Tree Vandalism

 Starting last year and continuing into this year, tree vandalism in Midtown has been rampant. The vandalism most often occurs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights/early mornings. This fiscal year we have had 29 tree vandalized (26 in the central city).

Victim trees are located outside, near to or within a block of bars and nightclubs. The damage consists of twisting, cutting them in half or breaking off at any point newly planted trees of all species, ripping out the stakes and battering the trees and trying to break a tree by bending it over so far that it damaged the root system so much it could not stand straight without city arborists’ attention and help.

Imagine a vandal’s courage and feeling of power, drunk or sober, to attack and destroy a defenseless living thing such as newly planted tree, which gives us such environmental benefits.

Many were so badly damaged that the city Urban Forest Services had to remove the “remains” because there was no evidence of life to re-grow. Even those that can be saved will only be half the size of its neighbor which was not vandalized, delaying shade and leaf oxygen benefits for at least 10 years. Planting is only done in the rainy season, so all those damaged recently cannot be replaced until this fall, losing an entire summer of growth!

Urban Forest Services (UFS) states that the cost to the taxpayer is $251 per vandalized tree, which includes cost of the original tree, labor for planting, removal costs of the destroyed tree and the repeat cost of buying a new tree and labor for planting it.

This does not include city labor costs for watering the trees before they were vandalized if the trees were located in non-irrigated planter locations, which most are. Nor does it include the environmental costs to during the summer when there is no new tree and its belated growth for the next several years.

Trees vandalized on 19th Street were older established trees that were growing well. Most of those on 19th St were large diameter trees (1 1/2 inches). They would have a higher value than a newly planted tree. Between the 21st and J Street location and the others on 19th St, seven trees were vandalized UFS reports.

Whoever vandalized them had to really work at it says UFS staff, taking considerable time and effort. Vandalizing a tree is a crime. When someone sees that a tree has been vandalized, UFS asks them to call 311 and report the address and the kind of vandalism.

Graffiti vandals are also tagging tree trunks with spray paint, showing serious disrespect for nature. The city when notified of such tagging will photo and add to their inventory of various tagging elsewhere, enabling them to prosecute when monikers are identified. These are not gang tags but the usual graffiti vandals disrespecting nature.

When anyone observes someone either destroying a new tree or painting graffiti on a grown tree, they should take a photo of the criminal if the observer has a digital camera, or get a description and call 311. In the case of tree destruction if it takes the vandal considerable time to destroy the tree, individuals may also call the non-emergency police number.

I admit to a bias of a great fondness and respect for trees. As a fifth grader, I remember our English teacher giving us an assignment to read, Joyce Kilmer’s now nearly one hundred year-old poem “Trees.” We were asked to memorize it and then discuss it in class.

For those who may not have read the poem an abbreviated version goes like this:
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree that may in summer wear
a nest of robins in her hair.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

We then sang it in music class, which followed. I’m sure we must have murdered the song but for a real treat to hear it in its entirety google “song Joyce Kilmer Trees.” While the choral that comes up is beautiful, click on the Paul Robeson (of Showboat’s Ole Man River fame) arrangement. It is a scratchy old Victor recording but none of the richness of his bass voice or the strings accompaniment has been lost.

You will now see trees from a more appreciative perspective. Enjoy.

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May 25, 2010 | 8:19 PM

Excellent piece. Thank you, Dale. Worth mentioning also that the City’s Urban Forest Services has removed many of our large heritage elm trees in recent years. They are paying attention to planting in preparation of large tree removal and staggering growth cycles, so that young trees are already established and growing up when larger trees have to be removed. The streets you mentioned had several differently-timed plantings going all in a row. Those destroying the youngest of them are doing much more damage than to just that one tree.

Also, folks, don’t put signs on trees. It’s illegal, it damages trees and just don’t do it.

May 25, 2010 | 8:51 PM

Very true Marion. Another action we can take, whether tenant or homeowner, is that when the city plants a tree be sure to check regularly to see if it is getting enough water. While new trees are on the watering route, sometimes the water runs off instead of into the root system and the leaves begin to wilt from lack of water in the root system.

