Balboa Island Trees Root Up Concern

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Marine Avenue on Balboa Island is the main commercial route to the island; and coursing below that route are the roots of the soaring lemon gum eucalyptus trees that line the street and original sidewalks – trees that have been resident on the island for nearly a century.

Fears about the future of these centenarians prompted locals to form a grassroots group, the Balboa Island Preservation Association. Concern that the city is planning to remove these and redo the avenue, despite the save-the-eucalyptus-and-street sentiments from many island residents, prompted two community meetings over the weekend.

Crews trimming the Marine Avenue trees early morning this week.
— submitted photo

That definitely is not the case, averred the city’s Director of Public Works, Dave Webb.  There are “a couple of folks concerned about that — preservation folks” whose “focus is that you can’t take the street out,” he said.

“At this time, we’ll probably just leave the street if we don’t take out the trees; there haven’t been any decisions,” he continued.

Homeowner Jodi Patrich, who formed BIPA after she had heard “rumors from a couple of neighbors” about a proposed Marine Avenue reconstruction plan, decided to send an informal postcard survey, at her own expense, to island residents.

“Six hundred eighty people returned the cards; 96.4 percent of the respondents voted to keep the street quaint and historical,” Patrich said.

The results showed that virtually no residents were familiar with the city’s reconstruction plan, she added.

A flawed tree trimming schedule and an early morning pruning this week only intensified things in the community.

There was some discussion about the trees during Tuesday’s City Council consent calendar item about adjusting the maintenance services agreement with Great Scott Tree Service to the fiscal year calendar. It was pulled from the consent calendar and several Council members specifically mentioned the tree trimming schedule for the Marine Avenue trees.

Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill noted that they will be reviewing, and potentially revising, the Marie Avenue tree trimming cycle.

Regarding the tree trimming process for the eucalyptus trees on Marine Avenue, “given what we’ve gone through over the last couple of days,” Councilman Jeff Herdman, whose district overs the island, said there need to be some changes.

“I would expect that, in the future, these trees step out of the annual tree trimming cycle, if warranted,” Herdman said. “One size really does not fit all, in every single case, when it comes to tree pruning in our city.”

He asked that an independent arborist, the city arborist, and a Great Scott arborist, all be on site when it comes to the trees on Marine Avenue. So, together, they can determine when they should be trimmed, how they should be trimmed, and how deep a cut should be made, Herdman explained.

“So that we can avoid what has taken place on Marine Avenue and on Balboa Island over the last couple of days,” Herdman said. “These issues can be very divisive for a community.”

By city edict, the trimmers start at 5 a.m., and must be finished by 9 a.m., when many businesses open. So as not to disturb residents, Scott Griffiths, president and founder of Great Scott Tree Care, said that his teams use electric trimmers (rather than the normal gasoline powered tools), then they cart the branches off the island rather than run them through chippers.

When trimming the trees on March 4 and 5, four arborists representing the city, the preservation group and Great Scott Tree Care came together to agree on the best way to trim.

“All of us were here for the people and the trees,” Griffiths said.  “And we’ll be working together into the future, as well,” he concluded.

According to the city’s published project update, “…approximately 20 Balboa Island residents and business owners have been working with staff from the city’s Public Works Department and the city’s project design consultant to create a new vision for the street that will remain true to the unique charm of Marine Avenue, and quaint community of Balboa island.”

In the section of that report titled “Project Background,” it stated, “While the street has a well-established appearance and mature streetscape, there has been a long-standing issue with proper drainage in the area and the street trees have reached beyond their life expectancy. These issues heighten the need for complete rehabilitation for the entire length of the street.”

Trees line Marine Avenue during a previous Balboa Island Parade. — NB Indy file photo

Patrich said that when she read the report, she contacted the BIIA, who told her that “the community wants it.”  She also was told by the city that the eucalyptus trees were “diseased and dangerous.”  At that point, “I decided we needed an organization to protect historical areas – and the trees, too.”  She started a “go-fund me” site to raise funds for an independent tree assessment.  That study “came back that the trees are stable,” she said.

“Eucalyptus trees are a challenge, they have more tree limb failures than most other varieties,” Griffiths noted.

And the reasons for those failures on Marine Ave., he explained, is that “they’re so tall, so long and leggy that they’re not protected from buildings.”   So, he said, “a limb or two will break.”   There were three limb failures last year on Marine.

Trimming trees is an art in that his certified trimmers must “protect both trees and people,” he added.

“We have to shape the trees to prevent limb breakage, at the same time not take off too much in order to prevent stress,” Griffiths explained.

From 50-feet up, his trimmers must evaluate the condition of the trees, and prune accordingly. Some of the trees are in decline, he confirmed. Others are hurting from damage done by questionable pruning done prior to Griffith’s contract. All will be carefully cared for, he concluded.

The current pruning philosophy is to “reduce as much of the canopy as possible without stressing the tree, and try to do corrective pruning to get more growth toward the center in order to avoid limb stress. That’s the difficulty,” Griffiths said.

“The city won’t do anything about this unless the whole island is involved,” Webb concluded.

All of this has to go through the proper processes, Patrich said.

“Bring in the community,” she emphasized.  “Put it all out there and let the people vote.”

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