As the result of collaboration between interested parties, the City Council last week approved replacement species for four of the10 trees felled from downtown streets last month amidst a public uproar.
Based on concerns that the substitutes would pose similar maintenance issues to their doomed predecessors, the City Council pushed city staff to more thoroughly vet the options, some of which were approved last week.
Typically, public works department staff would consult a landscape and scenic highways resource document for replacements, said assistant city engineer Mark Trestik. That document, first adopted in 1995 and last revised in 2001, is currently being updated and may include changes, Trestik said.
In the interim, City Manager John Pietig established an advisory committee that reached beyond the public works staff to include the community development and fire departments, as well as Greg Vail of Selva Partners, the firm involved in updating the city’s landscaping criteria; James Dockstader, who reviews landscape design for the city; and Beautification Council member and Laguna Nursery owner Ruben Flores.
The Selva team, which included Bob Borthwick and Ann Christoph, recommended the trees and the rest of the committee vetted their selections.
Based on criteria that included fire safety, maintenance, canopy size and ability to withstand wind and salt, the committee selected three Tristania conferta, known as Brisbane box, for installation at 222 Ocean Ave., and a Metrosideros excelsa , known as a New Zealand Christmas tree, to go in at 300 Mermaid St. They also decided that due to crowding by existing trees, no replacement would be needed at 300 Second St. They are still deliberating replacement options for the six other trees.
Despite the expert’s opinions, the selections elicited questions. Mayor Kelly Boyd, former owner of the Marine Room Tavern, noted that a New Zealand Christmas tree planted in front of the bar “hasn’t grown in 25 years.” Dockstader said slow-growth is the trait they intended for a particular location on Mermaid.
Council member Bob Whalen asked if the Brisbane box intended for Ocean Avenue would grow canopies that would eventually obstruct the view of the Main Beach lifeguard tower. They grow more vertically with a less dense canopy than the ficus trees they’ll replace, Dockstader assured him.
In the wake of the backlash over the cut trees, dubbed a “chainsaw massacre” by one resident, Pietig said the successful collaboration on this issue may provide a blueprint for the tree removal process as a whole.
“I think we want to continue having this technical advisory committee help us going forward,” he said, “and I think we’ll be able to bring forward better recommendations as a result of it.”
Flores, reached for comment after the meeting said that he appreciated the chance to meet the people in town making the decisions about “our beloved trees.” What’s more “It was good to see that each faction that was representing their thoughts had some interesting, viable concerns,” and he hopes to have the chance to collaborate on future decisions.