Another thing is that city watering only lasts two to three years after planting, so once UFS no longer waters, tenants or homeowners can help the tree to grow much faster if it will deep water once every 10 days or two weeks. Do NOT deep water every two or three days because that is too much water and can drown the roots.

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May 25, 2010 | 10:13 PM

we are several blocks from a few bars and i have seen two young trees vandalized – essentially small trunks snaped and branches torn off. What kind of loser vandalizes trees? We also saw one tree ripped out entirely. Again – very lame. & most of this vandalism and tagging occurs Thurs through Saturday – no coincidence that it’s the nights that draw people here who think of midtown as their playland they can ef up and then leave. It’s going to come back and bite the businesses and developers who created this when Midtown is no longer a safe place to be.

May 26, 2010 | 8:02 AM

Your comment points out why the developer-driven concept of a central city that focuses on drawing visitors to an “adult entertainment district” (as opposed to a residential community that drives it’s own economy) most often results in urban blight.

May 26, 2010 | 7:10 AM

Dale, do you have any photos to illustrate this story? I’m assuming you don’t, which is a shame, because it’d be a great lead story, but I can’t do that without a photo. If you have any, please email them to sacramento press as soon as possible.

May 26, 2010 | 1:22 PM

No, I wanted to but do not have that capability. The morning after was a great time for 21st & J because the new Elm tree was hanging doubled over where the trunk had been twisted–the blank space remains now because UFS removed the remains. One of the new Oaks on K just east of 21st was cut in half. The pistachio (I believe it is ) on 19th & J outside the Plum Blossom restaurant on the corner has been repeatedly attacked by someone ripping the new little limbs off.

Article Author
May 30, 2010 | 9:43 AM
May 26, 2010 | 8:43 AM

You’ve got a City Council obsessing about Arizona while neglecting situations like this that drive customers and tourists from Sacramento.

May 26, 2010 | 8:54 AM

I can think of few things more deplorable.Obviously the cretans that do this kind of thing don’t live in Midtown.
Does anybody know the penalty for vandalizing a tree?

May 26, 2010 | 9:23 AM

I don’t, but your council person’s staff can find out. Thanks for asking. Please let us know if you are able to get that information.

Article Author
May 26, 2010 | 9:24 AM

Thanks for such a great piece on an important community topic.

Small, young trees were killed by someone who snapped the trunks on I Street between 27th and 28th, next to Hart Senior Center. New ones have been planted in their place.

May 26, 2010 | 9:36 AM

Vandalism is an age old problem, for urban areas, and midtown trees are not the only victim. I have seen drunken guys climbing a streetlight and knocking off the decorative “glass” top, only to run away into the night. In another occurrence, passer-byes smashed my neighbor’s window for no apparent reason. Also, tagging is out of control; you can find samples on garbage cans, houses, businesses, etc.

May 26, 2010 | 10:06 AM

Vandalism in general is very old but newly planted tree destruction in Midtown is very recent. The fact that 26 out of the 29 occurred in the central city is indicative of something being different going on here, and I agree with Wendell’s assessment. But whatever the reasons, it must stop for the good of all. When I saw the top of the little tree hanging over it was like seeing a partially decapitated head dangling from its trunk.

Tree graffiti vandalism has occured off and on but has been more frequent recently. The tagging attack (well over a hundred new) this last weekend may have been payback I’ve heard for prior vandal arrests but an overly sympathetic and irresponsible judge let the offenders loose to do damage in the community again. There are as you may know many who believe that tagging public property should not be a crime because it is a freedom of expression issue.

Article Author
May 28, 2010 | 11:31 AM

Great article. It’s important to show that these actions affect more than just the city’s aesthetics.

