Approximately 300 mature carob trees that the City of Santa Monica claims are declining will soon be removed and later replaced throughout the city.

This comes in the midst of the highly contentious debate about the city’s plan to remove dozens of mature ficus trees along Second and Fourth Streets as part of an $8.2 million streetscape improvement project.

City staff was expected to go before City Council Tuesday, April 22nd, to ask for the appropriation of approximately $400,000 for the removal and replacement of the 300 carob trees and the specialized pruning of an additional 330 — but because of a jam-packed agenda, the item was postponed and will not go before the council until May 13th.

Each of the 300 carob trees slated for removal have decay and are “high-risk trees” that will be replaced, said 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].”

Warriner agreed.

“If you have a high-risk tree, it’s incumbent on us [the city] to remove the tree for public safety,” he said.

The issue came to light after the city — which has over 33,000 trees in its canopy — saw dozens of carob 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.

The results indicate that out of the 300 trees the city says require removal, 98 pose a “significant risk of failure.” Those trees will be removed first, sometime in May, Warriner said.

Approximately 200 other carob trees — the 12th-most-prevalent species in the city’s tree inventory — require removal and 330 require specialized pruning that will eliminate decayed limbs and correct leaning or off-balanced canopies, Warriner said.

Several concerned neighbors and residents showed up for a press conference held at noon April 22nd at the corner of 12th Street and Montana Avenue with Warriner and Polachek, where the two explained the need for the removal of the carob trees and answered questions.

“I’m disgusted with the city,” said concerned neighbor Brian Varnum about the city’s plan to remove the 300 carob trees.

Resident Shannon Daley agreed.

“This is absurd,” she said. “This is going to decimate our streets. By June, my street will be decimated. I feel completely disenfranchised. It’s a done-decision.”

Daley continued, “We don’t dispute that there are some dangerous trees. We just don’t trust the city that it’s 300 trees.”

Daley says the city hasn’t given “any sufficient data for us to have confidence in their judgment that these trees are of imminent danger. They haven’t provided us with enough information.”

Santa Monica activist and attorney Susan Hartley wondered why the city hadn’t been more “proactive, so we don’t have massive tree failures.”

Hartley, like others, believes the carob trees have been neglected for years and she asked why preventative maintenance hadn’t been done.

Warriner denied the trees had been neglected and said that problems, like tree decay, develop over long periods of time.

He also acknowledged that the magnitude of the problem wasn’t realized until after the carob tree study was conducted — but now the city is addressing the issue.

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.

“It’s incumbent on us to make sure we have trees for the next generation,” he said.

As part of the project, a public outreach and community education component is planned — with presentations to city commissions and community organizations — to help select the species of trees that will replace the carobs, Warriner said.

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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