Letter to the Editor: The Dramatic End of an Iconic ‘Main’ Street

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Cars drive under the yellow eucalyptus trees along Marine Avenue on Balboa Island.
— NB Indy file photo ©

 

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 – the first 10 trees to be removed by the end of the year and 17 more in 2020-21. They are justifying this plan on the excuse that the trees pose a high risk to residents and passersby. They base this analysis on a visual review of the trees by a municipal arborist and without performing an actual risk assessment. A standard ANSI Level 3 Risk Assessment would include customary testing (e.g., pull test, tilt sensors, root crown excavation, sonic tomography etc.). The city has done no public testing of the trees.

Conveniently, tree removal fits in with the city’s plans to “rehabilitate” Marine Avenue with new streets, sidewalks, drains, lighting, landscaping, etc. City staff appears to have been determined to replace the iconic trees from the beginning of this program. In their March 23, 2018 report, their “Initial Observations” included the unsupported statement of “Aging trees in decline” and stated that the “trees must be replaced.” In their later Marine Avenue Reconstruction Project Update posted on the city website, they again included without discussion “Tree replacements.”

Learning of these plans, concerned residents contacted Richard Harlow, Chairman of the Horticulture Department at OCC and a Board-Certified Master Arborist, who reviewed the trees and stated that the Marine Ave. historic lemon gum eucalyptus trees are well suited for their location and have long life spans. He saw “no signs of wood rot diseases that would signal immediate attention.”

It should be noted that Marine Avenue does NOT have any blue gum eucalyptus trees, the entirely different species which once lined Irvine Avenue. Blue gums are not good street trees and, in addition to the incident on Irvine Avenue, have generated 268 failure reports to the Western Tree Failure Database (WTFD). In contrast, the yellow gum tree is recommended as a street tree by Southern California Street Tree Inc. and has generated very few reports since the WTFD was created in 1987.

Balboa Island Preservation Association (BIPA) commissioned Certified Arborist Greg Applegate of Arborgate Consulting to perform an in-depth evaluation of the Marine Avenue trees. Applegate is a highly respected arborist and the very first certified tree risk assessor in California. He consults on large-scale, complex tree projects for organizations such as UCI, USC, Disney, J Paul Getty Museum and the State of California. Greg reported that “(c)ompared to most other common urban street trees [Marine Avenue’s yellow gum eucalyptus] have very few bad characteristics and more good characteristics, such as less pavement lifting and sign blockage… 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 hearing of the Applegate report, city staff hired their own paid arborist, Walt Warriner. Warriner’s recommendations are a complete contrast to the professional arborist opinions obtained by BIPA. Safety is of paramount importance to us all so Balboa Island Preservation Association hired yet a third arborist to review Warriner’s conclusions. Among other things, the resulting report describes Warriner’s evaluation as subjective, contrary to highly credentialed independent consulting arborists, ignoring potential risk reduction strategies and lacking any risk assessment testing to support his claim.

It appears that history is repeating itself. A longtime Island resident informed BIPA that city staff tried the same gambit over twenty years ago – claiming that the Marine Avenue trees were diseased and needed to be immediately replaced. Past city officials put a stop to it then and the Island has enjoyed twenty more years of the charm and environmental benefits of the historic trees.

The city’s attack on Marine Avenue’s cherished heritage trees threatens not just the natural environment and historical character of Balboa Island, but Island property values as well. Studies show that mature tree lined streets attract buyers, shoppers and tenants, and command premium real estate prices. Conversely, removal of mature trees can reduce property values by up to 10 to 20 percent!

The Balboa Island Preservation Association believes the following immediate actions are required:

  1. A moratorium on tree removal, trimming and replacement on Marine Avenue, except in case of immediate hazard to public safety based upon a standard ANSI Level 3 Risk Assessment.
  2. Creation of a Marine Avenue Preservation Committee to have meaningful input on behalf of the stakeholders to all decisions regarding landscaping (including tree maintenance and replacement), design, and construction of infrastructure and other “improvements” that could impact the historical character of Marine Ave.
  3. Strict compliance with the city’s existing tree policy (G-1) which has specific requirements for the treatment, retention and replacement of the Marine Avenue heritage trees, and which has been disregarded by city staff to date.
    Marine Avenue is the historic jewel of Newport Beach and attracts worldwide attention, due to its rich history of past movie stars, bohemians and sailors and current movies and television such as The OC and Arrested Development. It is promoted as charming, historical and unique by media outlets, local and international real-estate companies, Trip Advisor and more.

Walking down the tree-shaded sidewalks of Marine Avenue, and grabbing a world-famous Balboa Bar or Frozen Banana, is THE iconic Newport Beach experience. Historic Marine Avenue is THE iconic Newport Beach location.  If the city destroys what makes Balboa Island special, it would not just be a problem for the residents and shopkeepers of Balboa Island, but for the restaurateurs, merchants and hoteliers of Newport Beach. In addition, we risk unfavorable national and even international attention as well as reduced property values and adverse economic consequences to the city. How is it that other cities in the entire country can provide infrastructure services to historical areas with a preservation engineering approach, but the city of Newport Beach is incapable or unwilling to do the same?

As another wise iconic figure once said: “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present” — Golda Meir

City Council has scheduled a study session on Tuesday 4 – 6 p.m., in council chambers at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Drive, to discuss the future of the Marine Avenue trees. It is important that all concerned residents, visitors, property owners, business owners, and others who care about the well-being of Marine Ave attend this meeting. If unable to attend, we ask that you email the City Council with your thoughts at [email protected]

Jodi P. Bole
Founder, Balboa Island Preservation Association

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