Tree Removals and Plantings

A seven year history of Serrano Park tree removals and plantings.

by Mike Davison, Patty Cheah, & Dave Hart

September 2021


Our HOA owns 32 acres or property containing about 1500 trees, 1200 of which are classified as large trees. Managing these trees is difficult when we have homeowners that think no tree should ever be trimmed or removed and others that see all large trees as a community hazard. It is the BOD and Landscape Committee’s job to manage these trees as a shared asset, balancing community benefit with community risk. As a community, we have taken pride in protecting or big trees but in February of 2017, the disaster of uninformed management of our trees hit us with a hard lesson.

Prior to 2017, the policy of our HOA was basically, to only remove trees if they are dead or dying. We had lots of large trees next to property lines with many leaning toward houses or yards.

If you go way back and look at weather patterns over the years, we generally had a couple of dry years followed by wet ones. But then we hit a very long drought period followed by a very wet 2017 set us up for what was to come.

Large trees can get most of their water from shallow watering such as with turf and embankment sprinklers. But large trees need deep water to keep their deeper, anchoring roots healthy. These deep roots can store this water for a long time to get it through drought periods, but eventually, these deep anchoring roots can get dehydrated, become brittle, and can even die. Sprinklers, especially on embankments, cannot get water deep to these roots. Only a wet rain season and intelligent use of drip systems can irrigate deep.

With weakened deep root anchors and soil turning to mud and then add high winds, we faced a frightening series of large tree failures. In February 2017, we had 9 large tree failures in Serrano Park, including the horrific disaster shown above where 3 large trees crushed the master bedroom in this house in the middle of the night. We also had another falling on a fence, just missing the house. A couple falling to block streets and so on. The resulting lawsuits against the HOA and the BOD members at the time continue today. Other large branch and tree failures followed.

2/2017Emergency-2 huge uprooted Eucalyptus treesMain Greenbelt
2/2017Emergency-1 huge uprooted Eucalyptus treeSombra/Vereda-large grass area
2/2017Cut up and haul away large Eucalyptus which uprooted and City moved off of streetTrabuco & Arboleda
2/2017Remove leaning and uprooting Pine treeMiddle Cipres Channel behind 21072 Floresta
2/2017Emergency-huge tree uprooted, broke homeowners fence and fell very close to homeAmapola
2/2017Emergency- 1 huge Eucalyptus and 2 huge Pine uprooted damaging home, yard, pool and fenceAmapola
4/2017Remove large Eucalyptus tree, limb fell onto street and completely destroyed Brazilian Pepper TreeTranquilo at Narsico

This wake-up call, caused our BOD and Landscape Committee to react fast and with the help of arborists, quickly assembled a large list of similar risk trees and 63 high risk trees were quickly removed in 2017 as part of a 2 phase project. An additional 19 risk trees were identified and removed in 2018, and another 20 in early 2020. All of the trees removed posed a threat to the community.

All other trees that were removed included trees that were dead, diseased, by order of the city because of sidewalk damage, or over-crowding due to planting too close together. No tree was ever removed without good reason.

Planting Trees

In 2015, a large campaign was started to add more shade canopy to our green areas. 106 trees were planted that year. We also started a plan where for every tree removed, we should plant 2 new trees. This anticipated the poor mortality of young trees in their first 5 years after planting. However, what it does not take into account, is that if a tree was removed next to a property because of a high risk, we cannot plant 2 new trees there. In other areas, the small embankment where a large tree was removed is too root bound to be planted until time is allowed for the roots to rot away. The net result is that we have been running out of places to plant trees. In 2018, the BOD gave the Landscape Committee a mandate to plant 40 trees but we could only find places for 34 at that time. In late 2018, the Landscape Committee decided to adopt better tree management practices using urban forest management guidelines. Management became about managing the health and appearance of the forest rather than the tree count. This plan is about planting new trees in a way that sustains and grows the canopy to create a themed appearance. Tree inventories and inspections will be used to measure the progress. We have a lot more to do to achieve this level of management and to sustain it.

This history is the results of many painstaking hours of research by Patty Cheah and Dave Hart, digging through all work orders and landscape expenses dating back through 2015. I am merely writing the summary. All of the data here is backed by traceable references. – Mike