Editor’s note: This is the final installment of the "House Keys" series of columns by Marcie Geffner.
My palm tree is doomed.
The palm tree in question is a lovely specimen of the species that lives in the backyard of my house in West Los Angeles. The palm tree is not exceedingly tall and skinny, but it’s unmissable and majestic. It’s leafy, shady and inviting — everything, indeed, that a palm tree of this type should be.
I fell in love with the palm tree the second I saw it, and it was a principal reason why I wanted to buy this particular house. I’ve been told that’s an unusual reason to choose a house. Apparently, most homebuyers are more interested in the interior of the home and perhaps the size of the backyard than they are in the landscaping, even though mature trees and plants can be quite valuable.
Unfortunately, my palm tree happens to be directly beneath the electrical power lines that bisect my block, as if whoever planted it had no notion whatsoever that one day it might grow tall enough to touch the lines that hang above it. Even more unfortunately, such misplaced palm trees are a notorious fire hazard. And as if those two misfortunes weren’t misfortune enough, the local Department of Water and Power (DWP) has the legal authority (due to an easement) to enter my backyard and trim, top or even entirely remove my tree.
I was told about this threat to my tree at the time that I purchased my house. But just as people in love are said to be blind, I was all but deaf to this information. It wasn’t until later that reality sank into my mind, and I realized that one day my tree might be killed, uprooted and carted away.
In the early days after I bought my house, I made dozens of telephone calls to local authorities to try to find out more about the likely future of my tree and any options I might have to protect it from the powers that be. But alas, all of my efforts were in vain as I was just another homeowner worried about just another palm tree.
The only facts I found out were that my neighbor’s palm tree had been summarily removed by the DWP some years earlier and that the DWP hates palm trees. …CONTINUED
I’ve been told that my palm tree is worth $35,000. That’s a lot of money. I had to wonder, at the time I acquired this information, whether I would sell the tree for that sum if I were given the chance to do so. Perhaps, I concluded. But more likely not. The point was moot since the tree couldn’t be removed from my property without a crane that would have had to have been brought into my backyard through my garage, which was not an option.
Tree contractors hired by the DWP turn up in my neighborhood every spring to cut back and carry away the palm’s dead and dry fronds. They are also here to spy on my tree, measure how tall it has grown and decide whether it has become tall enough to be targeted for removal.
I have been tempted to lock out the tree contractors, but I also am concerned about the fire hazard, especially since a fire that was caused by a leafy tree and an electrical wire severely damaged my parents’ home during a storm many years ago. But the danger of fire always seems to be more theoretical than real since my house is located much closer to the coast than other parts of Los Angeles County that are prone to severe fires. We get a little smoke in the air here, but no wildfire threatens our homes.
And so I contemplate my tree each day, and from time to time I worry about its fate and fear the day when I will be told it has grown too tall to be safe. The tree is so grand and so much a part of my house that sometimes I think I would prefer to sell out and move somewhere else rather than continue to live here without it. Hopefully, that day of doom won’t come for many years.
Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. This is the last installment of her "House Keys" series. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate Web sites and newspapers. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.
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