DOUGLAS PARK — The Santa Monica Community Maintenance Department is conferring this week to find an alternative to the removal of one of the tallest trees here.
The decision comes in response to a surge in public outrage against the proposed tree removal.
The tree, an Australian bunya bunya, is known for dropping heavy, bowling ball-sized pine cones during the months of September and October. City staff announced in a public notice Aug. 4 that they planned to remove the tree in concern for public safety and replace it with an Afghan pine.
Upon hearing this, members of the community group Treesavers drafted a petition, canvassing Douglas Park for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday to collect signatures in support of saving the tree. Their argument centered around finding a less drastic measure to keep Santa Monicans safe from the falling pine cones.
“We don’t see why they have to be killing this tree,” said Susan Hartley, co-founder of Treesavers. “There are other, more economic measures to protecting anybody when the pine cones drop — like fencing it off.”
Hartley and other protesters submitted the signatures to City Hall and received word early Monday morning that the situation would be reviewed.
In a notice sent Monday afternoon, Walt Warriner, community forest & public landscape superintendent, announced that the Public Landscape Division would begin to explore alternative options that would allow for the retention of the tree.
Efforts, Warriner said, would include monitoring cone development and de-coning the tree on a bi-monthly schedule.
“We figure the city (was) making an issue over this tree because they don’t want a lawsuit in case somebody gets hit with a pine cone,” said Herb Silverstein a community tree activist.
Frequent park visitors were surprised to learn that city officials were willing to remove the tree without exploring other options.
“Why now after 30 years? Just take off the pine cones,” said Jane Walker, a Santa Monica resident who often eats lunch in Douglas Park. “I don’t mind if my tax dollars go to taking off those pine cones so this tree can stay.”
Santa Monica resident and mother Erin Eastland said she has noticed large pine cones on the ground and is sometimes concerned about them falling on her young child.
“We often go on walks around here and there are huge pine cones that fall,” she said. “I keep her covered because they are heavy.”
But while Eastland wants the park to be safe for children, she believes cutting the tree down isn’t the only option.
“Maybe they could rope the area off during falling season. It seems a little drastic to tear it down, a little aggressive,” she said.
In his public notice, Warriner thanked the community for their immediate response to his posting about the bunya bunya tree.
“Posting tree removal notices is designed to obtain public comment on recommended tree removals,” he wrote. “We thank everyone for their comments and good ideas and we will continue to take them under advisement as we explore all the options.”
For Walker, keeping the tree means a continuation of her weekly lunches beneath its shade.
“It’s fabulous and it needs to stay,” she said.