UPDATE: MAYBE CALTRANS FOLKS READ THIS PARTISAN ARTICLE FROM FEBRUARY. PROBABLY NOT, BUT I STILL THINK IT IS A GOOD THING THAT THEY HAVE ANNOUNCED A PROGRAM TO REMOVE SOME OF THE POTENTIALLY ROAD-CLOSING EUCALYPTUS TREES FROM ALONG HIGHWAY 101. NO, I’M NOT SUGGESTING WHOLESALE REMOVAL OF TREES EVERYWHERE
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.)
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.