CITY HALL — A last minute twist in a new plan to preserve and enhance the tree population of Santa Monica may make it difficult to conform to the requirements of a federal grant that provides 1,000 free trees to the city.

The City Council approved the Urban Forest Master Plan Tuesday, but changed a proviso to preserve the uninterrupted expanse of palm trees on 21st Street between Montana Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, a move which eliminates approximately over 100 spaces for new trees required under a grant by the federal government.

Residents of those streets appealed to the City Council to allow the change, saying that residents on sections of Georgina and Marguerita avenues to the north of the disputed streets had negotiated to keep their palm alee pure rather than interspersed with other species, like the proposed red buds.

Those trees would not grow any bigger than purple plum trees that were planted between palm trees on Wilshire Boulevard near Sixth Street, said Community Forester Walt Warriner, who then showed a picture of tall palms next to the diminutive plums.

“We’re not taking away from the openness or the airiness,” Warriner said. “We would be improving the pedestrian experience.”

That did not satisfy residents like Vincent McNeely, who called the proposed plan discriminatory, and demanded “equal treatment” with the residents of the ostensibly wealthier part of the streets whose only advantage was that they had organized around the tree issue earlier.

Removing those streets as potential spots for interplanting throws a wrench into a plan to put another 1,000 trees in the ground in Santa Monica as part of a grant offered through the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The grant requires that City Hall plant the trees within 90 days, and then monitor them at seven year intervals to measure how much carbon they’re taking out of the air.

Between 360 and 370 of the trees have already been planted, said Randy Little, public landscape manager with the city, and staff had to wait until the forest master plan was accepted to continue the planting process.

Eliminating that section of 21th street on top of the already excised portions of Georgina and Marguerita avenues and 19th Street would mean over 400 potential planting spaces would be lost for the remaining 650 AQMD trees, further cramping efforts to get the work done on time, Little said.

“There has to be grow space big enough to satisfy the grant, and they need to be either new sites or vacant for 10 years,” Little said. “The only spaces that satisfy that are in the north of the city.”

But what residents couldn’t accomplish through participation in a handful of the 39 public meetings held to determine the outcome of the master plan, they achieved in one night before the City Council.

City Council members reversed the decision of the task force, saying that it was unfair for certain residents to get the uninterrupted palms and others with the same street layout to be denied.

“I’m moved by the argument that it’s unfair to treat one group different than another based on timing,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “Is there a way to move them?”

Little acknowledged that it would be possible, but difficult, and may require a request to extend the deadline on the grant.

Although the City Council modified that aspect of the plan, others, including requests by activists to create an appeals board independent of staff for decisions on trees fell flat.

“We need to trust city staff,” said Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis, saying that putting an independent body above staff would be “dangerous.”

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