Tree Destruction at the Lumberyard
Village Laguna’s March 4, 2016, Letter to City Council and News:
The Board of Village Laguna is stunned with the destruction of candidate heritage trees at the Lumberyard on Friday. These two monumental trees are the last remaining of the grove of blue gum Eucalyptus planted ca. 1879 by homesteaders Henry and George Rogers. These trees are companion trees to the pepper tree in front of City Hall also planted by the Rogers. Forest Avenue was named for the forest that was created by the Eucalyptus planting.
The public had no notice of this planned removal except for an email received late Thursday afternoon thanks to one councilmember forwarding a notice from Ann Larson, assistant director of community development. In that memo staff informed the Council that staff had decided to authorize the removal of the trees because an arborist report and peer review said they should be removed “immediately.”
We are grateful that Mayor Dicterow and Mayor Pro Tem Iseman intervened at mid-day on Friday, and that Acting City Manager Christa Johnson persuaded the tree removal workers to stop. This leaves only one denuded and severely disfigured tree, where the day before there were two beautifully structured landmark trees.
The trees were required to be preserved in the permit process that created the Lumberyard shopping complex. Any change to that condition of approval should be subject to Planning Commission review in a publicly noticed meeting. Staff determined not to require such a hearing, taking the word of the arborists that there was a public safety issue.
However, we do not believe the staff applied due diligence to making this decision:
- The report that staff relied on made only general statements about decay compromising the structure of trees of this type and age. Those statements may apply to some trees, but those conditions cannot be applied to specific trees without testing. The arborist did not do any such tests. During the process of cutting down the trees it became clear that there was no decay in either tree. Testing would have addressed the fear that decay was a factor.
- We ask that the lone remnant tree be allowed a chance to regrow. For now it will be a reminder of how not to treat our treasured trees. It can recover and continue to be a living and growing memento of the beauty and heritage of our town.
- We recommend instituting clear policies on the processing of tree removal requests, policies that ask first, “How can we preserve trees?” and involve public review prior to staff decisions. It is not enough to accept this loss and say, “This will never happen again.” Because it will happen again unless strong measures are taken.
Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
*The arborists were very concerned about the brick planter that encloses the southerly tree. They thought the planter had destabilized or weakened the tree. What they did not know is that the planter and the tree have been in place as we see them now for 40 years. Whatever damage the planter may have done to the tree occurred 40 years ago and clearly the tree has recovered from that. The deep alluvial soils in the downtown coupled with a high water table present a very favorable situation for trees. Roots can easily go deep through the soil, and because they find water at those lower levels there is no need for trees to send roots out under the pavement and planter searching for water. These factors are unusual and should have been considered in this evaluation.