The Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force held the first of a series of community meetings on April 28 to obtain input on its master plan for Santa Monica.
The purpose of the Task Force, explained City Forester Walt Wariner, was “to design the urban forest for the future. We have an urban forest that is aging—and we need to maintain it with a diverse canopy of trees.”
According to Wariner’s report on the state of the urban forest, the overall condition of the forest is good, but many trees have from two to five years left. “Our first goal is the removal and replacement of [these] trees,” said Wariner.
Some species are at risk. These include ficuses, which can develop a canker; date palms, which are prone to a fungus; and carobs, which can develop decay and fungus. Some trees have been planted in places that are not appropriate for their growth or health.
Landscape architect Pamela Palmer reviewed the history of the planting of trees in Santa Monica, and talked about “micro-climates.” Five distinct micro-climate zones exist in the city and different trees thrive in each zone. The event then broke up into four groups, with facilitators from City departments taking notes on the comments from community members.
People were eager to defend the trees they loved and equally eager to complain about trees that seemed to be nuisances. These were sometimes the same trees. Ficuses were defended for their lush canopies and for being, as City Landscape Manager Randy Little put it, “environmental workhorses” that help to keep the air clean. But ficuses are also a problem because of their deep root growth.
“While [focuses] provide shade, they also displace the sidewalk,” said Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek. She pointed out that budget constraints are preventing the City from doing the needed maintenance on the ficuses, while the accidents that occur from people tripping on the roots make the trees a liability.
“But I love the ficuses!” she added.
Also mentioned were jacarandas, much loved for their colorful blooms, but occasionally frustrating because the fallen blossoms are sticky to walk (or drive) on. Palm trees likewise, were important to many people because “they are so Southern California,” but their maintenance is difficult if the trees are tall, the dry fronds fall to the ground and are messy, and sometimes rats live in the tree tops.
All in all, the groups enjoyed more than a half hour of lively discussion. All notes taken from the breakout groups will be added to notes from the future meetings and used to formulate the plan.
Wariner anticipates that the process of completing the Master Plan will take about a year. “The goal is to take it to the City Council in January 2011. After taking it to all the boards and commissions, we expect a rough draft in August of this year.”
Two more community meetings are scheduled for May 15 at 10 a.m. and on June 6 in the afternoon, locations to be determined.
An online survey is also available for community members to give feedback at www.surveymonkey.com.
Mirror Contributing Writerlynne@smmirror.com