child who uses a wheelchair living in the house who has bad allergies that were triggered by the loads of pollen from the holly oak trees in the front yard. And never mind that, as required in such cases, the two trees will be replaced by four trees at the resident’s expense. Only a slim majority or the council thought it was a good idea to see if the child’s allergies were relieved with the trees being removed, and there has been considerable controversy in the community. It has been said by some that the decision sets a “dangerous precedent,” and the approving council members have been warned to watch out come election time.

 It is tempting to think that this case is like the ridiculous story I once heard of a disabled man demanding that a disabled parking space be put in front of his house. Yes, accommodations should be made but within limits. Then again, because I go out in my power wheelchair, I have been harassed over a street being blocked and a pedestrian crossing light being installed near my house. Never mind that many people in the neighborhood wanted or approved this change.

In Claremont, we’re proud of our trees—so proud that it can get downright hot under them. 



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