City of guacamole? City of arches? City of fleas?

by John Nieuber

A year ago many trees in Claremont were in distress. The drought was into its sixth year. The city declared a tree emergency, heading a coalition of community groups to get the word out about how one could save water and still water trees.

The drought, and the subsequent stress put on trees, allowed the invasion of a new pest in southern California, the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer, a beetle that burrows into a tree and plants a fungus for their young that may also destroy certain species of trees.

A year later, Governor Jerry Brown has declared the drought over, the snow pack is twice the normal average, the reservoirs are full and water restrictions have been removed. The damage from the Shot Hole Borer is yet to be realized. Lawns and parks are green again, gardens have sprung to life, flowers are abundant and trees have leafed out, even those that were stressed the most are attempting a comeback. The surviving elms on Indian Hill are looking better than in previous years in spite of their own disease issues and age.

Consider the tree that is in the city seal. It is a good logo. It is strong and a perfect symbol for the City of Trees. It harkens one to think of the native trees that are so much a part of the history of the city—trees like the sycamore and the oak. The tree that was the basis for the design in the city logo is located on the southwest corner of Mountain Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.

Look at the logo. It reminds one of an oak; however, the tree it was modeled after is actually an avocado tree! And like many trees in the City of Trees, the avocado is not a native tree. The city council adopted the official city seal on October 9, 1973.  Claremont resident Adele Schoene designed the seal, which was submitted for a city-wide design contest. She was awarded $25 for her winning entry.

Adele Schoene said of her design:

“There are a number of buildings in Claremont that are of real historical significance. Sumner Hall of Pomona College and the old railroad station. There are the Claremont Colleges with Bridges Auditorium. Also within Claremont is Pilgrim Place, a unique community within which is Porter and Decker Halls.

Claremont has lovely residential areas. The one form that is repeated over and over again in the architecture of all these places is the arch. The old high school auditorium has arches as well.

This arch form outlines the seal. The other part of the seal is the tree. Claremont is known for its beautiful trees. (One of these trees is on the corner of Mountain Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, which I used as the basis for the design to symbolize all of the Claremont trees.) The tree also symbolizes life and growth.”

The avocado tree was the basis for the design of the city seal. And it appears that the architectural feature of the arch came in a close second. However, Ms. Schoene seized artistic license and used the sculptural elements of that avocado tree to symbolize all the trees of Claremont. Therefore, we are in little danger of the City of Trees becoming the City of Arches and Trees or the City of Guacamole, although if we went in that direction it would be just a short time before the Margarita was the official drink. I’ll drink to that.

When driving around town, one may have noticed signs on various poles declaring Claremont a Tree City USA. Tree City USA is a designation of the Arbor Day Foundation and Claremont has received the designation for 31 years. The Tree City USA program has promoted the greening of cities and towns across America since 1976. It is a nationwide program that provides information and support for communities to manage and expand their public trees.

More than 3,400 communities have made the commitment to become a Tree City USA and Claremont is one of 157 in California. Claremont achieved the status of Tree City USA by meeting four core standards relating to urban forest management:

• Maintaining a tree board or department. By delegating tree care decisions to a professional forester, arborist, city department, citizen-led tree board or some combination, city leaders determine who will perform necessary tree work.

• Having a community tree ordinance. A basic public tree care ordinance forms the foundation of a city’s tree care program. It provides an opportunity to set good policy and back it with the force of law when necessary.

• Spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry. By providing support at or above the $2 per capita minimum, a community demonstrates its commitment to grow and tend these valuable public assets.

• Celebrating Arbor Day. An effective program for community trees would not be complete without an annual Arbor Day ceremony. Citizens join together to celebrate the benefits of community trees and the work accomplished to plant and maintain them.

In Claremont, when one hears the term City of Trees, it is in conjunction with a PhD, as in City of Trees and PhDs. The last census put the percentage of Claremont residents with doctorates at 9.3 percent.  That could possibly be higher than an average city, but I am not sure that it’s a number that warrants the coining of a phrase. 

My unofficial survey of the city shows that dogs far outnumber PhDs. Almost everyone I know in town has a dog. Many have two or three. It may not be a stretch to say that Claremont has 35,000 people and 70,000 dogs. But the phrase “City of Trees, Dogs and PhDs” just doesn’t sound good. Those dogs, on the other hand, have to have fleas and where there is one flea, well, there is a million. City of Trees, Fleas and PhDs has a certain poetic ring to it.


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