Village of volunteers help disabled veteran remove diseased trees
By JUDITH PRIEVE | The Contra Costa Times | Published: October 8, 2019
BRENTWOOD, California — What started as a code enforcement violation turned into a day of goodwill Saturday when volunteers showed up to the home of disabled Navy veteran Rick Kompara to cut down six towering but diseased trees tagged for removal.
Kompara’s wife, Denise, had planted the two pine trees and four redwoods 20 years ago when the couple first bought the home, nurturing them from five-gallon plants. And although they were her “babies” and she was sad to see them cut down, she was grateful for the community support.
Almost two weeks earlier city code enforcement officers had tagged the diseased trees, but the couple didn’t receive the first notice and the second one gave them only three days to remove them. The once-vibrant green trees had suffered from the drought a few years earlier and never recovered.
But Kompara suffered two serious illnesses in the last seven years that required hospitalization, forcing him out of work for 17 months. Removing the trees — at a cost of some $4,000 — was an expense he had not planned on, so he turned to Councilwoman Kary Rarey for help.
“I understood why we had to take them down,” he said, noting that help started pouring in as soon as he texted Rarey. “It’s amazing the help I got.”
Rarey immediately went to work with the Community Development Department to get his fines waived and an extension on the removal deadline. She also reached out to VFW Post 10789 Commander Steve Todd to see if the VFW could help out.
“These health issues, time off of work, and equity already taken from the home to help them through these hard times have strapped them financially,” Rarey said, noting she was happy to rally volunteers to help lessen the burden caused by the dying trees.
Todd also got involved, posting a call for help on Facebook, which took off like wildfire. The post drew 101 shares and nearly 14,000 hits in a little more than two days.
Others joined the grassroots project, including local Rotarians, firefighters and veterans, as well as Larry Gullo, a retired police officer and the owner of Cal-North Construction & Tree Service, and his crew. In addition, Joe Rapanut, a certified arborist/climber from Mountain View, came to help cut down and remove the trees, three of which were 40 feet tall, and the other three more than 60 feet tall.
Gullo said that because of the two redwoods’ height, his climber had to remove the branches and cut off their tops before taking the trees down.
About two dozen volunteers turned out to help, including a local barbecue caterer, veteran Archie Smith, who donated food.
Kompara said he was grateful for the outpouring of community resources even though his wife was heartbroken that the trees had to go.
Rarey said the city will make the chipped trees available around town as compost, for free.
Brentwood Senior Code Enforcement Office Roberta Portillo-Bienemann said that when the city is aware of hardships its rules could cause residents, it tries to work with them.
Todd meanwhile encouraged other disabled veterans on the post’s Facebook page to reach out to the local VFW if they are struggling. The group works to find volunteers and uses its own relief fund to help veterans when needed, he said.
“This is what happens when a community gets involved — only good things!”