≡ Menu

Here’s one serious traffic problem that we can fix

If they didn’t cause so much trouble, one might almost feel sorry for eucalyptus trees. They get so much bad press.

Just in the past several weeks we’ve seen headlines telling us “Massive eucalyptus tree crushes cars in Lafayette parking lot,” and “Eucalyptus tree falls at UCSD, smashing cars,” and “Massive eucalyptus tree falls, crushes car in Fremont,” and “Expert: Doubtful that drought felled eucalyptus tree at Whittier wedding.” That last falling eucalyptus, by the way, killed one and injured five.

So why are we talking about eucalyptus trees? Because fallen eucalyptus prevented me from making it to the Bay area in time to enjoy a concert with my daughter on Tuesday and I remembered two other times in the past two years when I missed something important because of that same damned grove of eucalyptus trees that straddle Highway 101 just north of Prunedale.

Look, I like trees as much as anyone. Even eucalyptus trees. I like the way they smell and they seem at home here in California despite their decidedly non-native status. But a couple of wayward eucalyptus trees managed to essentially close Highway 101 from shortly after noon until almost 5 p.m. where the highway meets Rocks Road not far from the San Juan Bautista turnoff. You know the place. The trees make for a pleasantly shady tunnel there. Do not be fooled.

It wasn’t only the fault of the trees, of course, though they are notorious fallers. The big-time rains have soaked the ground. There have been winds. Weather troubles abound. But there are other culprits, including the highway powers that be, and the public that supposedly provides direction to those powers. For they have decided that it’s just fine to have several hundred big eucalyptus trees doing their thing right alongside one of the most important highways in the western United States.

The trees were not my only problem Tuesday. They required me to spend 90 minutes in Prunedale staring at the back of a cattle truck. But if that had been the only delay, I might have made it to the show. I wasn’t counting on the highway being blocked by Coyote Creek overflow at the north end of Morgan Hill.

I knew the road was blocked but I stupidly figured there would be a simple and quick detour. Get off at one exit, take surface streets for 10 minutes and get back on. Nope. This was get off at one exit and then crawl along a crowded country road forever because the nearest freeway on ramp was about a thousand miles north. OK, it was five miles but it was the longest five miles I’ve ever seen. (This is where I would put in a kind word for the CHP if I had seen any during my eight-hour journey to Berkeley.)

I’m focusing instead on the trees because Coyote Creek isn’t a continuing problem and, if it was, it wouldn’t be as easily fixed.

So, back to the trees.

For anyone else was caught in the 101 meltdown Tuesday, were you surprised to learn that it involved the eucalyptus grove at Rocks Road? If you were surprised, have you lived here long?

No, I’m not suggesting that we clear-cut freeway frontage everywhere. I would miss the eucalyptus trees if they were turned into firewood. But even if all the eucalyptus trees within falling distance of the freeway were eliminated, there would still be a few thousand trees in the grove.

Responsible property owner trim their trees and cut down the ones most likely to snap power lines or block roads in a storm. Shouldn’t we expect as much from Caltrans?

Sure, there are more important things to worry about. That’s true for just about any issue you can come up with. The weather has pounded the region over the past several days and many people have suffered troubles far worse than missing a concert. I should be writing that or about how the Monterey City Council was getting buffaloed by the Wharf Lords while I was not enjoying the concert. But most of the bigger problems have either no solution or no easy solution. This one seems pretty simple.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eric Petersen February 22, 2017, 8:54 pm

    They are non-native, that should be enough of a reason. Plus all the non-native palm trees, there is palm tree debris all over Salinas.

    If we have to have fallen trees and debris, maybe it could at least be domestic trees which actually belong in the terrain where they live.

  • Bob Coble February 22, 2017, 9:32 pm

    I’ve been told that we don’t have much, if any, of that trouble with the Eucalyptus trees here in Seaside because most of Seaside is on an old giant sand dune, which seems to hold the trees up better than the dirt which when waterlogged can’t support the trees. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Clearly, however, it does seem that all or at least most of those trees in the Highway 101 grove need to be removed or drastically trimmed.

  • Louis MacFarland February 22, 2017, 9:34 pm

    If you want to see a huge fallen eucalyptus, drive by the National Guard on Colonel Durham, it has shut down most of their parking lot.

    • Gordon Smith February 24, 2017, 12:24 pm

      And last week it was a huge eucalyptus that toppled over just behind Dorothy’s Place in Chinatown amongst the homeless campers. Luckily no one was crushed.

  • david fairhurst February 22, 2017, 9:42 pm

    There is a lot of stuff that is “non-native” but is part of what is California. (watch California’s gold sometime). “Eucs” were brought in by Stanford to make railroad ties out off but the wrong species was imported from Australia (I don’t know exactly how many there are, but I believe that there are over 100 different types). “Eucs” became an important part of the development of California agriculture and were used in wind breaks through out the State. One of the largest “euc” trees in the World was at Shadow Ranch (named after those very trees) in the San Fernando Valley. They really are an important and integral part of our history. Carmel Valley has the the Boronda Trees. .
    Think how the Monarch Butterflies (and other species) have adapted and have become dependent to the “Euc” here on the Central Coast (Pacific Grove and Bridges in Santa Cruz) and without those trees that flower in the winter the migration of those butterflies could end. (not climate change).
    There used to be a row of “eucs” in Ventura, along the freeway, very pretty, distinctive, historical and unique, until the expansion of urban sprawl and they were cut down as an inconvenience.
    When I was young we lived with a windbreak grove in the back of my parents home. The Santa Ana winds would howl and scream in October, limbs would break, the bark would fly but those winds were broken up and calm when reaching the Orange Groves and did little damage to them.
    Yeah those trees were an inconvenience during this recent storm, but so were those pines that shut down the Grade and power lines, so were the oaks that broke branches that fell on homes and cars. There were Madrones that slide out and blocked outer Carmel Valley Road, so I respectfully suggest if you don’t like trees, then don’t live near them. There are ample places in the city in which to abide that would greatly diminish the risks of delay if one wants to attend an event during a storm.

