City Arborist Sheds More Light on Tiny Forest Project

After receiving approval last month from the Recreation and Parks Commission for plans to plant a “tiny forest” at Greystone Mansion, City Arborist Ken Pfalzgraf appeared before the Cultural Heritage Commission on April 10 to further explain how the project will help Beverly Hills reach its sustainability goals.

According to the city’s Urban Forest Management Plan, published in 2022, Beverly Hills has a citywide canopy cover of 26%, above the 20% for similar Southern California cities. The city’s goal is to increase the canopy cover to 35% by 2040, and though the few hundred trees at Greystone won’t bring this number within reach, it is a step in the right direction, Pfalzgraf said.  

“The best time to plant a tree was yesterday, even if it’s one,” Pfalzgraf said. “If you plant one tree your canopy coverage just increased 100% at that site.”  

Replacing nonnative soil and plants with indigenous species, the forest will stretch across a plot of land roughly the size of a couple of tennis courts, with trees planted approximately 3 feet apart, Pfalzgraf said.   

Commissioner Kimberly Vinokur asked about the tree species that will be planted. Pfalzgraf said crews will primarily plant indigenous oaks that already grow at Greystone as well as smaller scrub oaks native to Santa Clarita. 

These oaks will replace many of the eucalyptus trees dotting the grounds, which shed limbs and develop weak root systems as they age, Pfalzgraf said. 

In keeping with state laws around oak trees, Pfalzgraf added, “Part of this design is the understanding that we wouldn’t be doing view pruning at Greystone.” 

Vinokur asked if this could affect the views of some of the neighboring properties, and Pfalzgraf said that because of how Greystone’s grounds are graded, and because oaks grow more wide than tall, they can be planted in a tiered approach that would not obstruct nearby views.  

Commissioner Josh Flagg, who used to be a docent and a junior ranger at Greystone Mansion, asked if it would be feasible to restore a waterfall that once flowed down the eastern terrace. 

Phfazlgraf said there have been attempts to restore a similar water feature, and while it might be possible to incorporate a more substantial feature into the project designs, it would have to be in line with the goal of conserving water.   

City staff have received a proposal to partner on the project with Moët Hennesy, part of the French conglomerate LVMH, and are considering similar projects at locations including an unused plot in the Cabrillo Reserve of the Coldwater Canyon area.

“The best part about this, I think, is that people would be able to take a look at some aspects of this project and figure out what they can do with a small area in their backyard,” Pfalzgraf added.  

During the April 10 meeting, the commission also approved an updated Multi-Family Historic Districts Survey. The survey is the culmination of an intensive process, lasting more than a year, in which consultants and staff conducted multiple reviews and stakeholder meetings to determine which multi-family residences and districts could be eligible for historic status.

Of the approximately 1,400 multi-family residential properties in the city, three have been formally designated as historical, and 392 appear eligible for listing at the federal, state or local level, either individually or as contributors to a historic district, according to a staff report.   

The survey found that 34 multi-family properties were individually eligible, and 20 were eligible as contributors to a historic district, and the eligible residences were generally concentrated in the southern and northeastern portions of the city.  

The commission also bid adieu to their former colleague Craig Corman after he was elected to the City Council last month. 

Vinokur said no one knows the Historic Preservation Ordinance better than Corman, and she concurred with Flagg that no one is more deserving and qualified for a seat on the CIty Council. 

“I always enjoyed coming to this commission. You guys are a fun, fun bunch, I always learned something every time I came here,” Corman said. “I’m only a few floors away. Feel free to stop by or call me anytime … and we’ll see each other again shortly,” Corman said. 

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