Trees Damaging Los Angeles Infrastructure, Who Is Responsible for Liability and Repairs?

In May and June of 2015, The Los Angeles Times published articles addressing the problem of crumbling sidewalk infrastructure within the City of Los Angeles. The articles focused on the challenges pedestrians face in this car-dominated city. After years of mounting complaints and lawsuits caused by defective, dangerous sidewalks, city officials are finally beginning to address the problems caused by trees that were planted within city parkways, medians and right of ways.

Roots have damaged the sidewalk creating a trip and fall hazard

Roots have damaged the sidewalk creating a trip and fall hazard

After decades of deferred maintenance, the City Council, the Mayor, and public work officials are finally turning their attention toward addressing the problem, and trying to figure out how to juggle spending requirements resulting from legal settlements and sort out who is responsible for future sidewalk maintenance, as well as liability for future injuries caused by damaged sidewalks.

The first question, who is responsible for sidewalk repair and replacement caused by trees growing within city parkways and right of ways? California state law placed the burden of sidewalk repairs on adjacent property owners. A majority of California cities adhere to the state policy, however not the City of Los Angeles, which forty years ago opted for a policy that made the City responsible for repairing sidewalks damaged by tree roots in city parkways. Back in the 1970’s, when federal funding was available for the work, Los Angeles opted to pay for tree-damaged sidewalks. When the federal funding was depleted, voters declined to support tax increases for the repair work, leading to the current massive backlog of damaged sidewalks.

Instead of removing invasive, surface rooting tree species and replacing damaged sidewalks, the city embarked on a less expensive program of temporary asphalt patches in an attempt to smooth over displaced, uneven sidewalks. The problems continue to mount, with over 19,000 sidewalk complaints within the past five years alone. Over 40% of the complaints have been ignored, with no repairs having been made, mainly due to inspections never being made or the sidewalks so severely damaged they require complete rebuilding.

The City is now proposing a policy to address the situation. Under the proposed policy, neighborhood sidewalks damaged by city parkway trees would be replaced at the city’s expense. However, after repairs are completed, responsibility for repair, maintenance and liability would be shifted upon the adjacent property owner.

The proposal has received mixed comments from residential and commercial property owners. Businesses already pay taxes they assume local government should be using for infrastructure repairs. Additionally, requiring businesses to pay for repairs would harm retailers, especially in districts lined with problematics trees. Many commercial property owners would be forced to pass on the expense to the small business owners that rent the property.

Ficus roots creating a sidewalk hazard

Ficus roots creating a sidewalk hazard

Under the “fix and release” program, repairs would be made by the city, and then future responsibility for the sidewalks transferred to the homeowner. Some homeowners feel this would be an equitable solution to the current problem, other disagree, stating they would be saddled with big bills down the road, particularly if the city does not fix the “root” cause of the problem, that being tree roots or leaking utilities.

The city must grapple with both sides of a delicate issue, trying to preserve the benefits of large, picturesque trees providing neighborhood character while having to remove the same trees whose invasive roots have damaged infrastructure and would continue to do so if left in place. To begin the process, the city acknowledged they do not really know how extensive the problem is. The city has no existing tree inventory of the tree and sidewalk condition. Without this information, it would be difficult for the city to measure progress as they attempt to implement any new sidewalk management policy.

Certified and registered consulting arborists consult with Southern California municipalities and private property owners involved in trip and fall litigation caused by tree root lifted and damaged sidewalks. Typically lifted and damaged sidewalks caused by tree roots are due to inappropriate tree selection. Species such as Sycamore, Ficus, Eucalyptus and Ash trees planted decades ago in restricted parkway planters were most often associated with damaged infrastructure.

Sidewalk repair or replacement without addressing the existing tree species ignores the problem. Passing on responsibility for future repairs and liability to adjacent property owners would be an unjust situation for taxpayers. Large, surface rooting, invasive species should be closely examined for mitigation in conjunction with infrastructure replacement. Perhaps root pruning and root barriers might be an appropriate remediation that would protect future infrastructure while retaining large pre-existing species.

However, many species planted decades ago were and will always be inappropriate for confined parkways. Root pruning a large Ficus or Sycamore could easily de-stabilize the tree, resulting in a catastrophic failure. Who would be liable for a tree failure and resultant property damage, or worse, personal injury or death? Citizens might have to accept they cannot have the best of both worlds, where large, invasive trees are retained for neighborhood character, sidewalks are repaired and the city remains responsible.

