One of the most scenic streets in Lompoc, South H Street between Cypress and Olive avenues, has an age/gravity/draught-induced problem.

South H is lined on both sides with Italian stone pines whose canopies create a scenic but increasingly dangerous viewscape. Frequently photographed by visitors and residents, the pictures they take don’t reveal their potential danger.

Besides draught conditions and age, there are other challenges for trees that normally grow in the wild. Trees on South H are planted in a relatively narrow strip between the sidewalk and curb, and their roots extend under the street. This makes it difficult for water to get to the root system even in the wettest of rainy seasons.

The city has a tree-inspection program and in 2015 a consultant’s inspection report stated “there does not appear to be systemic written guidance given to the adjacent residents about the proper care of the trees,” and, “over the years, foot traffic has compacted the soil around the trees. Most trees, including Italian stone pines, do not thrive when the soil around their roots is compacted.” Other inspections were conducted in 2003 and 2013.

Since then the city has circulated an Italian stone pine care information sheet, which is available on the city website, Public Works, Urban Forestry.

Now, city officials are trying to address this issue again, and they want your help.

In a letter to residents they say, “The South H Street Italian stone pines have been a treasured public asset since they were planted in the 1930s. The city … regularly prunes these heritage trees and conducts periodic evaluations of their health and safety. You can view past arborist reports about the H Street pines on the city website at: http://www1.cityoflompoc.com/PublicWorks/UrbanForestry/ItalianStonePineCareInfo.pdf

In the past year, there have been several tree failures that have caused extensive vehicle damage, but fortunately there have been no injuries. The city has hired an experienced consulting arborist to assess health and structural deficiencies of the H Street pines to determine if tree risks can be further reduced.

This is a pro-active way to address this issue. Public safety is a big concern here. If one of these trees crashes through one of the many houses on the block or comes down as pedestrians are walking along the street or visitors are taking in the view it could be catastrophic.

What to do short of cutting them down is the big question, and that’s why the city hired a professional to help sort out the options.

These trees are old, and over the years have become a genuine problem to manage. Townspeople are saddened when limbs are trimmed or dangerous trees must be removed, and may object to any serious thinning. New trees have been planted to replace the fallen, but they take decades to reach the grandeur of their elders.

Now is the time to register your concerns/ideas with the consulting arborist before he begins his evaluations. H Street residents and the public are invited to a meeting with the consultant to discuss the proposed work program and possible outcomes at a public meeting, which will be held next Thursday, at the Stone Pine Hall, 210 South H Street, at 6:30 pm.

Ron Fink is a local activist and can be reached at: rfink@impulse.net.

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