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The Juniper hedge located to the south side of the tennis courts will be removed by the Public Landscape Division of the Community and Cultural Services Department as part of the Open Space Improvements project along Wilshire Boulevard. The hedge will be replaced with drought tolerant California native plantings in the attempt to improve the City's sustainability program. (photo by Brandon Wise)

REED PARK — Despite protests by environmental activists over the weekend, city workers will proceed today with plans to cut down 45 juniper trees at Christine Reed Park that were left out of a redesign approved by the City Council in 2008.

The design came out of a series of community meetings and surveys held nearly four years ago, which went through a formal design process, series of approvals for concept and schematics and a design development phase.

Beyond the update of playground equipment, the design included landscaping part of the park with native California plants to increase sustainability, and removal of some trees to improve visibility within the park.

The removal came out of community concerns that a transient population sleeps there hidden by the trees, and that patrolling police can’t see into the park, said Community and Cultural Services Director Barbara Stinchfield.

“People were feeling a lack of security as they walked by,” Stinchfield said.

Police records of calls for service to the park between January 2010 and March 2011 show 27 pages of complaints including drinking in public, disturbance of the peace and routine pedestrian stops.

Recently, the health of the trees also came into question.

Last week, a community forester examined the trees again, Stinchfield said.

The trees had been pruned to the point that they had lost structural integrity, and had brown leaves and signs of ill-health, she said.

Three of the 48 trees originally targeted for destruction will be preserved after a landscape architect identified them as healthy enough to be left alone, and that they would fit the design of the park.

“We want trees that have good form, healthy foliage and haven’t been trimmed up,” Stinchfield said.

Members of Santa Monica Treesavers demonstrated against the decision on Saturday, contending that there was no reason to remove the mature trees and that an independent arborist should be brought in to examine them.

The determination that the trees were unhealthy is suspect, said Treesavers activist Cosmo Bua.

“This is a slippery slope,” Bua said. “You start out wanting to remove them for design reasons, and then you decide the trees were ‘in decline’ anyway. It becomes a problem to get all the facts consistent, and to understand what’s going on.”

City Hall also didn’t give interested people enough time to get involved before the trees were taken out, Bua said.

At present, city officials must give two weeks’ notice before taking out trees, which isn’t enough time to contact City Hall and do the appropriate research,” Bua said.

“You wind up not getting too far, and by the time you can do the research involved it’s too late,” Bua said. “Hopefully, we can increase the notice times and widen the notices.”

The notice that was posted didn’t include enough information to take appropriate action.

“They were just referred to as junipers,” Bua said. “There are hundreds of types of junipers.”

Not knowing what specific kind of tree lived in the park made it difficult to figure out what the typical lifespan ought to be and mount a defense of the trees, he said.

The trees were supposed to be cut down Monday, but city officials decided to send the landscape architect out one more time to examine the design. The action resulted in one more tree getting added to the park.

Beyond that, however, only council action can stop the trees from going down this far into the process, Stinchfield said.

Tree removal is a sore topic for Santa Monicans.

Treesavers and other like-minded groups got involved in a seven month court battle to save 54 ficus trees from destruction or transplantation, a fight which they eventually lost in 2008, as well as an argument over the removal of 300 structurally-deficient carob trees.

The series of battles led to the creation of the Urban Forest Master Plan Taskforce, which involves members of the community in the decisions surrounding Santa Monica’s trees.

In the end, it’s all about the forestry friends.

“We Treesavers really love trees and try to save all the mature trees that are getting hacked up in Santa Monica by the government,” Bua said. “It’s difficult when they don’t give you complete information and short notices.”

ashley@smdp.com

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