CITY HALL — Once again, the dog fight over trees in Santa Monica has flared up, and once again, the focus of disagreement is the Canary Island date palm.
Residents stormed public meetings this week with petitions against the designation of sycamores and Torrey pines as replacement trees for the aging palms in a draft document created by a task force that will, eventually, determine which trees will be planted on specific streets in Santa Monica.
They found out purely by chance that a subcommittee to the Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force had made the recommendation that the Canary Island date palms be replaced by the other two less exotic species just before the final public workshop on the matter.
The trees in question line 18th Street north of Washington Avenue, 21st Street north of Montana Avenue and Marguerita Avenue east of 17th Street.
Neighbors began circulating the petition immediately, and within five days had 290 signatures protesting the change.
People were incensed by the possible change, said Pat Bauer, the resident who began the petition. One woman got out of the shower and answered her door in a towel to sign the petition when she heard what was happening.
That total was up to 302 by Wednesday morning when the matter finally came before the City Council in its public comment period sometime past midnight.
“We did not find a single person who was aware that the city’s draft master plan calls for replacing our historic (almost hundred-year-old) palms with other trees,” Bauer said. “Virtually everyone has been dismayed by the insensitivity of the city’s plan, and apparent lack of transparency of its process.”
If the situation — and the complaints — sounds familiar, it’s because a similar dust-up happened in May over the Canary Island date palms on Georgina and Marguerita avenues.
In that fight, neighbors also came before the City Council to protest the proposed replacement of Canary Island date palms with sycamores.
Their complaints led the council to direct staff to write up an information item detailing how the tree selection process had been completed, and how involved neighbors were.
The report described a process with little public inquiry and a lot of miscommunication.
Residents sat down with members of the tree selection committee and found a compromise palm tree, the Chilean wine palm.
It wouldn’t have the issues that plague the Canary Island date variety — namely a proclivity to share a fungal infection that kills them — but would preserve the look that members of the neighborhood want.
Since, community members have had the opportunity to attend three meetings specifically to share their thoughts on tree selection. The last of these was June 25, where residents living on Marguerita Avenue and 18th and 21st streets first voiced their concerns.
Residents shouldn’t worry, as that won’t be the last opportunity for public input on the process, said Barbara Stinchfield, the director of community and cultural services.
“The tree species plan will be a section of what we’re calling the Urban Forest Master Plan,” Stinchfield said. “It’s going through a public process now that’s involved community meetings and public input at Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force meetings.”
Then, it will go before a variety of commission reviews, including the Planning Commission, before it finally lands in front of the City Council sometime in October or November of this year.
Additionally, a mailer will go out to each household in Santa Monica in July that will direct them to a website where they can find out what tree has been recommended for their street, and how they can comment on the choice.
Funds were allocated for the mailer in the budget passed June 21, Stinchfield said.
“There is still time for dialogue and listening to people and considering what they have to say,” Stinchfield said.
Residents hope they will have an opportunity to be heard, and that like Marguerita and Georgina avenue palms, the character of the treescapes on the more easterly roads will also be preserved.
“These palms have been standing here almost one hundred years. They frame a beautiful view of the Santa Monica mountains. They are majestic, they are like members of our families. We have raised our children in the shade of these trees, and we love them,” Bauer said. “They’re emblematic of the joys of living in our city and we can’t imagine why they would think of doing anything other than preserving, maintaining and renewing them.”