Last week, Georgina and Marguerita residents told the City Council that City Hall was barking up the wrong tree.

Neighbors had received flyers from City Hall advising that the iconic, 100-year-old Canary Island Palm trees that line their streets between Ocean Avenue and 14th Street would be supplemented with sycamore trees.

Residents told City Council they didn’t want any other kinds of trees visually interfering with the majestic palms that defined their streets.

I talked to Barbara Stinchfield, director of Community and Cultural Services who now oversees the city’s urban forest.

“The flyer stated that sites adjacent to their homes were selected for new sycamore trees because of the need for increased canopy cover on their street. The proposed planting of the sycamores did not include taking out any palms,” she said.

Stinchfield told me there’s a need to add a second tree species to mono-species streets like Marguerita and Georgina to fill in, act as a replacement for trees that are removed and to help prevent the spread of an incurable fungus that’s always fatal to giant palms.

She said that after the flyer was distributed, she met with some of the neighbors last month and informed them planting would be suspended and sycamores would be removed from the draft “street tree species list.”

Stinchfield, the Urban Forest Management Plan Task Force (UFMPTF) and city arborists are working on selecting both alternative and replacement trees for the list. She assured me that the selection process will be well vetted “in open public workshops to be held in May and June. Everybody will have a chance to participate.”

What about the existing palms on Marguerita and Georgina? According to Stinchfield, “On Georgina, there are currently 12 declining palms of which two were removed in 2010. No replacement trees were planted. Marguerita currently has 32 declining palms with no removals since the mid-1990s.”

Since replacement palms can also acquire the fungus, alternate species are needed.

Even though Stinchfield and members of the UMPTF had met with Marguerita and Georgina residents, a handful of neighbors appeared at council last week complaining that their majestic palms would not have exclusivity on their streets under City Hall’s plans.

They predicted declines in property values if other tree species were added and therefore vowed political retaliation against future school parcel tax ballot measures. Ouch! These folks play hardball.

There’s only one problem. There may not be a choice. Planting more of the current species of palm could exacerbate the spread of the fungus. The only alternative to planting non-palm species may be no trees at all.

City Hall’s notification process is frequently criticized. The timing of this flyer was poor she told me.

“There was a communication error,” she said. “Planning got ahead of public opinion.”

In this case, it may be these residents — many of them veterans of the “hedge wars” seven years ago — are skeptical of proposed changes to their streets and distrust City Hall. They might have felt it would be a good idea to acquire some political clout as a back-up in case the planning process doesn’t suit their fancy.

Pico Veggie Garden is back

Last May 24, I wrote about an unused landscape planter in the Farmers’ Market area of Virginia Park. As a community project, farmers and Pico market folks planted vegetables and herbs in the empty planter.

Although the spontaneous community garden was a very cool idea, had an educational component and neighborhood support, a City Hall grinch spotted the veggies and said, “Oh No! That can’t happen.”

The Community Maintenance Department quickly dispatched groundskeepers to obliterate the offending veggies. Nondescript bushes took their place.

Recently, someone put a bug in Mayor Richard Bloom’s ear about “the little garden that was” and he got involved. City Hall bureaucrats backed down and wisely decided to surrender the planter to the farmers.

The decorative bushes were removed. New lettuce, cilantro, corn, zucchini and other herbs and vegetables were planted by market staff. The planter is “blooming” again. Hurrah!

Trees for 20th and Cloverfield — at last

Speaking of planting street trees, there’s a streetscape proposal for new landscaping on 20th Street and Cloverfield Boulevard in the Pico Neighborhood that’s been waiting for implementation for a dozen years.

This proposal, approved by Pico neighbors and City Council, would bring new shade trees and hardscaping to sidewalks and parkways on 20th and Cloverfield between Pico Boulevard and the I-10 freeway. There’s good news in the form of a timetable to finally complete the work.

City engineer Lee Swain e-mailed: “The design is scheduled to be completed in the next month or so and submitted for plan check review and final approval. The bid documents will be prepared and the project is anticipated to be advertised in July with council approval for an award of a construction contract in September. A construction start date is anticipated in October 2011 with completion of construction anticipated for summer 2012.”

Bill can be reached at

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