Historical Society Presents Trees; Community Council Passes Resolution to Resume Planting Street Trees; Highlands Residents Worry about Trees and Fires

“To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, to live as a people, we must have trees.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

Founder’s Oak is a islet of oak trees across from Pierson Playhouse where Pacific Palisades was founded.  It is maintained by the Pacific Palisades Historical Society.

Palisades Tree Motion Passed by Community Council

For a few years, there was an ongoing political fight in Pacific Palisades about parkway trees. One faction supported that if a parkway tree needed to be replaced, it should be the same tree species. For example, if a magnolia died, it should be replaced by a magnolia.

A second faction supported diversity on a parkway. For example, if a certain species died, such as a magnolia, it could be replaced by any city-approved tree.

The fight turned into a Hatfield-McCoy standoff, which meant that no new trees were being planted in Pacific Palisades parkways. L.A. City refused to be drawn into the feud.

People could still call Bureau of Street Services Urban Forestry to report trees being cut down by developers, who had failed to apply for a tree-cutting permit (213-847-3077 or visit streetsla.lacity.org/investigation-enforcement-division).

If contractors/developers/residents had not received permission, they were fined, and projects could be stopped, but nothing new was being planted by the City.

Finally, this past spring, the Pacific Palisades Community Council appointed David Card as chairperson of what became the Palisades Forestry Committee. The committee held numerous meetings and researched Santa Monica’s and Culver City’s tree policies. They drafted a report and presented it to the PPCC on October 24 (http://pacpalicc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Resolution-re-Street-Tree-Selections.pdf).

The proposal adopted by the PPCC emphasizes “The Right Tree in the Right Place.” That means tree selection will be determined by the width of the parkway, the water requirements, species diversity, aesthetics and neighborhood character, canopy size, land use and traffic considerations and disease resistance and susceptibility.

Card told the PPCC board, “This is a basic guideline as an aspirational statement; this is a step to work with the City, hand in hand, to plant more trees.”

Urban Forestry Superintendent Stephen Du Prey said that the motion would “undo the log jam that’s been in place many years.”  He has been serving as the committee’s liaison with the City.

The motion passed and a letter was sent to the City on November 4, 2019.


Randy Young spoke about the history of trees in the Palisades.

Resident, past Palisades Historical Society president and author Randy Young talked about “Palisades Trees” on November 7 at the Pierson Playhouse. The room was packed as Young presented vintage photos of the town’s founding, its growth and historical information.

The ever entertaining Young told the audience, “My mom thought the soul of God was in trees.” He had showed the slides to the Palisades Forestry Committee months earlier because “I wanted them to understand the historic trees – in our town.”

And then he warned that one of his character flaws was “I don’t have an editor between my mouth and brain,” which resulted in some very funny, albeit politically incorrect quips that brought laughter during the evening.

Young’s early slides showed that there were no trees in the area (Pacific Palisades), with the exception of those near the riparian zones with springs. Abbott Kinney bought in non-native trees (numerous species of eucalypti) around 1887, establishing a forestry station in Rustic Canyon.

Those who have driven their children to Paul Revere Middle School have also noticed a line of eucalyptus on the road between Allenford and Capri. “They used to have polo matches below, and people would line up along Sunset to watch for free,” Young said, “So the [polo people] planted trees.”

Palm trees are also not native to Los Angeles, but Swarthmore is lined with them from Antioch to Via de las Olas, which started about 1927.

Photo: Courtesy Huntington LIbrary

Young showed slides of Bernheimer’s Oriental Gardens, which was a popular tourist destination that opened in 1927 along Sunset Boulevard, just off Marquez Avenue. The gardens were lost, first to anti-Japanese public sentiment during WWII and later to landslides. Some of the palm trees from Bernheimer’s were planted on Jacon Way.

When Will Rogers moved to Pacific Palisades, he brought in full-sized trees and explained his reasoning: “In a movie you don’t bring small trees and let them grow.”

Young noted that a small lake used to exist where Caruso’s Palisades Village green space is located. It was eventually filled in with all sorts of branches and trash before it was covered over by a parking lot. That dirt is now in Potrero.

Young said that the Olmsted Brothers, who designed the layout for Pacific Palisades in 1922 (their father designed Central Park), adapted street patterns to the contours of the land, which maximized views, and incorporated landscaping.  In many neighborhoods, a little islet of trees and plants is found, surrounded by houses.

Young showed photos of the historic Business Block building and the gas station across the street. The station and land was eventually purchased by a group of residents and turned into the Village Green. That transformation returned the area back to the Olmsted Brothers’ vision.

(Editor’s note: One can read more about the early Pacific Palisades by visiting: www.preservation.lacity.org/files/Brentwood%20Pacific%20Palisades%20Report%20%282%29.pdf)

During Randy Young’s talk, he showed many examples of how people worked with trees, such as putting the fence around the tree, instead of cutting it down.


The Palisades Highlands have had three brush fires in the past month. The most recent, on Palisades Drive, initially shut down traffic entirely. In the ensuing days, motorists were restricted from a four-lane road to one lane of traffic.

Circling the News received the following October 9 email: “The Presidents Council has convinced many of the HOAs up here to cut down most of the trees and put mulch all over the place.”

At an Optimist Club meeting, a Highlands resident claimed that before the development was built there were no trees and wondered about the wisdom of having them.

Circling the News contacted David Card, the Palisades Forestry Committee chair and asked, “If you have highly flammable trees (pines and eucalyptus)  in a very high fire severity zone, can that tree be cut down and replaced with one that is not so flammable?”

He responded, speaking as a private citizen, “Are they pines at all? What genus and species?  Some Pinus species are more fire safe or fire susceptible than others.

“All trees can burn in a fire. Some recent California wildfires burned houses but not the trees next to them,” Card said. “How far from structures are the trees? From the native coastal brush?

“Has anyone asked the city to prune the pines? Or for a city permit to allow homeowners associations or individual residents to prune the pines?  What do the associations say?

“People and God/Nature start fires,” Card continued. “Trees don’t. Trees aren’t ‘bad’ actors that need to be removed.

“Cutting down trees should not be the impulsive ‘solution’ to ease our fear of fires,” Card said. “And that won’t solve or even reduce the risk of wildfires, when we build and choose to live in and next to the wilderness.”

Urban Forestry Superintendent Stephen Du Prey was asked the same question in a November 6 email, but has not yet responded. He was also asked if the City was recommending specific trees for high fire zones.

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2 Responses to Historical Society Presents Trees; Community Council Passes Resolution to Resume Planting Street Trees; Highlands Residents Worry about Trees and Fires

  1. Diane Bleak says:

    To read that the crew at Caruso mall had SAWED off tree limbs only to NAIL them back onto the tree so it is perfect made me wonder what has happened to society. What are we teaching? Learning how to shop ? Learning that perfection is the goal in beauty?
    And…..it’s a “Christmas Tree” that must meet “beauty guidelines”….YUCK.
    May I please have my Charlie Brown tree back. Geez….

  2. Paula H Deats says:

    This may be an opportunity to ask if the developers of the Highlands truly got all the permissions needed (one way or another!) to build a vast development along a dead end road in a brushy canyon that has never burned? Definition of a fire trap. I kept thinking the road would be continued and would “punch through” to the valley, in some meager form, at least. I also remember it not being visible as a development at all, for years. “Palisades Drive” (as yet unnamed) was blocked off at Sunset; I first saw it hiking in hills that overlooked Santa Ynez canyon. It was Sci Fi.

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