Letter to the Editor: Are City Designated “Special Trees” Really Special?

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The City of Newport Beach has designated just under 1,000 trees as Special Trees (out of 32,000 city trees).

The national standard for determining what constitutes a Special Tree is typically by age, protective species or trees that have historic significance, contribute to, and give character to, a location or to an entire neighborhood.

To underscore the importance of Special Trees in Newport Beach, the previous City Urban Forestry staff created the G1 Tree Policy in 1996. Their goal was “all Special Trees shall be retained…” and that every possible mitigation and treatment effort should be considered before the removal of a Special Tree.

With so much attention put into this policy by previous City staff, why has this policy not been followed in the last several years, and why is the City currently proposing to revise the G1 policy in ways that make our Special Trees more vulnerable to removal than ever before?

Specifically, one of the most concerning revisions in the G1 Policy is that a Special Tree can be petitioned for removal by ANY person for ANY reason, and its removal could simply be personal preference with no proof of a condition-based reason to remove it.  To add insult to injury, in almost every other City with protected trees, a permit applicant or petitioner pays to confirm there is a problem that warrants the tree to be removed. If removal is approved, the petitioner pays for the removal. But the proposed revision doesn’t require that the taxpayers of Newport Beach receive any evidence of a problem, yet they must pay for the removal of the tree to satisfy someone’s personal preference or agenda.

In addition, the ability to remove a designated Special Tree without any concrete evidence of an issue undermines industry best practices by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), and puts both the community and Special Trees in a contentious and ongoing battle.

After all, Special Trees were designated for a reason and they have earned the right to be protected. So, shouldn’t the process meet typical industry practices and the tree removal be as certain as possible?

Another concern in the proposed revisions is a new process flow chart that indicates, after the removal petition is Approved or Denied by the City, the City may provide “assessment” of the tree. To make a valid decision, shouldn’t assessments be conducted before considering the removal of a Special Tree?

As in the case of Balboa Island’s Marine Avenue Special Trees, a proposed redevelopment of the area included the removal of all trees on Marine Avenue, and it was rumored by a few of the redevelopment petitioners that the trees were diseased and dangerous and needed to be removed.

Due to the angst of Balboa Island residents, proof of disease and risk was requested and conducted, and Marine Avenue trees were found not to be high risk. In fact, all assessment tests came back that the Special Trees were healthy and solid — even an odd growth found below some of the trees turned out to be beneficial fungus.

And factor in that the scientific based tests actually cost significantly less than removing all the mature trees and planting replacement trees, not to mention how closing the street for weeks on end would have impacted struggling merchants on Marine Avenue. To think, the character and historical significance of Marine Avenue, and our Special Trees, would have been lost forever if testing had not been conducted.

The G1 Tree Policy clearly states that the community is a major stakeholder of the Special Trees, yet our community had very little involvement or input regarding the recently proposed policy revisions.

The residents of Newport Beach have continually demonstrated they value their Special Trees and the benefits they provide. If the simple process for removal of a Special Tree is permitted, the City will undermine recent progress made and lose the trust of the community.

The proposed revisions clearly threaten the value of our Special Trees and sanctions their unsupported removal.

Jodi P. Bole / Chair, Balboa Island Preservation Association

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