Mayor Ted Brandvold wants more money to hire police officers and most agree our police force is understaffed. Nonetheless, many concerned citizens fear Brandvold will divert funds and continue to neglect Modesto’s urban forest, once a symbol of pride that has now become a financial liability. With her typical keen insight and concern for the city, Babette Wagner wonders whether the spread of destructive mistletoe will add even more costs to our already overburdened urban forest. As always, Babette makes an important point about an easily overlooked problem that could become a long-term disaster.
Drive down just about any street in the City of Modesto and you’ll find deciduous trees that look like they’re still green. They’re not; instead, they’re trees planted by the City of Modesto on private property that are, for the most part, totally infested with mistletoe.
What is going on? Where are our tax dollars and payments for city services going, if not to the prompt removal of fall leaves, which this year was late, if done at all before the rains hit.
We have a city-planted tree in front of our house that has mistletoe from its top branches all the way down to the crotch, where the lower branches spread from the trunk….a dire situation for any tree. I called a local tree service and, upon explaining my situation, was told that I would have to contact the city for any pruning on said tree.
I looked around my neighborhood and we all seem to be in the same boat. Then I drove around town, paying more attention as leaves fell and I saw much remaining greenery, all of which was broad leaf mistletoe, common to our area and spread by birds to just about every susceptible tree in town.
Worried that our tree would die and perhaps fall on the house or on a car parked on the street, I called another tree professional and asked him to come out to render his opinion and was again advised that they couldn’t/wouldn’t touch it as it belongs to the City of Modesto and that I would first have to jump through a few hoops.
On checking the City of Modesto website for information, I learned, to my dismay, that they have been free to plant whatever trees they wish on private property but that the homeowner is, with THEIR permission, responsible for all costs of maintaining the health of said tree, its maintenance, removal, stump or root removal—all subject to the approval of the City of Modesto.
Well, we don’t want that poor, sick and unsightly tree on our property and WE didn’t put it there; it came with the house when we purchased it in 2017 and all of the trees in our area of Village One appear to be in similar dire circumstances.
Coincidentally, we have another piece of property in town where the trees, likely planted in the late 1940s and very early 1950s, were becoming so infested with mistletoe that the City did remove the many limbs afflicted with the offending parasitic plant—well over half the tree—without our permission, though we’re glad they did as these old trees were well over 50 to 60 feet high, tall enough to fall and damage our property, and given the right winds, tall enough to fall across the street into that neighbor’s yard and perhaps her roof!
All the trees on that street were struggling to receive nourishment due to the heavy mistletoe loads each carried. Hopefully, the recent pruning will remedy that. However, as with many areas in Modesto, watering restrictions have driven what should be “deep roots” to the surface to access water, so unless we have a decent rainy season, these trees will remain under stress and, with a shallow root system, subject to being blown down in high winds.
So why does the City of Modesto get to call the shots on what trees are planted where and when they’re due to be pruned? Certainly the 20 year old tree in front of our residence won’t make it to the 70 year mark like the tree in front of the other property we own—it’ll probably fall and break windows or land on a car well before that should it not be tended to. But why does one area of the City of Modesto receive City of Modesto tree maintenance free of charge while other areas must not only get permission, but pay out-of-pocket for something they didn’t want in the first place and haven’t budgeted for?
A call to the City Office yields little help nor sheds any light as to why there is such a discrepancy. Apparently, things are done on a schedule and the city budget is now quite limited. Well, if that’s the case, I have seen a lot of trees around town that I am certain can’t wait seven years, much less 70 years to be pruned!
We’ve had our neighborhood streets, in very good shape to begin with, paved when it did not appear necessary while these trees continue to blossom with more and more mistletoe as time passes. Who’s in charge here? Who’s running the City? And what’s happened to the late Mary Grogan’s goal of making Modesto a shaded “City of Trees” we can all be proud of and benefit from? (Mary Grogan was a long time Director of Parks and Recreation, one of the few women in the state to hold such a position, and she was instrumental in improving the quality of life in her beloved City of Modesto.)
Being rather fed up with the conditions and operations under the current Mayor, I’m hoping a change of leadership will help the taxpaying homeowners in this “City of Trees” remedy the problem of not only mistletoe in our trees, but the deciduous tree leaf pick-up program and formulate a more accurate paving needs assessment . We would like to see Modesto get back to its former schedules and priorities that seemed to work more fairly and smoothly under Mayors like Peggy Mensinger, Carol Whiteside, Garrad Marsh, and yes, even the late, and often controversial, Carmen Sabatino.
My husband works for a large institution in Modesto that struggles to recruit new employees who often find that it’s the city that is not to their liking, not the job prospect.
Yes, we have wonderful performance venues, a vibrant downtown and several hub areas in various other parts of the city that locals patronize, but it’s the “overall appearance” that strikes them as a bit unkempt as they tour their possible new city while they ponder whether or not to accept the position for which they’ve scheduled an interview.
It wasn’t always this way. Back when I was in Leadership Modesto, I became aware of the many ways in which the city prioritizes its use of funds and as a result of that experience, I have enough awareness to recognize what’s do-able and what is not. But keeping trees healthy and standing should be a priority—or perhaps the City should just butt out of planting trees and trust that we know best how to manage our own lives, homes and yards as they appear to be incapable of handling the necessary tasks under the current leadership that’s in place.