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Oak Accident Prompts Plea From Mayor

Safety: Ojai residents are urged to assess the health of their trees after 10 people are injured. Suza Francina says a 'task force of arborists' might be necessary.


A day after a 150-year-old oak tree crashed into a group of picnickers near downtown Ojai, Mayor Suza Francina urged property owners to assess the health of their trees to avoid similar incidents.

"I hope that everyone in the Ojai Valley goes to City Hall and gets a brochure on 'the guide to oak tree care,' " said Francina, noting that overwatering and encroaching development may be compromising the root systems of pre-Civil War era trees across the valley.

In light of Sunday's incident, Francina said the city may need to develop a "task force of arborists" to conduct an inventory of trees on city land to determine if they pose a safety risk.

"There are usually signs when a tree is in decline," the mayor said. "But not always."

That was the case Sunday when a rotted oak, measuring 105 feet in height and 7 1/2 feet around, cracked and toppled onto a group gathered for a picnic at World University of America on Matilija Street.

Ojai Public Works Supervisor Paul Stabard said the tree, which officials said was on private property, showed no outward signs of sickness.

At least 10 adults and children were treated for injuries. Their names and conditions were not available from law enforcement officials Monday.

"I'm just glad the damage wasn't worse," Francina said Monday.

The accident confirmed the worst fears of city leaders, whose decision earlier this year to cut down three dying oaks in Libbey Park drew protest from tree activists.

Since then, the city has been working with those activists to develop a program for tree planting and management to maintain Ojai's historic oaks, Francina said.

"I hope that people will stay calm and rational," Francina said, "and realize that this points to the urgency of developing a viable tree care program that will strike a balance between public safety and the preservation of our heritage trees."

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