If Beverly Hills was to have a favorite color, it probably would be green.
Not because that's the color of money but because of the thousands of neatly trimmed trees that line city streets and decorate the landscape.
"In terms of priorities, maintaining our trees comes right after schools and police and fire protection," said Councilwoman Donna Ellman. "It is part of the ambiance of Beverly Hills. It is what makes Beverly Hills different from our neighbors."
"On any given street, the trees will match," said Councilman Maxwell H. Salter. "Not many cities can make that claim."
The city annually spends about $2.25 million of its $55-million general fund to maintain its 30,000 trees on the streets and at 12 parks. There are at least another 30,000 trees on private property that keep gardeners busy. According to city records, there are about 700 gardeners licensed to work in Beverly Hills, which covers 5.6 square miles and has a population of 32,300.
"If you are in a plane flying over the Los Angeles basin, you can pick out Beverly Hills from the air because of the incredible street pattern of trees and all the greenery," said Douglas Campbell, who with his wife, Regula, operates Campbell & Campbell, a Santa Monica-based landscape architecture firm.
Beverly Hills' interest in trees began at the turn of the century when the Rodeo Land & Water Co. first developed the city as a residential area, according to Marcelino G. Lomeli, city park superintendent. Broad streets with easy sweeping curves were built and a variety of trees were planted.
A plant nursery was established to provide many of the seeds and plantings that are today's trees.
By the late 1930s, most of the trees had reached maturity. In the 1940s, a tree committee was created to decide which species should be removed and which new ones should be planted.
'All Planned This Way'
Today, 50-year-old camphor trees line each side of North Maple Drive and arch over the street. Similarly aged Canary Island pine trees tower over Lexington Road. And the Mexican fan palm and date palm, which have become symbolic of Beverly Hills, decorate City Hall and line Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards.
"It was all planned this way," said Raymond E. Page, 92, the city's original landscape architect. "It has come out exactly the way it was planned."
Campbell, who designed the landscape for the Civic Center expansion project, said that unlike most cities, Beverly Hills has maintained the integrity of the city's landscape heritage.
"Beverly Hills has always had an appreciation for an attractive public streetscape," he said. "These people understand planning for the future. They care about the romance of the place. It's a quality-of-life issue."
Campbell said other cities are beginning to better understand and care about maintaining trees, although most still face financial constraints.
Los Angeles, for example, with a population of 3.2 million and covering 465.7 square miles, approaches tree maintenance with an eye toward economizing, according to Robert Kennedy, street tree superintendent.
The city has 680,000 trees on public streets and 330,000 in developed parks, and spends nearly $13 million to maintain them. However, the trees are trimmed only every seven years.
"Ideally, you'd like to trim about every three years, but we're forced to trim back a little harder recognizing that we won't be back for awhile," Kennedy said.
Santa Monica has a population of 94,000 and covers 8.1 square miles. There are 27,000 trees on public streets and the city spends nearly $500,000 to maintain them, according to Doug Stafford, the city's park superintendent.
For Councilman Salter, maintaining Beverly Hills' trees also is a quality-of-life issue.
"I think $2 million is not a lot of money to spend to maintain a beautiful city to live in," he said. "I don't think trees are a luxury item. It is a quality of life that we should all try to achieve.
"It's hard for me to equate what it is like getting up in the morning and looking out at lovely trees. Maybe some people think we spend more than we should on our trees, but then we're Beverly Hills. These are the type of things that separate our community from others."