    • Stephanie Booth February 22, 2017, 10:21 pm

      Thank you for sticking up for the eucalyptus trees. They are not the guilty ones! So many cypress and every other species have fallen already, long before the eucalyptus. Palm trees wreaked havoc in San Diego in the inaugural day storms. Trees will fall, but fences blow over too. Cars crash; life happens.

  • Jean February 22, 2017, 11:37 pm

    The trees were in Camarillo rather than Ventura and had once served as wind breaks for nearby farms. CalTrans decided to remove them because some had died and were considered a safety hazard.

    • david fairhurst February 23, 2017, 7:55 am

      Your right, the were in the Oxnard plain before (traveling north) to Ventura. “Safety Hazard” was an excuse to remove them, they doubled the number of traffic lanes as the trees were removed which helped to encourage development in that local. (it is an ugly place now, but I guess was going to happen anyways) There were lots of debates about their fate including suggestions of rerouting the highway. There were a few (as in any group) “sick” ones, but it, in my opinion, it would be like removing all the Walnut trees in Spreckles because a couple of them have died and then turning it into a 4 lane highway so T & A could build out every development lot they have.
      Cal-Trans does trim the trees as they determine necessary, as they do just north of King City. I also happen to like that bit of highway north thru “the rocks” with the forest of eucalypus trees. If you ever can get “euc” wood chips your in luck, not only the sent is “wow” but it work wonders in bug and flea repellent and a lot of people I know like the oil and cough drops.
      Again, if you don’t like trees, don’t live in a forest, if you don’t like planes don’t buy a house next to an airport. Besides when is it a good idea to travel when the storm of at least the decade is raging?

  • Doug Kasunich February 23, 2017, 10:37 am

    The Eucs are a part of our history. Walking through the dense groves in Aromas, Rocks Rd area one can see that they are planted on a grid pattern. At one time these trees were planted, harvested and then shipped by rail to Oakland to be used as fuel for heating and brick making. Logging does not remove them as long as the base is left intact. They regenerate rapidly revealing the original planting pattern. These trees were also harvested for paper pulp up until the early 1970’s. Northern California loggers would send crews down midwinter to keep them busy once weather and riparian river regulations kicked in up in the wet north. I have found that composted Euc chips make a wonderful, long lasting soil amendment as they are actually a true hardwood. The propensity of Euc timber to twist as it dries frustrated efforts by Union Pacific to use it for ready grown railroad ties leaving the trees scattered along rail rightaways throughout California.

  • Jean February 23, 2017, 12:48 pm

    Eucalyptus, me-a-lyptus.
    Watch out for fallen palm husks.
    They wrap around your wheels and can destroy tire pressure sensors. $200+ to replace.

  • James Toy February 23, 2017, 5:28 pm

    Realistically, if you want to eliminate all the eucalyptus “within falling distance of the freeway” you’d have to clear cut the entire median, plus at least 100 feet on each side of the highway. From 100-300 feet you’d have to selectively cut the tallest and oldest trees, leaving only the younger and smaller trees. That wouldn’t leave much.

    And since Monterey Pines have been known to fall across Highways 1 and 68 on the Peninsula from time to time we’d better clear a couple hundred feet on each side of those routes as well. That means everything from the airport to Highway 1, Aquajito Road to Carmel Valley Road, and the entire Holman Highway.

    Or not. Personally, I prefer to keep the scenic value of the forests intact and accept the risk of some storm damage than to sanitize the roadsides for absolute safety and convenience.

    BTW, local trivia: The Highway 101 eucalyptus grove was featured in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo.

    • Royal Calkins February 24, 2017, 8:32 am

      I seek to prioritize the decrepit eucalyptus trees at Highway 101 and Rocks Road because the problem seems to occur there with predictable regularity. My suggestion specifically exempts all other trees along all other highways.

  • Karl Pallastrini February 23, 2017, 6:37 pm

    I think the tree huggers are winning this one Royal. It gets worse….the fine in Pacific Grove for “molesting” a Monarch Butterfly hanging in one of those Eucalyptus trees is $1000. It would be interesting to know what P.G. considers to be the definition of “molestation.” Kind of like Bill Clinton with his famous….”depends on what your definition of is, is.”

  • Peggy Johnson March 5, 2017, 12:45 pm

    I love trees, but the only tree in my yard is a dwarf apple. The closest eucalyptus is next door. It sheds small branches, not just leaves, and its roots are lifting and cracking the asphalt next to the gutter. We have little need for shade, so there’s about as much need for trees as for feral cats in Marina.