Residents of Saloma Avenue in Mission Hills say they have complained for years about a tree that fell early Friday morning, Nov. 30, 2012.
Residents of Saloma Avenue in Mission Hills say they have complained for years about a tree that fell early Friday morning, Nov. 30, 2012. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

Damage from downed trees in this week's storm is bringing new attention to the city's financial problems and its inability to respond to residents' complaints.

After more than half an inch of rain fell in the Los Angeles area, city crews were answering reports of scores of uprooted trees across the city, creating massive workloads for city crews and frustration for residents.

Among them was a 50-foot-tall tree that crashed down in a Mission Hills neighborhood early Friday morning, narrowly missing some houses and blocking the street.

Residents of the Saloma Avenue neighborhood had complained to the city for years about the tree, which they said was clearly poised to topple.

"We knew it was going to fall at some point," said Sonny Martin, a retired machinist who has lived with his wife, Kathy, on Saloma Avenue for the past 40 years.

"It had pushed up the street and the curb. It was over 50 feet tall and was growing in every direction. It was planted in 1954 and we all knew it would come down some day. Anyone with common sense would see it was coming down some day."

Martin's son, Brent, said his parents and the neighbors were lucky no one was injured and there was no property damage. | PHOTOS

"Now, it's all across the front yard of the neighbor's house and into the street blocking traffic," Brent Martin said.


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"The tree came down almost like it had been hit with a lightning strike. It splintered the tree and sent debris in four different directions."

Martin, who works for the Department of Water and Power, said he is aware of the city's financial problems, but the failure to act earlier could end up costing the city even more money.

Board of Public Works spokeswoman Cora Jackson-Fossett said budget cuts in recent years have forced the city to scale back its preventative tree maintenance.

"Unfortunately, we now can trim our trees only once every 30 years," Jackson-Fossett said. "We used to be able to trim them every 13 years and we didn't have all these problems."

She said the city's policy is to give priority to trimming trees where power lines are involved or where street signs and lights are being covered.

"If there is an immediate danger, we are able to come in right away," Jackson-Fossett said. "Otherwise, we have to go with our priority lists."

Martin said his parents had sought help over the years from the offices of Councilman Richard Alarcón and the Bureau of Street Services without success.

Aides to Alarcón did not return calls or messages from the Daily News on Friday.

"At one point a large branch came down and inspectors came out and had it removed, but they weren't able to get workers out to have the tree trimmed," Martin said. "What they told us is they are overbooked and they can't come out unless it's an emergency."

Those who suffer losses from such damage can file a claim against the city, officials in the City Attorney's Office said.

"Each case is fact-specific," spokesman Frank Mateljan said. "We would have to receive and evaluate a claim before we can determine if there is any city liability."

The storm also caused more than two dozen power outages around the city, but crews were able to restore power relatively quickly, the Department of Water and Power reported.

rick.orlov@dailynews.com

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