Santa Ana winds

Southern California Edison announced Friday, March 26, that it planned to remove 11,000 palm trees from fire-prone areas over the next two years. The announcement comes as part of the company’s 542-page wildfire mitigation plan. 

Regarding tree removal, the plan states, “The full scope and size of the palm removal program is still being defined, but for some portion of its service area, SCE intends to pilot efforts to gain removal authority from property owners and community engagement regarding extreme actions such as trimming deep enough to kill the palm when other alternatives are not available.”

“We understand that people living in Southern California love their palms, but since fire season is year-round, they can be a danger to the public,” David Faasua, an SCE vegetation management senior specialist, said in a press release.

The announcement on social media was met with dozens of complaints from SCE customers who pointed out the utility company’s history of starting wildfires due to poorly maintained infrastructure—including several here in Malibu. The company settled a major lawsuit over the 2018 Woolsey Fire for $2.2 billion and paid out another $1.6 billion following the Thomas Fire, two of the largest Southern California fires in recorded history. Neither fire was started by a palm tree.

In the press release, Faasua said he had personally seen 35-foot palm trees swaying in the wind, their fronds already charred from touching power lines. Those fronds could spark a fire, Faasua described, adding that some SCE customers do not realize the fire risk palm trees pose. “Dead palm fronds can also be carried by high winds and travel long distances, possibly hitting power lines along the way and starting a fire,” the press release stated.

“Palms located directly under or above the power lines may cause power outages or fires due to falling palm fronds and are a priority for removal. Before any type of vegetation is removed, SCE vegetation management employees and contractors consider its condition and the hazards associated with that species, especially if a bucket truck cannot be used to perform trimming,” according to the press release.

SCE plans to notify property owners ahead of palm tree removals to discuss risk factors, in addition to leaving a door hanger at their home a day or two before any work is done. 

SCE arborists trim trees in order to create at least 12-foot clearances from power lines. But trimming palm trees only stimulates growth, according to Jon Pancoast, an SCE vegetation manager quoted in the press release. Pancoast added that palm trees require at least four trims per year; in comparison, most other species require just one or two, which is why the utility company has elected to remove them rather than maintain them.

Communities in which palms will be removed include Simi Valley, Santa Clarita, Lake Elsinore, Santa Ana and Malibu. SCE will also remove around 5,000 palms in non-high fire risk areas if they are not at least 18 inches away from power lines.

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