Santa Monica may soon join the growing list of cities with Tree Commissions. The Recreation and Parks Commission voted unanimously at its January 15 meeting to recommend the establishment of a Tree Commission to the City Council.
Randy Little, Public Landscape manager, and Walt Warriner, Community Forester and Public Landscape Superintendent, gave a presentation on the three options for oversight of the urban forest. Option One would be a steering committee, composed of seven members appointed by the Council, that would make recommendations, advise on goals, and have considerable input into the City’s first-ever Master Plan for Urban Forestry. This committee would advise the City on the formation of a permanent Urban Forest Commission.
Option Two would be a three-member subcommittee of Rec and Parks, which would have no input into the Master Plan.
Option Three would be an independent Tree Commission, with seven members. This commission would provide an educational forum on urban forestry issues with monthly public meetings, would act as an advisory to the Community Forester, and would act as an appeals board.
Little added that there is already funding in place for a Steering Committee as part of the development of the Master Plan. A full Commission would involve some cost to the City in hiring extra staff.
Several members of Treesavers, the group founded last year in response to the 2nd and 4th Street ficus tree crisis, commented on the options. To a member, they voiced support for a “free-standing” Tree or Urban Forestry Commission.
“I am very grateful that the staff did the analysis,” said Jerry Rubin of Treesavers. “You can take some time with this but we feel the best option would be a stand-alone commission.”
Marissa Rubin pointed out that many people felt helpless about global warming. “But I really think the Tree Commission will get people together, educate children, and get people to feel responsible for their own fate.”
And Gillian Ware commented that “if there had been a commission last year, the muddle with the [ficus] trees might not have happened.”
In the discussion that followed, Commissioner Neil Carrey sounded a note of caution that they shouldn’t recommend a Tree Commission on the sole basis of avoiding “muddles.” But he did feel that a full Commission was important.
All the Commissioners agreed that a full Tree Commission made more sense than a subcommittee. But there was some concern that formation of a commission would take some time and that if the Master Plan was being formulated at the same time, some kind of interim committee might be needed.
Little and Warriner said that the Master Plan’s first project would be an inventory of all the trees, a task that would take several months, and that at this time, there is no set timetable other than the beginning of hiring consultants around March 2009.
It was agreed that Rec and Parks committee chair Susan Cloke would draft the letter to the Council, recommending the establishment of a full Tree Commission, with attention to sustainability issues, with the ability to have input into the Master Plan, and with liaisons to Rec and Parks and the City’s environmental and sustainability task forces.