Over the decades, many newer street tree species have been developed that provide desirable growth characteristics while minimizing damaging invasive root systems and towering canopies that conflict with traffic and overhead utilities. Reasonable compromises can and should be made toward replacing older, inappropriate tree species with newer species that will provide community benefits while minimizing maintenance costs and damaged infrastructure.

Hopefully, the City of Los Angeles and other municipalities facing this problem elect to use certified and registered consulting arborist and horticulturists as they consider how to address their urban forest and infrastructure issues.

To read the full Los Angeles Times Article, click the link:

L.A. Considers Shifting Responsibility to Property Owners

 

Landscape and Tree Contractors, Minimize Lawsuits, Understand Your Duty of Care!

If you are a landscape or tree care contractor, you should be aware of the potential liability you face by an unhappy client. This awareness begins when you understand your “duty of care” as a landscape or tree care professional.

What is “duty of care”? It is a very important legal concept that simply stated means a person or organization has the legal obligation to avoid acts or omissions that could harm others. The duty of care extends to your actions or lack of action that would cause harm to your client or their property, perhaps even extending to adjacent properties and utilities.

Licensed contractors should understand their client hired them for their expertise and professionalism. The client is reliant upon the contractor to provide a product and service that conforms to industry standards. It is incumbent upon the contractor to satisfy all contractual obligations and satisfy the industry standard of care, or face a possible lawsuit.

If you are a landscape, maintenance or tree contractor interested in learning how to minimize you legal exposure and reduce your liability, please read the full article at:

Reduce Liability by Understanding Your Duty of Care

A Better Way to Protect Trees and Pedestrians

Safe Path permeable product replaces cast iron tree grate

Safe Path permeable product replaces cast iron tree grate

Through a business acquaintance, I had the good fortune to meet with Mr. Christian Rodriguez, a company representative from Blue Drop, Inc.  We met at a downtown San Diego street intersection where Blue Drop, Inc. had a contract with the City of San Diego to replace old cast iron tree grates with their new product called Safe Path.

Tree planters within pedestrian sidewalks are typically small confined spaces surrounded by concrete with lots of pedestrian traffic.  Tree grates were installed around the planter pit primarily to protect people from tripping over tree roots.  The grate also allowed watering to occur beneath the grate and afforded the tree a degree of root protection from pedestrian traffic.

When first installed surrounding a young tree, there is plenty of room for the tree trunk and root collar to grow and expand.  Tree grate openings typically are up to 12″ in diameter.

Tree trunk lifts grate creating potential trip and fall hazard

Tree trunk lifts grate creating potential trip and fall hazard

A young tree with a two inch diameter trunk will add one inch of trunk diameter per year. The tree will outgrow the tree grate opening within a decade.  Just as the tree reaches maturity and is starting to provide the maximum intended benefits,  the trunk begins to lift the tree grate.  Either the tree or tree grate must be replaced.

When I met Mr. Rodriguez, he showed me a downtown site where Blue Drop had installed their new Safe Path product.  The product is a poured in place permeable rubberized material that levels the planter surface with the adjacent sidewalk.  Water quickly infiltrates the permeable product which allows for both water and gas exchange.  The tree trunk, root collar and any surface roots are safely protected by the product.  As the trunk and roots enlarge, the products cracks, allowing for easy product removal and mending.

Pedestrians safely travel over Safe Path tree system

Pedestrians safely travel over Safe Path tree system. Photo by Blue Drop

Because Safe Path is poured in place, it appears to be an ideal product to retrofit existing planter systems and especially for irregular shaped planter areas.  The product provides a smooth, yet permeable surface, creating a safe environment for pedestrians while protecting tree roots and enhancing street scene aesthetics

I have no financial of special interest in Blue Drop Inc or any of their products.  As a certified arborist who has provided expert witness testimony in trip and fall cases involving trees, I was interested in discovering new technologies that improve public safety around trees.

Click the link to read the full article reviewing the product. A Better Way to Protect Trees and Pedestrians

 

Can a Tree Capture Particulate Matter from the Air?

