The Treesavers organization recently sent an e-mail to members of Santa Monica’s City Council and other City officials to express their concerns about the way the City is going about establishing an Urban Forest Task Force (Tree Commission) and developing an Urban Forest Master Plan.
In their July 24 e-mail, the Treesavers state that the City has already approved a contract with a consultant, Artecho Landscape Architecture, “to develop the City’s Long-Range Urban Forest Master Plan. It called for public input in the form of four public workshops and for the consultant to work with the Urban Forest Task Force.” They are concerned that the consultant, “is already working on updating the current tree inventory” which is a “key component for determining the future Urban Forest Master Plan.” This work has begun without any public input on what the inventory criteria should be, and before the Urban Task Force has been formed.
The e-mail response from the City’s Community Maintenance Department Director, Joan Akins, states that the tree inventory process will begin in August, gives the parameters for the inventory data collection, and notes the inventory will give the needed background information “for the Task Force and public to know prior to developing future plans.”
In an interview with the Mirror, Akins emphasized that the City is interested in having a roundtable with the citizens to “listen to the needs for the master plan.” She also stated that the plan would be developed for 50 years because that is the lifespan of a tree. “The City,” said Akins, “has some of the wrong trees because they need too much water, their roots are coming through sidewalks, causing pedestrian trips and falls, and their branches are falling on cars. The City wants to use different trees to lower its maintenance costs with trees that are more appropriate for our climate and the City’s liability.”
Akins also mentioned that the Task Force members would now be chosen by the City Council rather than having staff interview applicants. Lastly, she admitted it will be “very challenging to meet the concerns of the citizens and the City’s concerns” through an Urban Forest Master Plan.
Treesavers Steering Committee member Susan Hartley told the Mirror that the “City is exaggerating the liability issue” because she did a public record act request to look at the number of liability claims and there weren’t very many. She doesn’t understand why the City worries about the water needs of the trees because she has never seen them being watered. She also questioned the 500-year lifespan for trees cited by the City by pointing out that the lifespan of a Ficus tree is 150 years, and the lifespan of a Bunya-Bunya tree is 1,000 years.
Hartley is “very troubled about Joan Akins’s comment about the need for a 50 year plan to redo SM trees because the trees are wrong. I don’t know where she’s coming from, but that’s such a wrong attitude for any SM staff person to have re our wonderful urban forest. It’s frightening and so out of touch with the residents. Santa Monica is loved for its trees both by Santa Monica residents and visitors. Treesavers has been told over and over that people come to Santa Monica because of its trees. We have a magnificent urban forest that needs to be preserved, protected and enhanced – not destroyed.”
In a related matter, the City decided not to cut down the Bunya-Bunya tree in Douglas Park after the Treesavers collected signatures on a petition and organized a letter writing campaign.