Trees and Ranger Bob

No love for crepe myrtles; and beloved Chico park rangers passes away

Last month, I attended a meeting at which a Chico resident who lives in the Avenues was asking the city for permission to cut down a couple of oak trees in front of her home. I was there to cover another issue, but I got sucked into the drama.

The homeowner was tired of looking at a couple of pin oaks that had been butchered by PG&E due to their proximity to utility lines. She was there to appeal the city’s denial of her request for a permit to have them cut down at her cost.

That species was a poor choice for the location, on Arcadian Avenue, she told the members of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, because it gets quite large—50 to 75 feet tall. The power lines, of course, aren’t nearly that high. In a letter to staff, the woman quoted the city’s own arborist as saying that whoever planted the trees “forgot to look up.”

Indeed, a staff report acknowledges that pin oaks would not normally be chosen for a site under utility lines. Furthermore, they aren’t on the city’s approved planting list for streets and parking lots.

The homeowner’s plan was to plant a couple of crepe myrtles in their place.

Those trees are ubiquitous in Chico. They’re especially easy to spot in the summer, the time of year they’re in bloom—the flowers come in white or varying shades of red, pink and purple. The trees top out at about 30 feet tall.

The thing about crepe myrtles is that people either love them or hate them. One of my cousins who grew up here called them “garish.” More recently, a contractor friend of mine referred to them as “crap myrtles.”

Evidently, those sentiments are widely shared in this town, as the plan to plant those trees in lieu of the pin oaks went over like a lead balloon. Members of the public who spoke in opposition were most concerned about the loss of shade. However, one woman said crepe myrtles aren’t even trees—that they’re “bushes.”

The commission denied her appeal.

Last week, I drove over to get a look-see. I understand where the homeowner is coming from. The trees aren’t exactly ugly, but they are out of place and oddly shaped. The only good news for her is that city staff agreed to prune them, ostensibly to make them more attractive.

I have no dog in the fight, but in this instance, I think the park commission and staff made a bad call.

Condolences are in order. The reason I attended the meeting in the first place was to write up a brief about the proposal to turn the city’s park rangers into so-called “sworn rangers,” which is basically code for turning them into cops (see “Guns in green spaces?” Downstroke, June 29).

Not a single member of the community spoke in favor of that plan, and the many voices in opposition were compelling. One of the most articulate and informed speakers was retired “Ranger Bob” Donohue, a longtime city park ranger.

Donohue noted that years ago he’d warned a couple of other communities, including Roseville, where similar plans were underway, that doing so would eliminate the interpretative aspects of those jobs. His prediction came true, he told the park commission last month (see “Protect our park rangers,” page 4).

As a key expert on Chico’s parks, Donohue was a go-to source for the CN&R during his nearly 20-year tenure as a park gatekeeper. In fact, we planned to interview him for a story this week. He passed away last Thursday (July 20) at the age of 70. Our condolences to his family and friends, and to the community, which lost a champion for the parks.