For years, certified arborists and urban foresters have learned the many benefits of trees. Energy savings are one of the foremost known benefits of trees as they shade building during the summer reducing the need for air conditioning and deciduous tress allow sunlight to reach structures during winter months, solar radiation decreasing the need for winter heating.

Another known benefit for trees are their ability to reduce storm water runoff and erosion, particularly during the winter months. Tree root systems bind soil particles and slow storm runoff from roofs and other impervious surfaces, trees act as bio filters, slowing storm and irrigation water runoff and allowing the water time to slowly percolate into the soil profile rather than run off into the street or storm drain system.  By forcing water to pass through the soil profile, rather than runoff into storm drain systems, the soil mass filters impurities before the water enters into streams, ponds and aquifers.

Birch Tree planting works as filter

A Birch street tree planting used for testing as a green filter to remove particulate matter from the air we breath

Continue reading “Can a Tree Capture Particulate Matter from the Air?” »

Love the Beauty of Your City? Thank the Landscape Architects who Made it Happen

I recently read a great article by Delle Willett of the North Park News entitled Landscape Architects:  Artists with the Earth as a Canvas.  The article focused on three local women landscape architects who have made significant contributions to enhancing the aesthetics and functionality to the City of San Diego.

While reading about the history of female landscape architects, I couldn’t help be reflect on my own background and education within the fielof landscape architecture and landscape contracting.  As a college student, my path began at UC Santa Barbara and completed with a Bachelor of Science degree from California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

I wrote and article correlating my own academic history with the three landscape architects discussed in the newspaper article.  For men or women interested in the field of landscape architecture, design, planning, horticulture, arboriculture and landscape contracting, or anyone who struggled to find their own passion and career path in college, I think you’ll enjoy the read.

Landscape Architects Making Significant Contributions to City of San Diego

Landscape Architects: Artists with the Earth as a Canvas.

 

 

PTCA Field Day a Great Success

Wow, just when I thought the PTCA (Professional Tree Care Association) annual seminar was the bomb, the following field day was just as great. While the seminar was an indoor event focusing on a variety of topics presented by outstanding industry professionals and educators, the field day was spent outdoor at beautiful Balboa park in San Diego.

The day consisted of a number of workshops organized into several different tracks that allowed participants to choose from a palette of presentations that provided something for everybody. Tree climbers and field workers loved the tree climbing workshop and training by Mr. Martin Morales. His workshop included climbing and positioning for safe work in trees, also taught about knots, ropes and equipment inspection, while providing new tips and tricks. I am way to old for climbing, but enjoyed watching guys in the trees, had an opportunity to meet Martin during an incredible lunch (carne asada). We were looking at a rigging holding a tree logIMG_0042, he immediately pointed out flaws and worn equipment, I would never have noticed. Fortunately we have educated tree climbers who understand the importance of proper equipment, training and safety.  Another track included Tree Risk Assessment best management practices (BMP’s) workshop taught by Mr. Ron Matranga and Dr. R. Bruce Allison. Since I consult and provide tree risk assessment as part of my practice, it was a great opportunity to learn about  best management practices involved with the new TRAQ (tree risk assessment qualified) versus the previous TRACE (tree risk assessment certification exam) methodology. Dr. Allison demonstrated new sonic tomography techniques for non-destructive testing of the interior of tree trunks, new cutting edge technology that is already an advancement from just two years ago. Using probes and determining the time for sound waves to travel through tree trunks and how the sound wave moves at different velocities around interior trunk decay will assist arborists to use in advanced tree risk assessment. As Dr. Allison noted, hopefully in the next few years, the cost will come down and we will have a pocket sized device and an app to use to help us understand what is happening with interior tree decay.

Sound wave technology, the next big thing?

Sound wave technology, the next big thing?

How serious is the problem

How serious is the problem

We all know about new invasive insects and diseases affecting our trees, new invasive species are being detected at a rate on one every 60 days, Dr. John Kabashiima provided the sobering statistic it is now one every 45 days! The gold spotted oak borer has decimated tens of thousands of Coast Live Oak and Black Oaks throughout California.

Six orange color dots help identify this pest, although the adult is rarely seen

Six orange color dots help identify this pest, although the adult is rarely seen

This pest has been spread throughout the state, particularly San Diego county by people using the dead wood for fire wood, transporting it in their vehicles where they unwitting spread the insect throughout the county. Don’t move infected wood!

