Published : Tuesday, October 25, 2016 | 5:41 AM
Reacting to nearly a dozen residents who pleaded with the City Council Monday to reconsider and re-negotiate Pasadena’s settlement with a property owner that will result in the destruction of three large South Lake Avenue trees, city officials held firm to their position and the trees will likely be cut down over the next several days.
The City agreed to cut down and remove the three ficus trees between Oct. 22 and Oct. 30 after a years-long court battle with Rodeo Holdings, LLC of Beverly Hills, the property owners of 497-511 S. Lake Ave., who claimed in a lawsuit that the trees were too large, overgrown, untrimmed and not adequately maintained by the city and that tree debris clogged roof drains and accumulated on the sidewalk.
Pasadenan Nina Chomsky, echoing the feelings of each of the speakers on the issue, told the Council “This is appalling. Please go back and re-negotiate.”
“This action will devalue the street,” said resident Ann Scheid.
Biologist Lori Paul, in asking that the issue be re-visited, said, “All trees come with obligations,” and claimed that the City had overridden a decision by the City’s Urban Forestry Committee, which denied a tree removal permit in 2013.
In response to the public outcry, City Manager Steve Mermell said in a prepared statement that “in this particular case, after a nearly three-year court battle in which engineering and arborist reports indicated the trees have caused damage to private property, the City entered into a settlement agreement which is enforceable by the court and obligates the City to issue tree removal permits.”
While a number of residents pleaded with the Council to reconsider the decision and go back to the negotiations, Mermell said, “The City fully understands and shares residents’ concerns about the trees and wishes there was another alternative that would protect and preserve the trees and, at the same time, solve the ongoing issues regarding the potential fiscal liability caused by damage to private property.”
According to the settlement agreement, additional geotechnical and arborist reports were prepared and submitted to the City following the 2013 tree removal denial by the Urban Forestry Committee. After reviewing those new reports, the City determined that it was “prudent for the City’s health, safety and welfare to remove the trees.”
“We are not going back on our commitments to trees or to our urban forest. We have not backed down or made deals with developers,” said Mayor Terry Tornek.
“This is just one individual case. This is an unhappy conclusion, but we have not abandoned our principles,” he said.
Tornek continued, “We try to be responsible and reach decisions on your behalf. In this case, the Council felt that this was the appropriate action.”
Pasadena, which officials pointed out has for 26 years been recognized with the “Tree City USA” designation by the National Arbor Day Foundation, will plant new replacement trees, consistent with its street tree plan for South Lake Avenue, and adding to the approximately 63,000 trees it currently maintains.