The Santa Monica City Council has approved a plan that establishes guidelines for enhancing the city’s urban forest.
The council voted unanimously Dec. 13 to adopt the Urban Forest Master Plan, which is designed to ensure that there is wide-ranging community stewardship and oversight for the care and protection of the city’s trees.
The document is intended to serve as a guide for managing the urban forest resource and puts a process in place that would be used to replace street trees by street segment under strict removal criteria.
The council additionally established a seven-year Urban Forest Task Force and introduced an amended ordinance related to community forest regulations.
The master plan was developed through the efforts of an Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force appointed by the council and involved extensive public input at meetings attended by nearly 1,000 community members over two years.
“We learned that community members care deeply about their streetscapes and the streets that line their neighborhoods,” said Community and Cultural Services Department Director Barbara Stinchfield, who read her last staff report prior to her retirement from city service after 31 years.
City officials learned that the commitment had to be balanced with the need to enhance the environmental benefits of the tree population throughout the community, she said.
The city began to explore the need for a comprehensive plan after a U.S. Forest Service study found that Santa Monica’s forest is aging and in a period of transition, she told the council.
“We knew then that we needed a comprehensive reforestation plan to diversify the age and species of our street trees,” Stinchfield said.
Judy Abdo, chair of the task force, said the process focused on future generations of Santa Monica residents and how they would benefit from the master plan. The plan acknowledges that environmental and urban conditions fluctuate over time and is designed to accommodate future changes, staff said.
Randy Little, public liaison for the task force, said that the city’s urban forest consists of 33,800 trees and more than half of the trees are over 60 years old. Noting that the average lifespan of an urban street tree is 60 years, he said the master plan was needed to provide ongoing management for the resource.
“There is an immediate need for us to plan for the future of the forest,” Little told the council.
The city’s trees provide about 15 percent canopy coverage are home to a variety of urban wildlife and provide significant environmental benefits, he said.
The guiding document is divided into three parts including a background of the urban forest, the guiding principles that address issues such as stewardship of the forest, and the appendices, which define street tree care guidelines.
Under the plan, strict inspection and risk assessment criteria are outlined for the removal of street trees, and a separate process is established for proposed tree relocation and removal in public improvement projects conducted by the city.
Several community members at the meeting spoke in favor of the plan and its goals for enhancing the city’s tree population.
Planning commissioner Richard McKinnon said the plan encourages the community to think about the trees and how the city can be viewed as an arboretum.
“The great thing about this task force is that it pushes us in the right direction for the hearts and minds of this community, and where we need to ultimately end up is in the city as an arboretum,” he said.
Resident Jerry Rubin called the plan’s approval a “special day,” saying that when he pushed for an urban forest task force a few years ago he didn’t imagine that the city would reach the point of having a new master plan.
Some residents called for an urban forest commission rather than the seven-year task force that could provide for an appeals process, but council members said they didn’t believe that a commission separate from staff was necessary.