Stop using infected wood for fire wood and don't transport the wood, you are spreading the disease

Stop using infected wood for fire wood and don’t transport the wood, you are spreading the disease

Take a look at some of these nasty borers and other insects, yikes!Nasty Borers

For pest control advisors and applicators, there was a pesticide application for trees demonstration and a safety workshop and tree identification workshop and quiz available to test your knowledge. Field guys loved the chainsaw sharpening and troubleshooting workshop presented by Mr. Paul Lasiter and Mr. Joe Garcia. Another great aspect for everyone was presentation of many workshops in Spanish and English, a very inclusive aspect that helped all of us enjoy the day.

I learned a great deal of new information I never would have even considered without this great field day presentation. Have you ever considered how heavy a downed tree trunk is?  Well, there was a workshop on how to calculate the wood weight of felled trees, presented by Mr. Harvey Pedersen. Crane operators have to have a reasonable idea of how much a log or portion of a tree trunk weighs in order to safely lift it. Mr. Pederson presented wood weight calculations of various types of trees and an amazingly accurate method for estimating the weight of a log, which was then lifted by the crane which provided the true weight to compare against our estimated weights. How cool is that!

How much do those logs weight?

How much do those logs weight?

Just want to thank all of those involved in the PTCA Seminar and Field Day for a truly memorable event, a special thanks to our friend Dave Shaw

Dave kept us all entertained, what a great guy!

Dave kept us all entertained, what a great guy!

 

who once again served as the master of ceremony and kept us all entertained. Keep up the great work, looking forward to next years seminar and field day.

Learn more about the PTCA at http://www.ptcasandiego.org

PTCA Arbor Essence

No, this is not a perfume, rather it is the title for this years PTCA Seminar and Field Day.  PTCA, known as the Professional Tree Care Association of San Diego, is a premier industry association for professionals within the tree care industry.  The association contains a wide diversity of professionals, including representatives from outstanding tree care and tree service companies, ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) certified arborists, utility arborists, board certified master arborist, ASCA (American Association of Consulting Arborists) RSA’s (Registered Consulting Arborist), and industry professionals from utility companies, San Diego Zoo, golf courses, private industries, landscape contractors, landscape architects, educators and more.

A common thread shared by all of these different professionals and educators is our love of TREES and desire to further improve our understanding of the field of arboriculture!  It is a comforting feeling sitting is a room with hundreds of people sharing our knowledge and experiences with trees, learning new information, meeting old and making new friends.

Each year, the PTCA sponsors the annual Seminar and Field Day.  The first day (today) featured an incredible diversity of speakers and topics, there is something for everyone.  Here is a sampling of todays speakers:

Ms. Leah Rottke, professor at Cuyamaca College spoke about what to plant now for upcoming changes brought about by climate change in Southern California, Ms. Pat Nolan, County Pathologist for San Diego County of Department of Agriculture spoke about invasive diseases  moving into the Urban Forest.  In the morning session, Dr. Tom Scott, Ph.D., Department of Earth Sciences, UC Riverside discussed Management of Oak trees in San Diego County followed by an afternoon discussion about the Gold Spotted Oak Borer research (GSOB) and update.  Mr. Ron Matranga, Board Certified Master Arborist from Atlas Tree Service provided an overview of the ISA Traq (Tree Risk Assessment Qualified) program and Mr.Randall Stamen, Esq., from Riverside, California delivered a sobering lecture about Arboriculture and the law, including tree risk assessment and case studies.  Mr. Brian Bishop of Bishops Tree Service discussed improving the efficiency of tree crews and Dr. John Kabashima, Ph.D., UC County Extension, Orange County gave an entertaining lecture about effective sampling for diagnoses of insect and disease problems.  All of that in ONE day!

Really looking forward to tomorrow, the field day featuring workshops in tree risk assessment and BMP (best management practices), insects and diseases of shade tree diagnoses, pesticide applications for tree demonstrations, safety and tree identification, electrical safety, wood weight calculations, improving efficiency and maximizing safety.  There will be a tree climbing workshop provided in Spanish and English.

If you are a tree, landscape, horticulture, educator, consultant, or expert witness and have not yet attended a PTCA field day, you are missing out on a premier educational and entertaining event.  Members of the ISA, ASCA and urban forest councils, city and jurisdictional representatives, recreational and utility companies all come together in a common bond of learning, teaching and sharing, not to mention fantastic networking opportunities.  Hope to see you at the next PTCA Seminar and Field Day!

