Damaged downtown sidewalks were being repaired this week with some of the trees that did the damage set to be replaced.
The City Council approved at its April 9 meeting the replacement of six ficus trees and one eucalyptus, with the replacement species to be determined pending a recommendation by the city's landscape architect. Removal of one other tree was delayed, and no timeline was given for when the new trees will be chosen.
"Probably another 50 trees have outgrown their space, but we didn't recommend replacing 50 trees," said Public Works Director Steve May.
City Manager John Pietig asked the council to weigh in on the tree replacement because of concerns raised by Councilwoman Toni Iseman that the project was not reviewed by the Planning Commission. Review by the commission would delay the project until next year.
"I have looked at the pictures of specimens earmarked for removal and I don't agree with some of them," said Ruben Flores, owner of Laguna Nursery and Beautification Council chair. "I favor taking down some ficus. They are not being trimmed properly but the ficus retusa on Second Street is phenomenal and it could be even more beautiful if it was maintained properly."
Flores suggested root pruning the trees when the sidewalk is cut away and installing root barriers, which was not done when the trees were planted.
The ficus retusa is the only tree on Second Avenue recommended for removal. Two trees on Forest Avenue were scheduled for removal, but the council postponed action on the tree near the telephone booth. Two trees on Mermaid Street also made the list for removal and three on Ocean Avenue.
"I would like to see every ficus tree removed," said Mayor Kelly Boyd, former owner of the Marine Room Tavern on Ocean Avenue. "But I don't want them replaced with eucalyptus."
Staff recommended planting New Zealand Christmas trees, except for the eucalypti on Second Street and on Forest Avenue, for which Silver Dollar Gums trees were proposed.
"The problem noted in the report is the crowns of the trees are too big," Councilman Robert Whalen said. "We may be repeating the same mistake."
The new trees are set to be 36-inch box-size, substantially bigger than the 12-gallon or 24-inch-box-size usually planted when replacing city trees, May said.
Most of the recommended replacements were due to sidewalk uplift, creating tripping hazards, according to the staff report. A couple of the trees are unbalanced because they have been trimmed to avoid buildings or the trunks encroach on the sidewalks.
Additional overgrown trees will have to be removed over time.