PICO NEIGHBORHOOD — The Exposition Light Rail Line is coming, and like the stereotypical damsel in distress of the silent movie era, 139 trees are tied to the tracks, waiting for rescue.

Only 19 of them will escape the not-so-steaming engine, but through a clever wrinkle of city policy, the light rail line will actually end up greening the city, in more ways than one.

For every tree removed, two will be planted, meaning an overall increase of 120 trees in Santa Monica paid for by the Exposition Construction Authority.

Of the 139 trees that fall in the path of the Exposition Light Rail Line, 120 will have to be removed permanently, according to a city report released this month.

Trees that can be relocated, like varieties of palms, will fill spaces in other parts of the city where similar trees are planted. Others will go to parks. The remaining are either too expensive to move or are not expected to thrive at a new location.

At the moment, City Hall expects to plant the replacement trees densely along the east corridor of Colorado Avenue to act like a living shield against the impacts of the light rail trains.

A community meeting to be held Wednesday at the Virginia Avenue Park Thelma Terry Building at 6:30 p.m. on landscaping around the Expo Line will give residents a chance to learn more about the tree plan and weigh in on tree type.

Although the City Council approved a master plan for the placement and care of trees in Santa Monica in December, planners deliberately left the Colorado Avenue corridor off the list because they knew that there would be community input on landscape for the light rail line.

At this point, City Hall is considering trees that provide a low-growing canopy that spreads broadly to provide the most shade and benefit, community forester Walt Warriner said.

“Whatever doesn’t get filled in will be used in some of the areas like buffer zones and around corners,” Warriner said. “We plan to fill in that general corridor the best we can with trees.”

Given that the area stretches from Fifth to 17th streets, they don’t expect a lot of leftovers, Warriner said.

Whether or not the increase in the number of trees makes up for the loss of full grown specimens is up for debate.

Gillian Ware, a spokesperson from the Treesavers organization, gave a firm “no” on that question.

“The new young trees, whatever they are, will take many years to reach a stage when they can provide the wonderful benefits of mature trees,” Ware said.

Older trees remove carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, suck in carbon, produce oxygen and actually help trap stormwater runoff that can go to the ocean, Ware noted, among other perks.

Four certified arborists — Warriner, two independent arborists hired by City Hall and one hired by the Expo Authority — inspected each of the trees for health, integrity and estimated dollar value of the tree.

Each turned in a study, which a team of city and Expo officials reviewed before coming up with one, unified recommendation.

Economics played a role. If the cost of relocating the tree was more than the tree’s worth, the tree was cut from the roster.

“We really took that into account, how much it costs to relocate the tree and are we being effective in managing our money,” Warriner said. “We wanted to get the most use out of our money in planting new trees rather than a bunch of money relocating trees that have broken limbs.”

A handful of melaleuca trees made the example.

The trees, which go by the generic name broad-leaved paperbark trees, have suffered at the hands of poor drivers and show deep wounds at the base of the trunk from being struck by cars.

“It doesn’t make sense to relocate a tree with a wound at the base,” Warriner said. “It will decay, and the tree becomes unstable.”

Other varieties like the carrotwood tree don’t tolerate having their roots cut. They might survive the transfer, but they wouldn’t do well in their new location, Warriner said.

The move is an opportunity not only to nearly double the number of trees in that section of the city’s urban forest, but also to put the right tree in the right spot, Warriner said.


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