Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to an earlier letter, which can be read here.
The City of Newport Beach has announced its plan to remove heritage Eucalyptus trees which have graced iconic Marine Avenue on Balboa Island since the 1920s. They base this on a “risk analysis” from a visual review of the trees and without providing any scientific evidence that the trees are diseased.
Conveniently, tree removal fits in with the city’s plan to “rehabilitate” Marine Avenue. City staff appears to have been determined to replace the iconic trees from the beginning. In their March 23, 2018 report, they included the unsupported statement of “Aging trees in decline” and several self-appointed Marine Avenue redevelopment champions have told Avenue merchants that the trees were “diseased and dangerous” and must be removed.
Concerned residents contacted Richard Harlow, a Board-Certified Master Arborist, to assess the trees. Harlow stated that the Marine Avenue trees are well suited for their location, have long life spans and he saw no signs of wood rot diseases or decay that would signal immediate attention.
It should be noted that Marine Avenue does NOT have any blue gum eucalyptus, the entirely different species that once lined Irvine Avenue.
Balboa Island Preservation Association (BIPA) then commissioned highly respected arborist Greg Applegate to perform an in-depth evaluation. Greg reported that Marine Avenue’s Lemon Gum Eucalyptus “have very few bad characteristics and more good characteristics. . . . they do not commonly shed large branches and toppling is very rare”. Applegate recommended that the City “Preserve and protect as many lemon gums as possible.”
On reading the Applegate report, City staff hired their own arborist, Walt Warriner. Warriner’s recommendation was to remove almost all the eucalyptus trees on Marine Avenue, a complete contrast to the BIPA professional arborist opinions. Warriner’s evaluation lacked any testing to support his claims and placed little historic or economic value on the trees.
On Tuesday night, the City Council held a Study Session on the trees. After Public Works provided a lengthy presentation, waxing and waning about how mature trees are a safety hazard, and downgrading BIPA’s report to convey that their report was somehow superior, BIPA provided the Council with scientific proof in the form of lab reports and sonographic testing that the trees alleged by Warriner to be diseased were, in fact, healthy.
During the Study Session, BIPA requested a moratorium on any Marine Avenue tree removal. In addition, BIPA again requested the formation of an official Marine Avenue Preservation Committee, an initiative Councilmen Muldoon presented in July, 2019.
It is time that Balboa Island residents and merchants have a say regarding the iconic character of their 102-year-old street. Newport Beach cannot become a City which refuses to preserve those areas that the community cherishes most.
Jodi P. Bole
Founder, Balboa Island Preservation Association