After three years of discussion, it seems the fate of the two large ficus trees on Larchmont Blvd in front of the Rite Aid drug store has finally been decided. Work to remove the trees started on Monday as part of a plan to repair the sidewalk. The process will take two to three weeks, according the Larchmont Village BID’s sponsored article posted in the Buzz today.
But not everyone is happy about the removal. “The Windsor Square Association objects to the removal of these two, healthy, mature ficus trees,” said Windsor Square Association President Larry Guzin. “The adjacent sidewalk has been found by the City’s own expert to be fully in compliance with objective ADA standards for accessibility. There is no good reason to remove these shade and environmentally beneficial trees, which help create the village ambiance.”
At the root of the dispute, quite literally, are the roots of the trees. The arborist hired by the Larchmont Village BID warned again root pruning, saying it could destabilize the trees, which could be extremely hazardous. In contrast, the arborist hired by the Windsor Square Association said root pruning could be safely done and the sidewalks repaired without removing the trees.
But sources we spoke to said it seems the City is deeply concerned about lawsuits, and would rather err on the side of removing the offending trees and starting all over with another species, even if it means loosing the large mature trees that were planted in the 1960s and have become a source of pride and frustration on the boulevard.
According to Mark Pampanin, a spokesperson for CD4 , the sidewalks were deemed non-compliant by the city’s compliance officer, and that decision limited the options. A copy of that determination can be found here. Pampanin explained that the Council office worked extensively with the community on this issue over the past three years.
“But we don’t think we have to pit sidewalk repair against street trees,” said Pampanin. “Council Member Ryu is committed to protecting and preserving the tree canopy across the city, and has developed plans for sidewalk repair options that preserve trees.”
Pampanin cited the compromise Council Member Ryu worked out on Cherokee Street in Hollywood, which saved a number of trees, as an example of Ryu’s commitment to preserving street trees.
Heather Boylston, who represents the Larchmont Village BID, told the Buzz that the Windsor Square Association’s approach of waiting until a tree is dead or diseased is problematic and can create safety issues.
“When a tree is dead or diseased the structure of the tree is compromised,” said Boylston. “Also, since these trees were planted at the same time, they will all end their life cycle around the same time. The tree in front of Goorin Bros. (141 N. Larchmont) was removed because it was dead, and you can see that there were no funds or no plan to replace it.”
For now, only these two trees are slated for removal, and the replacement trees will 24″ boxed trees, the largest size that will thrive in the space, explained Boylston. The species was selected by the Windsor Square Association from the options provided by the City…though even that it seems was a struggle.
According to Helen Hartung, Chair of the Windsor Square Association Tree Canopy Committee, the city offered two evergreen trees, the Brisbane Box or the African Fern Pine. The WSA proposed the Saratoga Bay Laurel, because it is drought tolerant and they were concerned about consistent irrigation, but that choice was rejected because the city said the Saratoga is a “shrub” rather than a tree, though it reaches 35 to 40 feet according to reference books. For now, the Windsor Square Association’s tree committee is hoping the city will follow best practices when removing the old trees and roots, preparing the soil and planning for proper irrigation.
Hopefully, these won’t be the only new trees on the street when the repair work is completed. We’ve been told that after several years, a new tree will also be planted at 141 N. Larchmont, now in front of Topikal, to replace a tree the city removed because it was diseased. Thanks for the replacement goes to the Windsor Square Association, which will be paying for the installation.
This story has been updated since it was originally published, with more recent photos.