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The Santa Barbara Sheep Syndrome

City Should Focus on Tree Health, Not Petty Enforcement


When you act like sheep, this is what you get: a city government that oversteps good sense and gives rise to feelings that we are pitted against each other and not working together. And that’s what has happened in this city; some bureaucrats grasp for more power and abuse the public. It’s an age-old problem that has crippled all civilizations from ancient Egypt to 18th-century France and Russia, and now here in Santa Barbara.

Yes, in case you don’t know it, it’s the Santa Barbara city tree department, herding you like cattle.

You would think with all the dead, dying, and infected trees in town on our city streets, this department would have its hands full. On Cota Street alone, there have been four dead oaks sitting there for more then a year. Not to mention all the ficus trees lifting the sidewalks and splitting off giant limbs down on Milpas Street at night. Plus, the many giant Aleppo pines on Anapamu that are dying; one could agree this city has its work cut out for it. But this seems not to be their main interest or concern.

What does the tree department spend more than 50 percent of its time doing? Ambushing the public on private property with citations for pruning their own trees in a way that does not please the city arborist.

The standards used are not applied in any other city in California. Without the permission of the city,

• You may not prune more than one-quarter of your own tree.

• You may not change the shape of your own tree.

And who has given the city arborist permission to act this way and enforce these crazy standards? It’s the City Council, which professes freedom from fear and says it supports property rights. Well that’s a joke.

As anyone with eyes can see, Santa Barbara residents take care of their trees with great artistic integrity. It’s almost a competition to see who can make their front-yard trees objects of beauty and pride. They spend thousand of dollars to make sure our town is beautiful. In a way, it’s sort a gift to our city, making sure your trees are a standout in shape and design by a professional arborist.

But that’s not good enough for our mayor. She claims the residents of the city demand that stricter guidelines be observed and that if you want to change the shape of your tree you must seek the permission of the city arborist. He comes to your house with a tape measure to see that you have not violated the nutty rules.

And if you do violate his sense of what is correct, you better look out. You can expect a dressing down in his office with an abject scolding and then you must promise to attend one of his meetings where he tells you what he can do if you cross him. Or in many cases, you are made to stand out on the street while he belittles you for making your tree a few feet shorter then he thinks is appropriate. And if you don’t kowtow to his demands and act out the part of a groveling sheep, you get the citation he holds over your head.

He has done this many times to local residents, who, because they are sheep and intimidated, go along with the crazy behavior and are treated like stupid children. We don’t deserve to be treated this way by the people who are paid to serve us. They have forgotten that and now have become our overlords.

Many of you know who I’m talking about and have called me about this nauseating behavior.

I am often asked how this all came to pass. And the answer is that the public have been turned into sheep. And the public has refused to stand up to this injustice in a City Council meeting. I have personally twice fought this out-of-control behavior in superior court and won. But now it’s your turn to stand up to fascism. It will make you feel good! It only takes a little courage to stomp out tyrants, because tyrants are usually cowards.

Gene Tyburn has been a certified arborist for 35 years.

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