Learn more about the PTCA at http://www.ptcasandiego.org

Winter Sweetness!

Talk about a winter treat, try growing your own semi dwarf citrus tree(s). Last year, I planted a 15 gallon “Satsuma” seedless mandarin orange and one year later, we are feasting on an amazing harvest of sweet, juicy seedless mandarins. Try using mandarins in salads and dressings, not to mention fresh off the tree anytime!

I found the plant fairly easy to grow, full sun with normal fertilization and decent drainage. I kept the soil pH on the acidic side, the plant did great. I strongly recommend this particular variety because it stays relatively small, easy to maintain, and heavy fruit production.

Late fall / winter maturing citrus is such a special treat to have in Southern California. Just imagine all those mid western and eastern folk never having the opportunity to grow and have fresh citrus like we do!

With many varieties to choose from, you can select a tree that suits the size of your property. A nicely maintained citrus tree can be a very attractive small to mid size tree with the added fruit as a tremendous benefit.

Enjoy!

The Edible Landscape

In Southern California, we are blessed with a mild, Mediterranean climate that provides a 365-day year growing season. Although limited by some winter frosts, we are able to grow most landscape ornamentals as well as vegetables throughout the year.

We also face serious water supply challenges now and into the future. Water allotments from Northern California and the Colorado river are being reduced, municipalities have issued water alerts and restrictions on water use while implementing tiered water rates meant to punish abusive water consumers.

The days of cheap imported water that allowed Southern California to flourish as a green oasis in what normally would be a desert are ancient history.

If you are considering a new or renovating an existing landscape, water conservation and using appropriate plant materials should be a top priority. Studies show 50% of a residential water bill goes toward landscape irrigation. The single greatest water consumer is turf grass utilizing overhead spray irrigation.

Do you really need that turf grass lawn? Are you an empty nestor, no longer needing the big play area for the kids? Are you a new homeowner, trying to figure out the best design and functionality for your landscape? With todays water and maintenance costs, you must make an informed decision when tailoring an appropriate landscape for your property and your own personal, functional and aesthetic interests.

So, if you have already decided the typical water guzzling turf landscape is not for you, that leaves several types of water efficient landscapes to choose from. This blog will focus on using an organic fruit and vegetable garden as an edible, beautiful and functional landscape planting.

ARE YOU THE GARDENING TYPE?

If you:

  • Love to get your hands dirty
  • Have the time and commitment to garden regularly and as needed
  • Have a area that receives a minimum of six hours full sunlight daily
  • Enjoy eating fruits and vegetables
  • Have a desire to eat chemical free produce
  • Enjoy saving water cost, reducing your carbon footprint
  • Like to educate kids, neighbors and your community
  • Like to do the right thing

If the answer to the first four items above are yes, Congratulations, you are a likely candidate to start a fruit and vegetable garden!

The traditional concept of row gardening can be easily modified and adapted to a landscape design, satisfying both functional and aesthetic considerations. Using our residence as a example, we choose to convert our worn out, old front yard cactus garden into a fruit and vegetable garden.

Overgrown, non functional cactus garden

Since this is our front yard, I wanted to create a functional yet aesthetic fruit and vegetable garden that would enhance and enliven the site characteristics. Since the site is raised and already had a segmental block retaining wall, I designed a series of raised planters with pathways on each side of the planter for ease of cruising through the garden and access to work both sides of the planter beds.

Renovated landscape with vegetable garden raised planter beds

Raised planters with pathways for access also create interest

In a few months, we celebrate our one year garden anniversary. Take a look at some of the fruits and vegetables grown this past year.

French breakfast radishes, yum

Fresh, sweet organic carrots

Sweet millions tomatoes, the sweetest yet

Pomegranate trees make great medium size ornamental tree with beautiful fruit

Gotta have a lime tree for a mojito

A beautiful, edible front yard landscape

Ready to get started? Need help? I am a professional horticulturist, a C-27 landscape contractor and a certified arborist. My company, Rappoport Development Consulting Services LLC provides professional landscape, arboriculture, horticulture and organic gardening consulting services. Got a problem with the garden? Give me a call at 858-205-4748.