Ninety-seven mature carob trees that the City of Santa Monica claims are at a high risk for failure are slated to be removed within the next few weeks and later replaced — followed by another 202 trees in the future.

The Santa Monica City Council appropriated $395,000 for the removal and replacement of 299 carob trees — and the specialized pruning of 330 others — at its meeting Thursday, May 22nd

The carob trees slated for removal have decay and are “high-risk trees” that will be replaced, noted community forester Walt Warriner.

“The city has identified these trees as a hazard and risk,” said Elaine Polachek, the city’s Community Maintenance director. “We have an obligation [to remove them].

“Out of the 299 trees that require removal, 97 of those trees present a risk of significant failure and need to be removed immediately.”

But at a community meeting on May 7th, city staff agreed to reassess the other 202 carob trees identified for removal and determine whether a phased removal plan for the trees is feasible, Polachek said.

Staff will come back to the council once the reassessment is complete with recommendations for a removal plan.

“The reassessment on these trees is very welcome and helps me a lot in making a decision tonight,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown at the meeting.

Neighbors who were initially angry about the plan were also pleased with the city’s decision to reassess the 202 carob trees.

“I think they’re making honest efforts to listen to the community,” said Shannon Daley, who was upset with the city’s original plan that she said would immediately decimate her street. “I want to give the city some credit for listening to us and pausing in their process. I hope they actually follow through in the reevaluation of the 202 trees and that it is done fairly.”

Resident Brian Varnum agreed.

“It’s a good effort by the city to reach out to the residents and listen to our concerns and the plan to reevaluate the 202 carob trees is appropriate and the right thing to do,” he said.

In the meantime, Polachek says city staff will continue a community outreach process — going to neighborhood groups with presentations on carob trees and the city’s Community Forest Renewal Program.

The City Council’s move to appropriate funds for the removal, replacement and pruning of hundreds of carob trees comes less than a week after the city removed 23 ficus trees from Second and Fourth Streets as part of an $8.2-million streetscape improvement project.

“But this is very different from the removal of the downtown ficus trees,” said McKeown, who was the sole councilmember against the project. “This isn’t the case of us using outside money under time pressure.

“This is something we’re going to have to pay for ourselves and we have thought this through. Paying it out of the general fund is something we have to do because a significant number of these trees are now old and failing and in trouble.”

McKeown did note that it was important that the city work with the neighborhoods, as some will be deeply affected by the removal of the carob trees, particularly some areas of Tenth Street, 12th Street and Lincoln Boulevard.

“Because the impact is so concentrated, will it be possible on those streets to replace [the carob trees] with more mature specimens so the impact isn’t quite so stark?” McKeown asked city staff.

Warriner said the city could put in more mature specimens on certain streets where there are wide parkways that can accommodate them, but on some streets, like Ocean Park Boulevard — where there is a heavy concentration of carob trees — it’s not possible because there is not a wide parkway that could accommodate the root balls of larger specimens.

This carob tree issue recently came to light after the city — which has over 33,000 trees in its canopy — saw dozens of carob tree limb and tree failures over the past five years, Warriner said.

As a result of those failures, and as part of the Community Forest Renewal Program, a study was conducted starting in October with HortScience — an independent consulting arborist — of mature carob trees throughout the city to determine their health, viability and any risk that could be associated with their declining condition.

The study focused on 630 mature and over-mature carob trees that showed signs of decline and/ or a risk potential that could present a liability implication for the city, said Warriner.

“The study brought to light the magnitude of the problem,” Warriner said.

Additionally, he noted that Santa Monica’s trees are aging and many are reaching the end of their life span.

Part of good urban forestry management is planting new trees so canopy will exist in the future, Warriner said.

The species that will replace the carob trees have not yet been determined.

The estimated cost of the removal of the trees is $230,000. Specialized pruning is expected to cost $50,000 and the tree replacements will be approximately $115,000.

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