May 30, 2010 | 1:45 AM

While I get the community concern and the environmental issues, I’d like to know more about the civil and criminal penalties. I’d like to see photos of the graffiti and know if that has been reported to the SPD for analysis. I’d also like to know more about proposed solutions. It’s not enough to just point out a problem because it comes across like a complaint. What do you suggest be done about it (beyond the obvious in case vandalism is witnessed)? This goes beyond trees. It includes cars, bikes, walls, etc. The issue isn’t tree damage as much as it is vandalism in general. People need to respect every aspect of midtown, especially if they are visitors to the area. Furthermore, although ignorance of the law is no excuse, these people need to be deterred – at least to some degree – by being made aware of what’s in store for them if they choose to vandalize.

May 30, 2010 | 9:48 AM

This piece brings the issues to the public attention. Dale made the suggestions of what can be done about it in the article (See above).

And the issue HERE IS tree damage. As Dale said in a comment”

“Vandalism in general is very old but newly planted tree destruction in Midtown is very recent. The fact that 26 out of the 29 occurred in the central city is indicative of something being different going on here, and I agree with Wendell’s assessment. But whatever the reasons, it must stop for the good of all.”

Thomas Wendel:

“Your comment points out why the developer-driven concept of a central city that focuses on drawing visitors to an “adult entertainment district” (as opposed to a residential community that drives it’s own economy) most often results in urban blight.”

Dale has done much more than “complain” on behalf of the community for decades. There are many ways for you to get informed and involved. Start with your neighborhood association or visit the CityofSacramento.org web site to find it. The codes you are asking about are available there also.

May 30, 2010 | 6:52 PM

I do not think that developers are driving the concept of an “adult entertainment district” nor do I think that the nightclubs are the real problem -as such. My own experience with vandalism has made me rethink who and what is involved. A couple of years ago I planted street trees and did a lot of landscaping out in front my business which is in the heart of Midtown. Then someone started to rip out my plants and spray graffiti on the walls. This went on for several months and every time I replaced the plants and cleaned the walls. Then one day as I walked past a house just a couple of blocks from my business I noticed all my plants piled up under the stairs. I walked up to the front door, which had a sticker on it that read “Keep Midtown Janky”, and confronted the residents who denied any wrongdoing and were obviously hopped up on speed. After that confrontation the vandalism stopped. I’ve also been yelled at for trying to improve the neighborhood and I’ve talked to taggers who were proud of their spraywork. I begin to realize that there are some people who see improvements to Midtown as some sort of threat to their ‘way of life’. Of course, drunken chowder-heads are a problem but honestly I think the bigger problem are the “low-rent” types who enjoy living in a junky, ugly environment and are bent on keeping Midtown down at their level.

As for the trees, the city could do what many other cities have done for years- and put a protective metal support around newly planted trees until they able to withstand the assaults. Also here’s a novel idea- how about providing proper urban lighting for our streets? Much of Midtown- and in particular the higher-pedestrian areas are very poorly lit. I’ve never been in a city this size with such dark urban streets- except maybe in the Third World. Studies and experience have shown that well-lighted streets discourage vandalism. Unfortunately, councilmembers and the MBA seem unable to grasp these two concepts despite repeated calls for both.

June 1, 2010 | 12:08 AM

“I do not think that developers are driving the concept of an “adult entertainment district” nor do I think that the nightclubs are the real problem -as such.”

Markes, that’s because you haven’t lived it and yes, vandalism on street trees has a lot more to do with Midtown mayhem by liquored up “chowderheads” on their way home to the suburbs. Your comment smacks of the self entitled elitism that is part of the problem, trying to paint Midtown and residents in an ugly and inaccurate way. That attitude, whether you intended or not, is a big part of the disconnect and causes of problems for Midtown neighborhoods — businesses and/or residents.

“Much of Midtown- and in particular the higher-pedestrian areas are very poorly lit. I’ve never been in a city this size with such dark urban streets- except maybe in the Third World.”

That’s because the City Council supports lighting Midtown alleys to benefit a few private property owners (coincidentally at the location of the MBA’s offices) rather than lighting central city streets.

