The planting of 75 non-native palm trees at Malibu High School over the Thanksgiving holiday has created a lot of controversy for the school’s neighbors.
In an interview with the Mirror, Susan Tellem, a Malibu Safety Commissioner, stated that she and many of her neighbors were stunned to see the trees, and she further explained that this species of palm tree can easily explode in a fire, and high winds can then cause embers to spread the blaze. Fire departments throughout the state have requested the non-native trees no longer be planted, especially fire-prone areas like Malibu. Also at issue is the 50-foot potential height these trees can grow to. Neighbors of the school are concerned that these mature palm trees will block their ocean views. In response to these complaints, the City of Malibu is currently working on an ordinance to protect ocean views.
Since the trees are non-native, they violate Malibu’s own rules and the School District’s rules on planting trees on school property; also problematic is that fact that palm trees don’t provide nearly as much shade as native oaks or sycamores.
At the December 11 School Board meeting, Interim Superintendent Tim Cueno discussed the issue briefly in response to a question from a board member. He stated that input had been received from the community on the issue at a December 8 Measure BB informational meeting. (Measure BB was the bond measure passed by the voters from the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu to finance the update of the School District’s facilities, based upon the District’s 20-year Master Facilities Plan.)
Cueno also mentioned that parent volunteers planted the trees as part of a five-year plan to beautify Malibu High School. The trees were planted around the parking lot and the perimeter of the school.
Ms. Tellem added that the volunteers and the school had started working with well-known landscape architect Jay Griffith, (a Malibu resident whose property overlooks the school), on removing the inappropriate trees.
Virginia Hyatt, the School District’s Director of Procurement, Contract and Construction Management stated in an interview with the Mirror that no Measure BB or District funds were used to purchase or plant the trees. Hyatt also added, “the “volunteer committee is now working with the School District and the City of Malibu on what to do with the trees.”