RANCHO PALOS VERDES — Residents of sloping Galerita Drive now have a clear, uncluttered view of the Port of Los Angeles and the Pacific beyond.
But Deborah Anne Palmieri says the view has come at too great a price: the removal of several old, 60-foot-high, Italian stone pine trees from her Eastview neighborhood as part of a citywide program that started a year ago.
The city is removing shallow-rooted trees that officials contend are causing recurring damage to streets, gutters, curbs and sidewalks. About 955 trees between sidewalks and curbs have been taken out so far and 1,600--out of a city total of 8,500 street trees--are to be gone when the program ends in June.
Only Depressions Remain
"They have gone through and destroyed every single Italian stone pine in Eastview," she said, adding that ficus trees also have been cut down. Where dozens of trees used to stand along several streets off Western Avenue and Delasondre Drive, there now is only sawdust covering the depressions where stumps were removed.
"Many of us feel it is an overly drastic and overzealous plan, which will unnecessarily denude the Peninsula of all of its plentiful greenery, which many people moved here for," said Palmieri, a college political science professor who moved to Eastview a year ago with her husband and infant child.
But George A. Wentz, city public works director, argues that rather than being an attack on greenery, the plan is an attempt to reduce liability and expenses related to recurring damage by trees that have been judged to pose problems.
Officials say tree removal generated few protests until it got to Eastview. There, the cutting of 210 trees sparked an uprising in which one woman tied herself to a tree with a long extension cord. The city halted the tree-cutting and a City Council tree committee decided to take another look at the removal program.
The committee last week recommended that it be continued, but it called for exemption of the stone pines in Miraleste, a 360-home area near Eastview that dates from the 1920s. Miraleste has no sidewalks and trees there were planted some distance from streets. The committee said that because of their age and the way they were planted, the trees have deep roots and "in most cases do not present the problem encountered elsewhere in the city."
Mayor Mel Hughes, a member of the tree committee, said he expects the council to adopt the report on Jan. 19 and order resumption of tree removal in Eastview and other areas of the city.
Public works officials said the next area slated is the Ridgecrest neighborhood at the top of the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Crestridge Road, where 85 trees--mostly ficus--are to be taken out.
The brouhaha has prompted Palmieri and others to form the Rancho Palos Verdes Citizens Tree Review Committee, which she described as a "fact-finding" group of about 10 people who will study the city program.
Palmieri said the program has resulted in the removal of trees with no evidence of damage and with little or no notice to residents. As an example, she points to an orchid tree in front of her house.
"My tree was designated for removal because in 1984, the curb was repaired," she said. "They claim root damage . . . but there is a large crack in my foundation parallel to the curb, and I have suggested it could have been earth movement."
The city is taking another look at her tree.
Began in 1985
The tree removal program was born--amid both protest and support from residents--in the summer of 1985 after the council decided that the city could no longer afford the expense of repairing damaged paving and curbs or the risk of liability lawsuits from people injured after tripping over sidewalks raised by roots.
Hughes, who sits on the council's tree committee along with Councilman Robert Ryan, said the city has a $17-million backlog of unfunded maintenance and repair work on storm drains and major streets. He also said the courts have held that a city may be liable for accidents if a sidewalk is raised by even a quarter of an inch. "This is not an imagined risk," he said.
Palmieri calls the city position a "worst-case scenario."
"Frankly, our chances of being blown out to Catalina due to an earthquake are much greater than the possibility of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit to decimate the city treasury."
She contends that in the long run, it is better to pay periodically for tree damage than to destroy the aesthetics--and damage property values--by extensive tree-cutting.
Many Are Pleased
Wentz said many people have told officials they are happy that problem trees are being removed because they do not want to continue to pay for repairs. (Under city policy, residents pay for sidewalk repairs, while the city pays to fix curbs, gutters and streets.)