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June 1, 2010 | 11:54 AM

I think Markes makes some excellent comments. I too live and work in Midtown and didn’t feel like he was attacking me as a lowlife scum. Unless someone has witnessed the vandalism and then followed the perpetrator back to his/her home (and so far, I haven’t read that residents or police have actually caught/arrested anyone), can we really assume who’s responsible for these deplorable acts? At least Markes has seen evidence and had some face-to-face interaction involving his experience with vandalism.

June 1, 2010 | 4:04 PM

Good questions. You “haven’t read” because the media is complicit in hiding the reality.

The stories have been told by numerous residents in numerous neighborhoods ever since implementation of the (then) city manager’s agenda to develop Midtown by drawing people here to drink and play and bail to the suburbs, several years ago. Since it came from the top at City Hall and lots of lawbreaking was condoned, the problems — and crime — that resulted were mostly under- or non-reported by the media, except for the most dramatic: rapes, murders, stabbings, shootings. The business boosters worked hard to hide the impacts with fluff pieces in the media, dismissing the concerns of residents. All of this created a climate of lawlessness that yes — coincides with the recent phenomenon of tree vandalism as described.

This is a body of years of “evidence and face-to face interaction.” Unless you were involved with the neighborhoods associations or living it yourself, you might not be aware of it at all. The damage done — including the misperceptions and lawlessness — is now being worked on by the community, with the city and business group, under new city management.

Markes statement “I begin to realize that there are some people who see improvements to Midtown as some sort of threat to their ‘way of life” based on one home with one bumpersticker and the assumption that they did the vandalism because it stopped it just that — assuming. Focusing on that anecdotal “evidence” while dismissing the bigger picture is short sighted.

June 1, 2010 | 10:18 AM

Marion just how haven’t I “live it”? I’m a Midtown resident who lives a few blocks from 20th and K.
Obviously, I’m not painting all Midtown residents in an ugly and inaccurate way -but some of my Midtown neighbors are janky lovers. Since you think I’m such an elitist jerk, why would I lump myself in with “those people”? Wouldn’t I be living in El Dorado Hills or somewhere? Self-entitled? Yeah, I guess I feel entitled to plant things and not have they ripped up and pee’d on, I feel etitled to live in a community where beauty, art and culture are valued and people are respected. And if by elitism you mean my tastes run a bit contrary to the “ghetto chic aesthetic”, then call me an elitist. The reality is that the people you are defending in a twisted reverse-snobery way are they one’s who feel self-entitled and superior. I just like trees and clean streets and walls without scribble on it.

Your comments about my so-called disconnect is really ridiculous. I’ve been pretty involved in my neighborhood. I live and work in the same hood. Heck, I’m a member of the MNA (which seems mostly like a bunch of people who live around Sutter Hospital and who like to bitch about parking).
If your agenda is to pin all of Midtown’s ills on the nightclubs and other late-night business then I’m sorry for pointing out that, from my experience, the vandalism problems came from unrealated sources.

The reason the the streets are so poorly lighted is because the city ripped out many of the old lampposts years ago. And to get new ones the property-owners must be contacted and a majority agree to pay for them. Since most of the property-owners in these areas do not live in the neighborhood it’s hard for a busy Joe Blow like myself to get in contact with all the owners. Besides most think they already pay too many taxes and they won’t pay for them anyway. That’s where the the city comes in. Since it’s a matter of public safety and supporting local businesses. The city should create an assessment district and force the property-owners to share the cost of installing new street lights.

June 1, 2010 | 4:33 PM

“I do not think that developers are driving the concept of an “adult entertainment district” nor do I think that the nightclubs are the real problem -as such. My own experience with vandalism has made me rethink who and what is involved.”

That’s fine. You haven’t lived it. You can’t say it doesn’t exist because you “don’t think” so. You are more than welcome to come to the MNA Board meetings — and other community meetings — and share perspectives and info. Solutions even.

The other comments you’ve made are mistaken — taking personally comments that were more general. I did not accuse you as you seem to think. If possible another read might show you that. Sorry if it wasn’t clear.

“Your comment smacks of the self entitled elitism that is part of the problem, trying to paint Midtown and residents in an ugly and inaccurate way. That attitude, whether you intended or not, is a big part of the disconnect and causes of problems for Midtown neighborhoods — businesses and/or residents.”

