Efforts to Halt Tree Removal Fail

For weeks, Beverly Hills residents and business owners have campaigned to save the Ficus trees along Robertson Boulevard, which are being cut down as part of the city’s Robertson Sidewalk and Tree Replacement Project. With overgrown Ficus tree roots lifting concrete panels on the sidewalk and creating an uneven surface around the trees, city staff found that in order to install a new sidewalk, the existing trees would need to be cut first. After much public opposition, the City Council heard hours of pleas from dozens of residents at its Feb. 21 regular meeting. While the Council heard a report from the City Manager with updates on the project, the item was placed on the agenda for discussion purposes, not direction.

“What you’re seeing in that root system is a pattern of poor after poor attempts to keep the tree by cutting a few roots and keeping the sidewalk thin,” Ken Pfalzgraf, the city’s Urban Forest Manager said. If untouched, the trees in questions would continue to grow, further damaging the sidewalk. After evaluating each tree and the impact of root removal to repair the sidewalk, Pfalzgraf found most of the trees on the street would need to be removed.

Tree removal work began Jan. 24, and since then about 60 trees have been taken down. The remaining trees are expected be cut in the next couple of weeks. Sidewalk construction on Robertson is slated to start in March and continue through early next year, with new tree irrigation and storm- water filtration systems. Alternating Crape Myrtle trees and Mexican Fan Palms will be planted in place of the Ficus trees as each block is completed.

In protest of the city’s actions, Beverly Hills resident Wendy Klenk began a change. org petition to save the trees, and over 500 people have signed it. The petition calls for “the tree removal to be stopped immediately until the Council has a chance to discuss, a process which would also involve public participation.”

“They provide shade, noise reduction, beauty, clean air etc.,” one resident said during public comment. “Now the street looks ugly, empty and soulless.” Currently, there are about 30 trees left on Robertson.

“I understand the emotions behind some of the people who’ve spoken today and why they care so much about trees,” said Councilman John Mirisch, who requested the item be placed on the agenda. “Because it’s our one connection in an urban setting with nature.”

“What’s happening now is that the con- crete has gotten so thin that we can no longer do that kind of patchwork, we have to really replace,” Director of Public Works Shana Epstein said. “That replacement requires us to have four inches thick concrete as well as four inches of base.” Epstein added that the city has “a very aggressive sidewalk program trying to prevent trip and falls.”

After hours of discussion on the tree removal project, including a lengthy public comment period with staff on hand to answer questions, Klenk asked that a special meet- ing be scheduled. While Councilman Mirisch hoped for the project to be agendized as an action item at a future meeting, “there’s not a council majority that seems interested,” he said, effectively closing the matter.

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