With so much controversy about trees in Santa Monica, a meeting of community members, tree experts, and City officials seemed like a good idea. The public meeting held Wednesday, May 7, with City Manager Lamont Ewell, City Forester Walt Warriner, and a panel of urban forestry experts did provide important information about the City’s project to remove a number of carob trees throughout Santa Monica.
But many tree activists who attended the meeting seemed frustrated by the process, feeling that their input was still excluded.
Ewell began by saying, “Tonight is very important in terms of helping us to move forward.” A study of 600 carob trees conducted last fall shows 300 trees at risk, with 98 trees in a high-risk category. The City must remove the high-risk trees, but may take another look at the trees with somewhat lower risk assessments.
Warriner presented some facts about trees in Santa Monica. Past surveys showed the City’s forest dominated by the ten most popular species, such as the Mexican fan palm, the ficus, the date palm, and the carob. In the most recent survey, the carob had fallen out of the top ten species. Santa Monica, according to Warriner, does not have enough species diversity among its trees, as not many new trees have been planted.
“Forty percent of the forest is between 25 and 40 years old,” said Warriner. The oldest carob trees, he added, are 70 years old, and 60 failures of carobs have been recorded over the last few years.
Warriner spoke of “tree selection committees” which will consist of experts, City officials, and community members who will select appropriate species to replace the failing trees.
Dr. Jim Clark, a prominent urban forester and author, who performed the City’s carob survey, explained his rating system for trees (ranging from 0 for a dead tree to 5 for excellent condition). He showed slides demonstrating why a tree that looks sound and has a good “crown” of leaves may still be a failure. One tree was leaning over, one had a split (“co-dominant”) trunk that had cracked, one tree’s roots were pulling away from the sidewalk, and several trees bore various fungi or wounds.
Clark’s risk assessment for the carobs included such factors as their overall failure potential, the size of the damaged part of the tree, and the “target” area where the tree might fall.
The floor was then opened to questions, many of which spread out, like branches, to other questions.
Treesavers attorney Tom Nitti asked Dr. Clark if, during his survey, he had noticed evidence of poor pruning practices. “I didn’t see much evidence,” Clark replied. “As a rule, the crowns are less problematical than the trunks.”
Citizens expressed concern over the over-watering of trees, which can be damaging to the roots. Warriner said that the City is trying to educate people about the problem of over-watering.
Many members of Treesavers, the group that has been trying to save the ficus trees on 2nd and 4th Streets, spoke out against the idea of destroying trees rather than finding ways to save them. Some people spoke angrily about the lack of “democratic process,” and some accused the City of neglecting trees and then destroying them.
Jerry Rubin of Treesavers reiterated his wish for a “win-win” solution for tree issues and urged the City to establish a Tree Commission. He asked Warriner if he would approve of such a commission. Warriner replied: “It’s a City Council decision, but if they decide to have a Tree Commission, I will work with it.”
In response to suggestions of a “phased removal” of trees, prioritizing the most risky, Ewell conceded that this approach might be taken. “It might be possible to take a second look at those 200 trees [in the lower risk category],” he said, “but safety to the public is still an issue.”