Imagine a city known for its trees. One with every tree well filled and every tree cared for. Trees that provide habitat for the birds of the Pacific Flyway, clean the air through their own natural processes, infiltrate storm water to protect the Bay, offer shelter, provide shade, establish a sense of place, and are intrinsically beautiful.
That’s what the DRAFT Urban Forest Master Plan (the Plan) envisions. The Plan, or a modified version of it, is expected to be adopted at the City Council meeting of Dec. 13, 2011. The Plan has been two years in the making, the product of the Urban Forest Task Force and an extensive public process.
The City’s urban forest started with the beginning of the City, with Arcadia Bandini’s gift of Palisades Park. Trees were planted as the City grew. The City Beautification Program of the 1950s created a citywide tree-planting plan and focused on tree planting. The Urban Forest Master Plan is a continuation of the work of all the people who gave the City our existing public trees.
The “right tree in the right place” is the motto of the Urban Forest Task Force. That can be as simple as making sure the tree well is the right size for the tree to reach its full growth, provide shade, and maybe even produce fruit.
Santa Monicans attended hearings and listed goals and concerns regarding “aesthetics, sustainability, water conservation, species diversity, the use of native trees, enhancing a walkable City, enhancing public transportation stops, expanding parkways, tree maintenance, planting fruit trees and creating public orchards.” They cited the environmental and aesthetic benefits of trees and stated an overall preference for large canopy, evergreen, flowering trees.
Criteria for tree selection were established by the Task Force and include measuring each tree for the environmental benefits of improving air quality, protecting the Santa Monica Bay through the infiltration of storm water, providing shade for people walking and bicycling, and offering habitat.
Criteria can be complex and are sometimes competing. One criterion is the use of native trees because they grow well and provide habitat. Another criterion is the protection of iconic trees – trees that provide identity and character for a neighborhood.
An example of the iconic function of trees can be seen on Georgina, Margarita and 19th Streets with rows of palms that are integral to the history of the neighborhoods. The trees create a sense of place and are highly valued by the residents of those streets.
Final review before City Council action on the Plan began with The Landmarks Commission meeting of Oct. 10, 2011. The Commission expressed concern, in the words of Commissioner Bach “that the Plan establish clear criteria for the enhancement and protection of areas with trees having historic and cultural significance.” The Commissioners also discussed the importance of the right street tree for each Historic District and recommended Historic District species selection should express the historic era of the District.
The next step is the meeting of the Task Force on the Environment on Oct. 17. Expect them to review the environmental benefits and goals of the plan in the context of the Santa Monica Bay Watershed, the essential benefit of using tree wells as an opportunity to: infiltrate storm water and intercept and store rainfall thereby keeping pollutants out of the Santa Monica Bay and protecting marine life; reduce soil erosion; and provide habitat, especially for the birds on the Pacific Flyway which include the Northern Mocking Bird, Anna’s Hummingbird, the House Finch, and the Snowy Plover.
The final public hearing, before going to Council in December, will be at the Recreation and Parks Commission on Oct. 20. Look to the Commission for a review of tree selection criteria and tree species diversity, process and criteria for determining tree selection and tree removal, inclusion of specimen trees in the public landscape, trees and public health, tree canopy for protection of walkers, joggers and cyclists, and the implementation of freeway tree planting – a “freeway forest.”
“There are currently 33,800 public trees of 250 different species in Santa Monica,” said Randy Little, Public Landscape Manager for the City of Santa Monica. “We plan to plant 1700 new trees by June of 2013. Costs can vary widely, but the average cost for a new tree to be planted is about $400.00 and that includes the removal of the dead and/or diseased tree that is to be replaced.”
It is a practical and thorough plan. It sets the base for the ongoing oversight of the Urban Forest and calls for “exemplary stewardship of the forest from all who live and work here.”
It is the community of Santa Monica and their willingness to be the stewards of the forest that will determine the success of the urban forest and give us now, and Santa Monicans to come, the right tree in the right place at the right time.
What Say You?