Green Street Tree Removals Draw Ire of Tree Activists

County biologist says trees may have been diseased or dying, regardless

Published : Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | 5:28 AM

Going, going, gone. Scenes as two Ficus trees on Green Street just east of South Los Avenue were cut down on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Images by Jill Vig and Erika Foy

[Updated]  The removal Tuesday of two Ficus trees on Green Street along the north side of the new Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine now under construction aroused the ire of local tree activists, but one Los Angeles County biologist said the trees may have already been dying.

The trees were recommended for removal at a January meeting of the City’s Urban Forestry Advisory Commission and were cut down Tuesday afternoon.

A memorandum by Parks and Natural Resources Administrator Charles Peretz for the commission’s January 9 meeting said that Kaiser Permanente preferred to keep the trees and prune them instead of removing them, but the pruning required to accommodate the building’s façade would not have been consistent with “arboricultural best practices” and would adversely impact the health of the tree, and therefore recommended the removals.

The removed trees will be replaced by two 60-inch-tall box ficus trees. The timing for the planting of those trees will be determined by the City, but won’t occur the before construction of the new medical school is completed.

According to Jerrold Turney, Ph.D., senior biologist and plant pathologist for the LA County Department of the Agricultural Commissioner, the trees were already showing possibly terminal signs of disease.

“The Ficus Microcarpa along Green all show symptoms of Botryosphaeria canker,” Turney said in a widely-circulated email. “A number of them have already died, and been cut down where Green meets Hill.”

Turney continued, “I pass a row of Ficus Microcarpa on Main in Alhambra every morning, and have been photographing their decline….When I first started photographing the trees in 2013, it was just one tree in severe decline, and one tree with early symptoms of tip dieback. (A common symptom or name of a tree disease, especially of woody plants, characterized by progressive death of twigs, branches, shoots, or roots, starting at the tips.) Today it has run down the row, and 10 trees are 90% defoliated, and in severe decline.”

As Turney concluded: “Maybe the trees on Green Street they cut down were still in fair condition, but their fate was already sealed. Green Street will be full sun before you know it.”

But local tree activists were aghast at the idea of the City cutting down more trees.

Altadena biologist and activist Lori Paul Tuesday reacted by saying, “Most of us thought we’d at least saved the many majestic old Indian Laurel Fig trees that have long provided cool summer shade along both sides of Green Street. Sadly, those trees now appear doomed.”

Paul fears the same fate for the canopy of shade trees running east and west on Green Street as well.

“Unfortunately,” said Paul, “the remaining old ficus trees along Green Street have been brutally center-stripped of their lower limb foliage over the years, presumably at the behest of business owners who resented the trees ‘blocking signs.’” Those massive old ficus trees were also stressed by prolonged drought and summer heat, exacerbated by concrete sidewalks and curbs poured literally up to their trunks.”

Paul explained, “Little rainwater, on the rare occasions when it does rain, ever reaches those trees’ roots. With no irrigation, it is amazing those Indian Laurel Fig trees have survived over the long years since their planting 75 to 90 years ago, at a time when ficus trees were fashionable street trees.

Paul lamented the long-term effects of the tree removals will be that the character of Old Pasadena “will be gone forever.”

Small stature “shrub trees” are typically planted as replacements for large shade trees these days, she said, and those comparatively tiny trees will never have the grandeur or environmental benefits of the 80- to 90-year-old trees they replace.

“No longer will the great ficus trees continue to sequester carbon,” Paul continued, “or conceal songbird nests in their lofty canopies, or help keep the City’s air fresh.”

“The declining ‘Urban Forest’ in Pasadena is terribly sad and unnecessary,” Paul added. “The City has failed to recognize the myriad benefits that large, old trees provide. The Urban Forestry Advisory Committee (UFAC) has become indifferent and ineffectual in defending the City’s trees.”

Activist Jill Vig also pointed out that the Green Street tree removal reportedly occurred in a city Tree Protection Zone.

Vig said Tuesday that she contacted the City, but was told the construction company “needed the room, but will replant the trees.”

“This is unacceptable on so many levels,” Vig responded, angrily. “The building is way oversized for the street, and the idea that trees planted in the eternal shade it will throw can somehow survive and grow, is impossible to believe.

“Aside from that, we have lost two mature trees,” added Vig. “There is a lot of research demonstrating that the bigger the tree, the greater the environmental benefits.”