‘Back to Basics’: City Hall Ignored Deadly Tree Warnings

@THE GUSS REPORT-All manner of emergencies arose during Friday’s torrential rainstorm, including car-swallowing sinkholes, swift-water rescues and downed power lines. Many, perhaps most, were unpredictable. 

But shortly after Friday’s remarkably brief City Council meeting adjourned, in which half of the chatter was ceremonial, one of those emergency situations turned deadly in Sherman Oaks when a massive tree was ripped from its sidewalk, crushing nearby parked cars and taking down power lines that charged flooding water and electrocuted a 55-year old man. 

But according to a local tree trimmer who came by the scene early on Saturday morning, his company gave the City of Los Angeles ample and repeated warnings about the dangerous conditions that led to the man’s death. Some of these warnings, the man reportedly told neighbors, were in writing. In a KNBC report that aired late on Friday, several neighbors said that they too warned the city about the tree. 

While the address in front of which the deadly incident took place is technically on N. Sepulveda Boulevard, this Google Maps photo from the west side of the street shows that the massive tree towering over adjacent power lines was located on the east side curb of a service road immediately east of Sepulveda Blvd. 

The tree was so immense that by the time it was flattened, it tore through its own sidewalk, the service road and its two parking lanes, a wide median, another parking lane and onto the wider portion of Sepulveda Boulevard. 

Neighbors say the tree trimmer pointed to the trees he claims to have recently pruned directly across the street, advising that the city knew the collapsed tree should have been similarly reduced or removed altogether, but did nothing. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose TV commercials asking Angelenos for another term in the upcoming March primary are currently flooding the airwaves, originally ran on being a “back to basics” mayor. He has repeatedly banged that drum – despite continuous fails of that promise – throughout his term, giving that responsibility in 2015 to his oft-overwhelmed deputy Barbara Romero. This LA Times article announcing her appointment coincided with Garcetti’s launch of his re-election fundraising. (Romero did not reply to a Sunday morning request to field questions.)   

One of Garcetti’s leading challengers in the March primary, Mitchell Schwartz, says Garcetti is doing much better at his campaign fundraising than he is at delivering those core services to the constituents. “Our ‘back to basics’ Mayor has not delivered improvement on these basic quality of life issues,” he said. “Our pensions now consume 20% of the budget, taking money from other needed services. Instead of traveling to raise money for his current and future campaigns, perhaps Mr. Garcetti should spend a little more time in the city addressing the pressing concerns of residents.” 

In the meantime, four blocks away from the scene of Friday's deadly tree collapse two other massive trees are severely pressing through the sidewalk of an oversized McMansion similar to the one I described in a recent CityWatch article as the city's most hideous.

Whether Garcetti, Romero and the LA City Council do anything about them (or the scores of others endangering the city) in advance of another deadly tragedy remains to be seen.


(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.