Opinion Editorial: Turf over trees: Ojai’s last trees died first

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Ojai Valley News photo by Grant Phillips 

R.I.P. lost Soules at Ojai Valley county park. "The county is unable to provide deep irrigation to the park based on our limited allocation for Casitas Wataer District and efforts to assist conservation effforts."


Laura Rearwin Ward, Ojai Valley News publisher 

Eighty-two native and non-native trees at Soule Park are dead.

The steward of this park and its trees is the county of Ventura. The mostly 63-year-old sycamore, silver maple and Modesto ash trees had their natural lives cut in half.

Their deaths went unnoticed by the county until July when local arborist Jan Scow questioned the county about the die-off. Too late they increased their watering, to no effect. A county investigation of one ash and two soil samples determined the trees died from lack of water, with high levels of chloride. County officials blamed the loss on Casitas Municipal Water District's limited water allocation and cited their own "efforts to assist in conservation efforts," according to County Parks official Jeri Cooper. This travesty was their effort to assist?

They never asked Casitas to allocate more water for the trees, never asked the citizens to come forward with help. Rather, they continued to select turf over deep-watering the trees, and a generational decision was made. If sacrificing the trees was being considered, the choice should have been brought to the people, or to a CMWD meeting at the very least.

Far higher than the over-allotment fee will be the cost to remove the trees because they are now riddled with pests and becoming dangerous to people. The park will need to be replanted and get extra water to start new growth. With reliable stewards for the trees and three-score years, future generations will enjoy the shade again.

In contrast, the city of Ojai has not lost trees in the parks it cares for, and neither has the golf course. Whether through incompetence or intent, the destruction of the trees amounts to a failure to protect Ojai Valley trees. 

The city of Ojai unsuccessfully requested control of Soule Park two years ago. Perhaps it could have saved the trees. The Ojai Valley News asks the county to abdicate its control of Soule Park. After it funds the removal of the dead trees, the county needs to partner with the city of Ojai to to take care of Soule Park.

This terrible event should be a wake-up call. Let's right now agree to a new social contract: If drought causes every tree in the valley to die off, we must vow to preserve the trees in our parks, if only to serve as a place to visit and remember what was. These Soule Park trees should have been the last trees standing.

Passing the buck and crying drought are not good enough. The Ojai Valley News is not satisfied with the explanation as it stands, their excuse — insulting. Join us in holding the county to account for the trees’ loss and insisting it take financial responsibility for its blunder. Our valley can take care of its own and prevent further loss of life.