Los Angeles County officials tout Marina del Rey, in the words of Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe, as “the crown jewel” of the county. And, over the last year, they have been engaged in a series of public enhancement initiatives designed to improve traffic flow and aesthetics on one of the community’s most traveled thoroughfares.
Perhaps one of the most visible and important to many denizens of the Marina will be a tree removal project affiliated with traffic improvements on Admiralty Way that county officials hope will put a shine on their jewel.
The county Public Works Department will begin removing trees in the median from Fiji Way to Via Marina along Admiralty in mid December, as well as from Yvonne Burke Park. All 77 trees, which include ficus, eucalyptus and bottlebrush, will be replaced with approximately 81 native trees, which not only will be easier to maintain but will also give the area an improved visual streetscape, says Carol Baker, spokeswoman for the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
There are 16 ongoing and future projects scheduled to kick off in the Marina. Some will begin early next year and four are slated to begin in 2014.
“There’s really been an effort to coordinate all of these projects,” said Cheryl Burnett, Knabe’s communications deputy. “One of the pieces that we’ve seen in looking at improving the Marina is the issues of trees.”
The majority of the existing trees are ficus trees that were planted when the man-made harbor and the surrounding residential and commercial areas of the community were built in the 1960s. Ficus trees have long roots that have extended beyond their immediate bed and have caused problems associated with cracked pavement, broken sidewalks and damage to medians. In Los Angeles, the city Department of Public Works is grappling with the same problems of ficus tree roots.
“In the interest of having planning and coordination, we’re looking at having a palate of trees for the whole Marina to replace the ficus trees,” said Burnett. “We want visitors and neighbors to expect it.”
Following the removal of the ficus trees, the county plans to initiate construction work on Admiralty that will include traffic turn pocket modifications, traffic signal upgrades, new pavement, signing and swiping, median reconfiguration and landscape replacement, and street light relocation.
“We’re seeing a lot of damage because of the (ficus trees’) root system to our infrastructure,” Baker said, adding all of the construction work has been approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Jeanne Kuntz, a Mar Vista resident, has not planted the large trees at her home for the reasons that Baker noted.
“As a homeowner I have avoided ficus, despite their ease of maintenance and abundant green foliage, having been warned that the roots would wreak havoc on our sewage system,” said Kuntz, co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee. “That alone is adequate reason to replace them with a different horticultural option.”
In their place, the county plans to bring in the Bronze Loquat and the marina strawberry tree, both native trees.
The trees will be cut down but their stumps will remain in place at least until the spring, largely due to the sequencing of the infrastructure work that will be done in the area. Between the end of the year and the middle to the end of spring, Public Works will be installing new irrigation lines and traffic turn modification work will take place.
Another factor is the nesting and breeding season of some species of birds that build their nests in the trees, which occurs between January and September.
According to a conservation and management plan presented by Daniel Cooper of Cooper Ecological Monitoring to the county’s Design Control Board in 2010, eucalyptus and ficus trees along Admiralty have been home to two to three species of birds for several years.
The nearby Oxford Basin is considered an important foraging area for these birds.
Tree removal is a sensitive subject to many Westsiders. During the public viewing earlier this month of the space shuttle Endeavor through neighboring Westchester, residents and neighborhood leaders there and in Inglewood complained about the removal of dozens of trees and threatened to sue over the planned removal of approximately 125 trees. The threat of legal action from Los Angeles communities prompted the California Science Center, where the decommissioned space shuttle is now housed, to agree to replace every lost tree with four new ones.
And in 2008, Treesavers, a group of Santa Monica residents dedicated to saving trees, filed a legal action against Santa Monica city officials for their plan to remove 54 ficus trees from the downtown area. The lawsuit eventually failed when a state appeals court ruled that the city could relocate some of the trees and demolish the others, which officials said were diseased.
The Marina del Rey project is estimated to cost approximately $40 million, according to Bob Spencer of the county Public Works Department.
Baker said not removing the aging trees can have a deleterious effect on the Marina’s infrastructure and would hamper efforts to improve its roads and curbs.
“We would have to continue to patch the damage that their roots do to the sidewalks and to the streets, so it’s also a cost and a safety issue,” she said.
Along the median with the native trees, coral aloe, gypsum century plant, purple hearts and canyon Prince Wild Rye will be planted as well as marina strawberry trees.
Baker added that there is an environmental component that conservationists should consider as well with the new trees.
“There’s something to be said for those who are concerned about the environment that these new trees will be drought tolerant, and they will be a lot easier to maintain,” she said.
Pamela Manning of Public Works said a new drip irrigation system will be installed when the native trees are planted.
Kuntz, who is also one of the principal organizers of the popular Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, gave kudos to the county for considering the native trees, which she says constitutes a more environmentally friendly choice.
“Perhaps more importantly, we now realize that native plantings provide food for local species and, as such, are the most appropriate choice. Native plantings are the equivalent of setting out a dish of food for your pet,” she said. “I applaud the community of Marina del Rey for their concern and humanitarian approach to providing sustenance for local wildlife.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, Public Works will seek environmental approval for the project before the Board of Supervisors. In accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, the project is required to undergo an environmental analysis and a mitigated negative declaration is being recommended.