DAILY BRIEFING: Palm tree trimming, speed cameras, and more

Good morning. It’s Monday, April 25. Expect sunny skies and a high of 93 degrees today. First, some news you need to know …

Palm Springs Explained: Why doesn’t the city trim palm trees downtown?

A lovely dinner interrupted by an ominous whoosh and then a thud. A stroll down the city’s main street accompanied by shouts of “look out!” Several times a year, social media pages light up with reports like these, leaving residents and visitors alike asking the following: Why don’t they trim the palm trees in Downtown Palm Springs?

The answer to that question isn’t complicated, but it is fascinating. Below we separate fact from fiction.

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The top rumor: The trees are on tribal land, and they don’t trim them

This is partially true. Per tradition, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians leaves palm trees in their natural state for a few reasons:

  • From a 2017 edition of Me Yah Whae, the tribe’s magazine:
    • (T)he Washingtonia (also known as the California fan palm and the desert fan palm) was essential, as it provided sweet fruit to eat as well as fronds to build shelter and frond stems that could be shaped into utensils for eating and bows for hunting. Recognizable for its “skirt,” or the dried fronds that hang down the trunk, the palm served another important purpose: It alerted native people to water sources, a crucial part of survival in the desert.

  • Also from the magazine:
    • According to “Stories and Legends of the Palm Springs Indians” by Francisco Patencio and Margaret Boynton, the Cahuilla legend of how the first palm tree came to be in the Coachella Valley involves the leaders of five Native American tribes who made their way over the San Gorgonio Pass and into the Coachella Valley, which at that time had no palm trees. One of the men, the leader of the Sungrey tribe, felt his time on Earth was coming to an end. Wanting to leave behind something to benefit his people, he announced he was going to be a palm tree and stated that his name would be Moul. As he stood straight and tall, bark began to grow around him, and leaves grew from the top of his head until he had fully transformed into a palm tree.

You can find the rest of the story of Moul here, including a beautiful image by Stuart Funk.

While it’s true that much of the land in Palm Springs belongs to the tribe, and palm trees on that land are kept in their natural state, the trees that line Palm Canyon and Indian Canyon drives belong to the city. In fact, according to a spokesperson, city crews maintain roughly 6,000 palm trees (Washingtonia robusta, Washingtonia filifera, and hybrids) on our streets, of which 1,700 have skirts.

So why doesn’t the city trim the trees?

The answer to this dates back to May 6, 2009, when the city adopted Resolution No. 22475. The city proclaimed the following:

  • All California fan palms and Mexican fan palms located within the public right of way shall have the fruit pods removed.
  • California fan palms located within the public right of way shall not have fronds removed and shall retain their “skirts,” and their trunks shall not be skinned. Their fronds shall be sheared to provide 12 feet minimum clearance and fronds at the skirt bottom shall be sheared to maintain a clean look.
  • Mexican fan palms within the public right of way shall have their dry fronds removed and their trunks shall be skinned.

Basically, city leaders recognized the significance of keeping the California fan palms in their natural state, but did allow some trimming at the bottom of the skirt.

Rumor No. 2: Somebody’s going to die when a skirt falls on them

Skirts do fall. There’s no question about that. But while they can cause injury (mostly cuts and scrapes) and damage to vehicles parked underneath, it’s unlikely they carry enough weight to crush a person. While people in the city have perished when trees of all kinds fell on them, The Post could find no evidence a collapsing palm tree skirt was a cause of death in the city. Our contacts in the city couldn’t remember one either. Please reach out if you know of such a death and can point to evidence and not just social media chatter.

There have been cases of asphyxiation associated with palm tree skirts, as this 2006 LA Times article shows. Still, the most likely way to die involving a palm tree is by falling while trying to trim the fronds. Trimming is dangerous work undertaken by scores of landscapers each year in the Coachella Valley.

While you might not die or be injured, it’s still frightening when a skirt falls. Just ask Nicola Cadwell.

“We walk down Palm Canyon a lot and we have in the past seen the odd frond blow off from a skirt in high winds and been thankful no one was near it, but we’ve not seen this level of fall before,” Cadwell wrote, explaining the picture seen above that she snapped while she and her husband were dining downtown April 18.

“It was amazing to see … all of a sudden a huge circumference of the tree fronds just fell all at once, the whoosh sound it made sounded like the first few seconds of when a building is purposefully blown up to demolish it, not the blast noise but the first whoosh when it starts to fall in on itself, not the same volume but the same noise.”

What if a city tree hurts me or my property?

If you’re injured, or your property is damaged by a palm tree skirt or anything else that involves the city or a city employee, chances are your insurance company will try to recoup some of its payout to you by filing a claim with the city. Not working with an insurance company? You can file a claim yourself via this online form.

? Briefly

Palm Springs could be part of a test program using cameras like these to ticket speeders. Photo: Shutterstock

SPEED CAMERA SUPPORT: Palm Springs officials agreed last week to seek participation in a state-sponsored pilot program that would see revenue-generating speed cameras set up along city streets. By a 4-1 vote, the City Council agreed to add the city’s name to a list of a half dozen other jurisdictions participating in the pilot program, as outlined in AB 2336. If passed, the state legislation authorizes the installation of the cameras on city-controlled streets with the highest injuries and fatalities for five years starting in 2023. Streets such as Vista Chino and Gene Autry are not eligible for the cameras since they are controlled by the state. Participation in the program does come at a cost, but the city can opt out if it’s determined the revenue generated would be less than that cost. Councilmember Dennis Woods, who frequently pushes for a realignment of city streets to help decrease speeds, was the lone no vote. To that point, Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner agreed: “We have these really wide streets, and they practically beg you to speed on them,” she said. “So we do need to do some traffic calming measures.”

ARREST IN CITY RESIDENT’S MURDER: An 18-year-old Victorville man was arrested in connection with the shooting death of a Palm Springs man at the Desert Hills Premium Outlet Stores, authorities said Saturday. The suspect was arrested on April 21 for suspicion of murder when homicide detectives served a search warrant at a home in the 15500 block of Morada Road in Victorville. The shooting occurred at 6:56 p.m. on March 24 at 48650 Seminole Drive, according to Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Ben Ramirez. The victim was later identified as 66-year-old Michael Moser of Palm Springs. According to sheriff’s inmate records, the Victorville man was booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside with no bail set. The investigation continues with no further details being released, Ramirez said.  

? Today’s events

For more events , check the complete community calendar. Want your event listed? Just click here.

? What to watch for

  • The Books vs. Badges charity basketball game between Palm Springs High teachers and staff and Palm Springs Police Department officers is scheduled for Tuesday at the high school gym.

  • A third community meeting regarding the planned homeless navigation center along McCarthy Road is being held virtually at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

  • Palm Canyon Theatre’s production of Monty Python’s Sir Spamalot, continues this weekend.
  • Desert Winds Freedom Band has its next performance on Sunday.
  • The Sing for Ukraine Benefit Concert is May 2 at 6 p.m. at The Purple Room in Palm Springs.
  • The Annual State of the City is coming up on May 3 at 5 p.m. at the historic Plaza Theatre.
  • The next free concert in the new Downtown Park, put on by The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, is slated for May 4 at 7 p.m.

  • The Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast is scheduled for May 11 at 8:30 a.m.
  • The Palm Springs International Jazz Festival is scheduled for the weekend of May 14 and 15 at the historic Plaza Theatre in Downtown Palm Springs.

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