Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Hancock Park Tree Removal Takes Center Stage at Board of Public Works Meeting

City Council Member David Ryu addresses community members at last night’s Board of Public Works meeting at Marlborough School

With the unannounced removal of 31 trees in the Hancock Park neighborhood in the last week still causing much dismay in the area, it was fortuitous that the Los Angeles Board of Public Works had previously scheduled one of its periodic off-site, town-hall-style meetings for Marlborough School, in Hancock Park, last night.  And it was no surprise that the tree discussion took center stage at the meeting.

City Council Member David Ryu opened the session, noting that “Your quality of life is important” and “I took this office to put more energy into infrastructure.”  But he acknowledged that the “timing” of the Hancock Park tree removals was “flawed,” and that “we now realize that we must have a discussion with the community.”

Bureau of Street Services Assistant Director Ron Lorenzen

Ryu’s comments were echoed immediately by BPW President Kevin James, and Bureau of Street Services Assistant Director Ron Lorenzen, both of whom issued emphatic apologies to community members for not involving them in the discussion about what to do about the trees, all of which, they said were “distressed, severely distressed, or totally dead.”

“I want to apologize now,” said Lorenzen, “for not including the community in that discussion.”  It was a “failure,” he said, “of the Bureau to not allow the community to understand what happened.”  James concurred, and added that the city is “well aware” of the local Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) and its preservation plan that covers street trees as well as other characteristic elements of the neighborhood.  James said the city has worked successfully with the HPOZ board on many other local issues (street repairs, curb cuts, etc.) in recent years.  In this case, however, that involvement didn’t happen.  “No excuses,” he said, “Just a fact.”

With the lack of communication acknowledged, Lorenzen did offer information about the tree removals.  Like much of the city’s other infrastructure, he said, many of the local street trees are nearly 100 years old and – also like much of the other 100-year old infrastructure – they are nearing or at the end of their viable lifespan.

The 31 trees that were removed were London Planes, a variety of sycamore, said Lorenzen.  And most of our local, mature London Planes are not only old, but increasingly affected by pests, fungal and bacterial infections, and other stress factors, such as our severe drought.  In fact, he said, most of our London Planes are now “in severe decline,” and we need to start removing them before the fungal infections spread further and create a “cumulative effect.”  He said the city has been systematically removing a “small percentage” of London Planes that are “in the worst decline”…which included the 31 Hancock Park trees.  “The trees that were removed were in a state of severe decline or were dead,” he said.

Lorenzen said the city’s goal is to create a “sustainable” tree canopy, which will not be vulnerable to a mass die-off of any one species, and removal of individual trees as they fail is an important step in that process.  He also said he would be happy to walk neighborhood streets with anyone who is interested, to point out symptoms of stressed or diseased trees.  (These include things like premature leaf loss, seen right now on a great number of our London Planes, and the growth of “water sprouts” on tree trunks, as stressed trees try to product new foliage in an inappropriate place.)

For more information, Lorenzen urged attendees to read the city’s State of the Street Trees report.

Despite Lorenzen’s detailed explanations, however, some meeting attendees took issue with at least part of his message.

One June Street resident said it appeared that on her block, several of the trees left behind seemed to be in worse shape than those removed…and that even if removal was necessary, it will take at least “50 years” for replacement trees to mature.

Sabine Hoppner, a certified arborist who works for the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, noted that new urban forest guidelines define longer lifespans for trees than in years past, and the city should be using those newer guidelines when evaluating older trees.  She said this is important, because fully mature trees are not only hard to replace, but extremely valuable — worth between $60,000 and $90,000 each — so they should be preserved whenever possible.

Finally, a few speakers wondered publicly whether non-HPOZ neighborhoods could expect the level of attention and involvement on this issue that Hancock Park is receiving, noting that requests in their neighborhoods don’t seem to be heard as quickly or thoroughly as this one.

In other business conducted last night, the BPW honored Sharyn Romano and the Hollywood Beautification Team (now Los Angeles Beautification Team) for their many years of dedication to community beautification.  There were also informational presentations about several other Bureau of Public Works services and programs, including:

Graffiti Abatement and Community Beautification Services
Street Services (Improvements, Repairs, Sweeping and Tree Trimming)
Street Lighting Improvements and Technology
Clean Streets Los Angeles
Sidewalk Repairs
Project Labor Agreements

Homeowner Liz Gabor describes a damaged sidewalk in front of her home.

One of the liveliest discussions came after the sidewalk repair presentation by the Bureau of Engineering’s Carl Nelson.  After Nelson described how the city has begun a 30-year program of sidewalk repairs, dealing first with accessibility issues, homeowner Liz Gabor described a sidewalk segment in front of her house that has been pushed up by tree roots.  She said the sidewalk is a safety hazard…but the city has only offered to roughly patch it with asphalt.  “Surely,” she noted dryly, “this can’t be the only sidewalk in Los Angeles that’s being pushed up.”  “Remarkably not,” answered Mr. James, with equal restraint.

For more information about each of the other city programs profiled last night, see the links above.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }