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Westwood Groups Push Back on Proposed Tree Removal

Sixteen Indian laurel fig trees, one red flowering gum tree and one magnolia tree are up for removal.

The proposed removal of 18 trees in Westwood Village for the purpose of sidewalk repair has some community groups calling 'timeout' as they push for tree-saving alternatives.

Portions of the Village sidewalks are obviously in need of repair, said Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, but there are alternatives to tree removal.

"Nobody wants broken sidewalks," he said. "There needs to be a middle ground. Sidewalks can be repaired and trees, wherever possible, can be preserved."

A rush to save the trees was sparked by a Bureau of Street Services recommendation that the City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works approve the Westwood Village Improvement Association’s (WVIA) request for a no-fee tree removal permit.

The permit would grant the removal of 16 Indian laurel fig trees, one red flowering gum tree and one magnolia tree. They represent less than 4 percent of the district’s 482 trees.

The WVIA contacted the bureau as part of its proposed sidewalk improvement project and requested the 18 trees sites be inspected after it identified the trees "as being especially egregious in their impact to the sidewalks," according to a bureau report. View photos of each of the tree sites attached to this article.

"The Business Improvement District (BID) doesn't have a position on the trees," WVIA Executive Director Andrew Thomas said in an email. "We just want to fix sidewalks."

The Board of Public Works considered the tree removal at a meeting last week, ultimately agreeing to delay a decision until Nov. 16.

Board members urged the city's Bureau of Street Services Urban Forestry Division to take "one much closer look" at its recommendation to remove the trees before the board again takes up the issue. Board President Andrea Alarcón also ordered a representative from the board to coordinate meetings with community groups regarding the proposed tree removal.

"I think it’s worthwhile that we take another look," she said. "If ultimately (the Bureau of Street Services Urban Forestry Division’s) recommendation is the same, we’ll know and we can rest assured that we’ve done everything we [can] to save the trees."

Seven trees are up for removal on Westwood Boulevard; three on Glendon Avenue; two on Kinross Avenue; two on Gayley Avenue; one on Le Conte Avenue; two on Lindbrook Drive; and one on Wilshire Boulevard. View a map of the tree locations attached to this article.

If the board authorizes the tree removal permit in November, the WVIA would be required to plant two 24-inch box size southern magnolia trees and 34 24-inch box size Chinese flame trees in the site's public right-of-way.

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Sann spoke out against the removal of 14 of the trees during last week’s meeting, saying only four trees warranted removal.

He argued the width of the sidewalks on Westwood Boulevard leaves "plenty of room to enlarge the tree wells to give room for the roots to exist without disrupting any sidewalks." This, in combination with the installation of underground root barriers, would preserve the trees and prevent future problems, he said.

"We think there is a better way," he said.

Sann said the shade and overall look the trees provide in the Village contributes to the success of local businesses. With their removal, the area would "become a very unattractive place for people to conduct their business," he said.

Westwood Neighborhood Council President Jerry Brown, in a letter to the Board of Public Works on behalf of the council, said the WVIA should have sought the council’s approval on the proposed tree removal before the board heard the issue.

In response to board suggestions that the WVIA discuss potential tree removal with groups like the Westwood Neighborhood Council, WVIA Board of Directors Chair Jessica Dabney said she didn’t think future meetings would result in resolution.

"We would like the community to come together and all be behind the project, but we want to get the project done," she said, adding affected property owners supported the tree removal.

The sidewalk replacement project has been discussed at many public BID meetings since January, Thomas said. He said the BID will not host meetings on the tree removal, saying the city has the final say on whether they’ll stay or go.

"WVIA staff has never recommended a tree, or trees, be removed. I will not hold a meeting to defend the city's staff report," he said in an email.

Some encouraged the tree removal during last week’s board meeting, arguing the damaged sidewalks in certain areas have led to lawsuits and turned away potential building renters.  

Sandy Brown, president of the Holmby Westwood Property Owners Association, wrote a letter to the Board of Public Works on behalf of the Holmby Westwood Board arguing "there are ways to save the trees." She called the proposed removal "short-sighted, ill-planned, and unacceptable."

"We strongly request that this idea be continued until a plan with viable alternatives is discussed, one that will present other solutions to stripping our community of 18 mature trees that are more than 50 years old," she said in the letter.

Sidewalk repair and replacement could start as early as the beginning of 2013, Thomas said, depending on the Board of Public Works' November decision. The total project cost, with tree removal, is $170,000.

Thomas said the BID will follow the board's recommendation in November.

"We have a unique opportunity to replace hundreds of square feet of damaged sidewalks, work that the City of Los Angeles cannot afford to complete but is sorely needed," he said in an email. "I believe to do just a small portion of the proposed work is a missed opportunity."

Caitlyn November 15, 2012 at 03:59 PM
16 trees in Westwood, and 22 on Olympic between Corinth and Purdue. I haven't been over to Santa Monica in a little bit, but aren't these Indian Laurel Fig trees the same as the trees along 4th street south of Wilshire and north of Broadway? I haven't seen sidewalk issues there, so can't they fix the sidewalk without removing them? I sent an email to the city about my concern removing these trees, and I received a response saying "...I agree with you that these are beautiful trees. That said, these trees, Indian Laurel Fig (Ficus microcarpa), can also be destructive. Actually, any trees that can become large can potentially be destructive so it is not just this species." But they are going to be replaced with a more "suitable species." I live and work locally, often walking to/from work and home, and these Indian Laurel Figs provide not only wonderful shelter from the hot sun in the summer, but make the neighborhood look so nice and inviting to walk around. I know my fear is that they will be replaced with wimpy trees that won't provide the same coverage, or will takes so many years to reach the same stature.
Caitlyn November 15, 2012 at 04:00 PM
This is the website of all the pending tree removals. I had to take a picture of one of the postings to remember the link because I couldn't find it directly from any website: http://bsspermits.lacity.org/treepostings/public/index1.cfm?CFID=444319&CFTOKEN=69560499

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