Tree lovers from throughout Los Angeles, claiming that large portions of the city's urban forest would be placed in jeopardy, persuaded the Board of Public Works on Wednesday to delay action on a proposal to speed the removal of city-owned trees that cause structural damage.
"I can see disaster," said Sallie Neubauer, president of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park, maintaining that trees are vital in crowded cities. "They clean the air, they soothe the soul and they add temperature control, besides being darned beautiful."
Neubauer and about 20 other leaders of community groups from San Pedro to Reseda opposed a proposal that would eliminate board review of property-owner requests to remove city-owned trees whose roots are buckling sidewalks or damaging sewer lines.
The community leaders said doing away with the board's review powers--which include holding a public hearing on each request--would effectively eliminate public scrutiny of the tree removal requests.
250 Requests a Year
The city owns about 680,000 so-called "street trees" on private property and receives about 250 requests a year from homeowners and merchants who say trees need to be replaced because they are causing structural damage. Residents who request a tree-removal permit now must wait about 30 days for the request to be processed by the city and approved by the board.
Under the proposal, submitted by the Bureau of Street Maintenance, requests would be approved by the bureau without going to the board. Robert Kennedy, who oversees tree removal for the city, said the change would cut two to three weeks from the approval process by reducing paper work.
"If a tree is causing problems to a sewer line, I don't think anyone would want to have to wait 30 days for a removal permit," Kennedy said in an interview. "We are trying to expedite the process to help the property owner."
Kennedy said any request that he considered questionable would still be referred to the board.
Property owners--who must bear the cost of removing the tree, replacing it and repairing any damage it caused--typically face $2,000 bills for trees that have cracked or raised sidewalks and $3,500 for those that have damaged sewer lines, Kennedy said.
"The city is gaining by allowing the property owner to remove that tree and replace it with a tree desirable to the community," Kennedy told the board.
But after listening to nearly two hours of testimony from residents opposed to the change, the board voted to hold a public workshop on tree removal problems rather than vote on the bureau's proposal. Board member Myrlie B. Evers, assuring the community leaders that the board is committed to protecting trees, proposed the workshop as a means of reviewing the city's procedures for tree maintenance.
"There is a need to look very carefully at procedures and (how to) upgrade them," Evers said.
The community leaders, whose complaints about tree removal extend well beyond the issue of structural damage, welcomed the board's decision. Several of them had complained to the board about the bureau's tree-trimming policies and its enforcement of laws regulating the removal of trees for reasons other than structural damage.
Many of them said the city is too eager to remove trees, and that residents should be involved in all decisions involving street trees.
"Trees are a legacy of the entire community," said Bryan Spangle of the Studio City Residents Assn. "They are not just the domain of whoever's property is being affected by these trees. It is important that the city as a whole understand this legacy and that community involvement be guaranteed."
Alexander Man of the Pacific Palisades Residents Assn. said residents are concerned that the bureau's proposal would give the city's tree inspectors too much authority in determining whether a tree really is causing structural damage. Last year, Man and Neubauer were able to persuade the board to spare 22 trees on Stadium Way near Elysian Park that city inspectors had recommended be removed.
"We feel this would open the door to many abuses," Man said in an interview. "We are afraid this will become an excuse for taking down enormous amounts of trees."
Lucille Lemmon, a Mount Washington homeowner, asked the board to think about more than roots when considering tree removal requests.
"Look up first," she said. "Look up at the leaves."