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[whitespace] Residents complaining about hatchet job on median trees

Saratoga--Saratogans place a high value on their neighborhood trees, perhaps more so than any other local community.

That's why it's no surprise that two weeks ago residents began noticing something different about the drive between here and Los Gatos along Highway 9. That drive along Saratoga-Los Gatos Road is a scenic one, lined with all kinds of trees and majestic hillside views.

Recently, however, many residents began noticing some of the trees in the center divide are suddenly bare. A couple of the trees are nearly gone--nothing but the trunk and some stubs here and there.

The trees have been pruned so badly that in a few years, according to a city arborist, the trees may become more dangerous than they were before the pruning.

So many Saratogans have cried foul on what they think is a hack job on the few trees that they began calling City Hall last week asking for help. Unfortunately, they're not going to get it, because the center divide is part of Highway 9, which is the sole property of Caltrans.

According to the city's arborist, Caltrans promised the city of Saratoga that it will not prune the other trees on the strip as severely.

The trees are two different types of eucalyptus, Eucalyptus sideroxylon and E. sideroxylon rosea--or iron bark and pink iron bark. The trees, according to Saratoga's arborist, Barrie Coate, are much different than the grand globulus variety on the Saratoga Elementary School campus--those much hyped and protected trees.

"It's like comparing oranges to watermelon," he said.

Three weeks ago, Caltrans crews began pruning the eucalyptus trees along that portion of the center divide just past Fruitvale Avenue. Calls immediately began stacking up at City Hall.

The calls were forwarded to Coate, who, despite a bout with pneumonia, went out and talked to the crews performing the job.

According to Community Development Director James Walgren, the city often receives calls on poor pruning jobs, which he alleges are usually the work of utilities companies, which are required by law to keep limbs away from power lines.

Coaste said that in this case, however, the crews simply did a poor job.

"The work that's been done on those five trees was awful. But I talked to the guy who represents their crews, and he said they wouldn't prune the rest so severely," he said.

Coate said he handed the crews a set of pruning guidelines and standards set by the western chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, as well as governmental pruning standards to show how to properly prune the trees.

Coate said Caltrans performed "topping" and "stub-cutting," two techniques where major limbs are cut all the way back to a stub, and where there is no other branch outcropping.

The trees won't die, but in about three years weak "water sprouts" will have formed into new branches, which could easily fall and endanger passers-by.

What the crews should have done, Coate said, is "drop-crotch" pruning, where foliage is thinned and limbs are cut back to another branch that's about half its size. That way, the minor branch will become strong and take over on the limb.

According to Coate, a tree shouldn't be pruned of more than 30 percent of its leaf cover in one year.

"They just took off way too much foliage," he said, adding he's been promised better cooperation in the future.
Steve Enders

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