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A work crew offloads machinary that will be used on the construction of a pair of new parks in the Civic Center. Work officially began on Tuesday. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CIVIC CENTER — The “Three Amigos” are saddling up and going for a ride.

In the coming weeks, the trio of massive ficus trees will be pruned and temporarily relocated along with nearly 50 other trees so that crews can move 55,000 cubic yards of soil from the old RAND Corp. site to the future home of Palisades Garden Walk, a roughly 6-acre park that will be located across from City Hall adjacent to Interstate 10, city officials said Tuesday.

The tree relocation plan approved by the City Council calls for the Amigos to be carefully pruned and boxed and sit in place for 60 days while their roots adjust and the “initial shock wears off,” said Karen Ginsberg, assistant director of the Department Community & Cultural Services at City Hall.

After the 60 days, each tree will be lifted, using a pneumatic lifting system similar to how homes are moved, and placed onto a truck bed. They will then be driven about 550 feet from their current location, lowered again using the lifting system and planted based on the approved park design.

As part of the relocation plan, 27 trees will be moved and replanted within the park while 20 palm trees will be moved and replanted at Woodlawn Cemetery. Two ficus trees will be destroyed because they are in a “serious state of decline,” and have been for some time, Ginsberg said.

The 20 Washington robusta (Mexican fan) palms must be relocated out of the Coastal Zone, Ginsberg said, because the California Coastal Commission has a policy preventing City Hall from replanting them anywhere within the zone, including the park site. The trees are considered to be an invasive species.

Seventy-six trees will be protected and remain in their current location, including “Morty” a massive Moreton Bay fig tree.

The most challenging aspect of the work will be transplanting the Three Amigos, which sit directly in the way of the future extension of Olympic Drive between Main Street and Ocean Avenue, Ginsberg added.

The total cost of the project, including the removal of a temporary parking lot and fixtures used for city employee parking and special events, is $913,000. By relocating the soil, city officials said they will save an estimated $2.8 million and be better for the environment. The soil will be used to build four hills incorporated into the park’s design.

The park, and the adjacent Town Square project in front of City Hall, were designed by James Corner Field Operations.

Construction updates and photographs will be posted on the project web site smciviccenterparks.com so members of the public can follow the progress of the park’s construction.

The removal and relocation of trees has become a hot topic in Santa Monica. The issue first gained traction in 2008 when residents formed Santa Monica Treesavers in an attempt to stop City Hall from uprooting 31 ficus trees lining Second and Fourth streets in Downtown as part of a streetscape improvement project. Many trees were saved, some remaining in place while seven were relocated.

Most recently, residents living on Georgina and Marguerita avenues raised concerns about a City Hall plan to replace 32 palm trees there damaged by an untreatable fungus with sycamore trees. Residents worried that the sycamores would damage the “iconic look” of the streets. City officials held meetings with the residents, apologized for not including them prior to picking the sycamores and decided to go with a different variety of palm.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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