“Smacks of” as in “sounds like” as in NOT an ACCUSATION. The truth is, self entitled elitism enabled by those who for years have been “trying to paint Midtown and residents in an ugly and inaccurate way” STILL is a big part of the problem, the disconnect.

“Whether you intended or not” as in NOT an ACCUSATION. As in: this is reality for Midtown overall and those who’ve lived it are working on addressing it. You are more than welcome.

“Heck, I’m a member of the MNA (which seems mostly like a bunch of people who live around Sutter Hospital and who like to bitch about parking).”

Wrong.

“If your agenda is to pin all of Midtown’s ills on the nightclubs and other late-night business then I’m sorry for pointing out that, from my experience, the vandalism problems came from unrealated sources.”

It was the former city manager’s agenda and he’s gone now. Be interesting to see if some of the same players who turned Midtown neighborhoods into drink/trash/dash zones will migrate up to Roseville after him, to spread their empires. Or head downtown where the new bar scene is getting cranked up.

His agenda and the lawlessness and blight that descended on Midtown b/c of an out of control bar scene was enabled by the business boosters and media portraying Midtown in a negative (dark) light with statements and attitudes like this:

“… front door, which had a sticker on it that read “Keep Midtown Janky”, and confronted the residents who denied any wrongdoing and were obviously hopped up on speed… I think the bigger problem are the “low-rent” types who enjoy living in a junky, ugly environment and are bent on keeping Midtown down at their level.”

All that does is reinforce the Us vs. Them and that problematic arrogance of some newcomers.

“Problematic arrogance” that includes in too many cases, buying vintage, historic and even Historic Landmark properties and completely scouring the historic landscape, old and rare trees, shrubs, habitat, history, cooling/shade — EVERYTHING obliterated down to the dirt. This includes in some cases illegal cutting of city-owned street trees and Heritage Trees. The real shame is that often what is put in afterward is generic landscaping that doesn’t reflect the cultural heritage of the surrounding properties, replace the habitat or provide shade (especially if the replacement is a parking lot).

It sounds like you may have interests in the aesthetic aspect of Midtown issues — there are many ways to get involved, in historic preservation, protecting trees, obtaining that street lighting, etc. MNA is an excellent place to start.

June 1, 2010 | 2:38 PM

I find this so sad that , the area in which you speak is still having problems.Some 25 to 27 years ago I lived in that area Around the 20th and G street vacinity. If the area was any thing now like it was then it was VERY dark and little or no street lighting. Even around Sutters fort area and another part of town I lived in on Capitol Ave. was dark all the way across and over to Alahambra and H. Streets. It’s sad to think that Sacto being the capitol has stayed complacient all these years later. One think that I loved about sacto was all the trees. It made it feel more like home to me. Because here in Louisville, like in Sacto we are and were part of the Olmsted Act and have many , many beautiful old trees and parks that fell into his plan. It’s a very sad thing.

June 1, 2010 | 9:53 PM

Sad indeed.

June 6, 2010 | 10:41 AM

I left Sacramento for several days just after writing this article and just returned, so these comments will probably not be read. But I did want to address the history of thestreet lighting issue. With Fargo’s support, residents did try to get street lighting several years ago but the Midtown Businesses opposed our efforts, Keat of Smud Board opposed it, absentee apartment house owners voted against it, many others who did not want to lose their “privacy in the dark” violated and in a five to four vote Mayor Serna, council members Deborah Ortiz, Rob Kerth and two others no longer on the council but whose names I’ve forgotten defeated it.

Thanks to Steve Cohn’s efforts we did get a few blocks lighted later just north of J Street by using CDBG funds. Like one of the other commenters said, I have never lived in such an unlighted city as the central city is.s But again, you must realized that these neighborhoods were consider “throwaway” and only fit for low income and social service agencies and halfway houses.

Incidentally, the metal protective device around trees is a very good idea but the high cost means planting fewer trees.

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