Briefing at Community Council Leads to Committee
Six civic-minded Pacific Palisades residents–Dorothy Bissell, Betty Thrower, Carole Kenney, Ann Fogel, June Payne and Marjorie Friedlander–formed Palisades Beautiful in 1974 in order to facilitate the planting of parkway trees (i.e. in the space between the street and sidewalks) throughout the community.
Mature trees shade homes and cars, reducing the need for air-conditioning. They also reduce the “heat island” effect from roofs and asphalt. According to a UCLA study, city blocks with more than 30 percent tree cover can be up to 5 degrees cooler than those with less tree cover. By lowering summertime heat in residential areas, trees also help reduce energy used by running air conditioners.
Palisades Beautiful founders envisioned each street having a tree specific to that block, which is why jacaranda occupy much of the 700 block of Radcliffe, and the Brisbane Box is prevalent all along Fiske.
In 1986, Grace L. Heintz wrote “Trees of Pacific Palisades,” which detailed designated trees for each block.
Palisades Beautiful continued to supply a free tree (through fundraising) for a resident’s parkway, but the resident had to agree to water and care for the tree. The work was done in tandem with the City’s Urban Forestry Division (UFD).
When the City went through a budget crisis in 2008, funds were cut to the UFD, and regular parkway tree trimming, which according to some arborists should be on a 3- to 5-year cycle for mature trees, became almost nonexistent.
But now the City, realizing the importance of its canopy and flush with discretionary revenue, will restore funding for its urban forest and its care.
At a tree summit on April 26, Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “Trees make our air cleaner, our communities healthier and our neighborhoods more beautiful. We’ll breathe new life into the city — and create 2,000 middle-class jobs — by finally restoring our urban forestry division to pre-recession levels and planting 90,000 trees across Los Angeles over the next three years.”
At the Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting on April 25, Councilman Mike Bonin’s field deputy Lisa Cahill and Urban Forestry Division (UFD) Supervisor Stephen Duprey said they were eager to have parkway trees planted in our town.
According to the UFD website, the department “is responsible for determining street tree species, size, and location in the public right-of-way. For the most part, the planting of street trees is a condition of development and is performed by developers. City tree planting is performed by developers and non-profit organizations,” such as Palisades Beautiful.
Duprey said his job had become difficult in Pacific Palisades because there seemed to be a disagreement between two key parties about which trees should be planted on local parkways.
Should the Palisades elect to stay with a single type of tree on a street or should there be a mixture?
Currently, as the wrangling continues and with no policy adopted, residential home builders are planting trees that may not blend with established parkway trees.
Community Council member Kelly Comras, a well-known landscape architect, suggested that a study should be conducted by professional arborists and presented to the council (which must ultimately approve a parkway tree plan that is forwarded to the UFD).
Although the PPCC has $41,000 in its treasury and has minimal annual expenditures, nobody at the meeting suggested “donating” money to a parkway tree study.
Cahill, who worked with the TreePeople nonprofit before joining Bonin’s office, offered to see if she could find a pilot program that would fund a more thorough urban forest master plan, such as the one performed by the cities of Santa Monica and Culver City. (Visit: smgov.net/uloadedFiles/Portals/UrbanForest/UFMP_adopted_final.pdf.)
Ultimately, PPCC Chair George Wolfberg took on the task of appointing a committee to tackle the issue.
In Appendix 2 of the Street Tree Designations Criteria in the Santa Monic plan, it mentions that species diversity should be considered. “The top 15 species should only be designated in existing healthy stands of trees that are considered to be the right trees for the right place. New species, which thrive in similar climates, should be regularly introduced to increase diversity of the urban forest. When filling vacancies to complete existing monocultures, combinations of two tree types with similar characteristics may be used.”
Laurel Busby wrote in a 2017 article (“Beetle Could Destroy Many Tree Species”) that “Greg McPherson, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service, said the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle could kill as many as 27 million trees in L.A., Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, or about 38 percent of the region’s 71 million trees.”
That would seem to indicate that species diversity along neighborhood streets is important in any study done.
What about the ficus? Planting the tree is now banned within the City of Los Angeles, but the Santa Monica report stated: “The Ficus tree is the environmental workhorse of Santa Monica’s urban forest. It absorbs more pollutants per unit of biomass than most of the other trees in the urban forest. It also shades homes and cars, reducing reliance on artificial climate control. Its wide canopy is loved by many residents. However, it is currently planted in many grow spaces that are too small, encouraging the tree to lift sidewalks and disrupt infrastructure. According to the current tree selection guideline, Ficus microcarpa would not be a suitable designation in many of the places it is currently planted, but the environmental benefits that the tree provides outweigh its potential downsides and it has been designated for streets that were known as ‘ficus streets.’”