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Residents Plead for Help With Damage From Fig Trees


CULVER CITY — Fig trees are causing trouble in Culver City--more than $18 million dollars worth--and residents want the city to cough up the money for repairs.

About 40 residents of the 4300 Block of shady Motor Avenue pleaded with the City Council on Monday night to help pay for repairs to sewer lines, driveways and sidewalks damaged by the trees' roots.

Many of the residents also asked that the 35-year-old fig trees be removed and replaced throughout the city, an $8-million undertaking. Replacing the lateral sewer lines near these trees could cost an additional $10 million.

The residents were backed by a recommendation by the Human Services and Parks Commission to reimburse the residents' costs. Council members rejected the recommendation, pointing to the city's $3-million deficit. They did, however, support other city-sponsored possibilities to help pay for the damage, such as low-interest loans or rebates available to low-income families based on a sliding scale.

Neighbors of 80-year-old Elsie Palecek dragged an 11-foot root into council chambers Monday, a growth which caused more than $8,000 in damage to the house she's lived in since 1952.

"I'm . . . on a fixed income, and I can't afford these kind of repairs," Palecek said.

The root broke through her sewer line about two years ago, causing about five gallons of water to leak under her house every 11 minutes. That means well over a million gallons have seeped under the structure's foundation since the break.

The worst damage was done when the house sank, cracking the walls, she said.

Her driveway and lawn were dug up to get to the invasive root. She said her homeowner's insurance covered only about half of the repair costs. Other residents had horror stories too. Amy Levit brought a grocery bag full of roots extracted from her water lines just four months after their last cleaning.

Levit said residents have to pay $650 to $1,200 each time they have the pipes cleaned out, which is often done annually. "We do not feel we should be liable for something we did not cause," she said.

Council members wagged their fingers at park commissioners for making such a costly recommendation and pointed to a code absolving the city of legal responsibility for damage to sewer laterals, even if it was caused by trees the city planted.

Motor Avenue residents were told they could petition for removal of a tree if it was causing substantial damage to their homes. The city would not, however, pay the $2,000 bill to remove the tree.

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