Poppy Avenue in Corona del Mar will soon be a little sunnier.
The large eucalyptus trees that provide shade and create a canopy over the street are scheduled for removal.
Although it wasn’t on the agenda, Newport Beach City Council members and residents discussed the issue on Tuesday during public comment.
The CdM street has been lined with the trees for many years, but residents received a letter from the city last week alerting them that 36 of the eucalyptus trees would soon be taken down due to safety concerns.
Poppy Avenue resident Jim Moore summarized the letter, in which city officials expressed concern for the safety of residents and property on the street, but noted that the age and declining health dictate that the trees need to be removed before they randomly fall on their own.
In the letter, the city reasoned that the trees need to come down with all due haste before the strong Santa Ana winds cause them to topple, Moore reported.
The trees will be marked before removal, which is expected to happen this month, according to city manager Dave Kiff.
“I’m hopeful we can make it to the removal time without anything falling or anything awful happening,” Kiff said.
He mentioned the incident in September 2011 when a 50-foot, 10-ton blue gum eucalyptus fell on Tustin resident Haeyoon Miller’s Hyundai Accent while she was waiting at a stoplight.
“I stood out on Irvine Avenue for about three hours waiting for someone to be taken out of a car,” Kiff said. “It was a very chilling experience.”
The city quickly started evaluating and removing eucalyptus trees around Newport Beach after the fatal accident.
“One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is have to direct to remove these trees,” Kiff said.
When looking at possibly hazardous trees, he always gets a second, and sometimes a third or fourth, opinion, Kiff said.
The city’s contract arborist R. Dan Jensen & Associates evaluated the Poppy Avenue trees in September 2014 and determined that 11 of them needed to be removed immediately, Kiff explained. He wanted to wait and get a second opinion, Kiff explained.
So the city had consulting arborist Walter Warriner look at the Poppy Avenue trees in July. Warriner concluded that not only did the trees that Jensen identified need to be removed, but 25 others as well.
Warriner used a more updated scale and ranking system, Kiff noted.
They examined likelihood of failure, consequence of failure, what portion of the tree will fail (one limb or the entire tree), if there are conchs (which are evidence of decay inside), where the conchs are located on the tree, and more.
Kiff implied that the trees are dangerous and quickly need to be removed. It’s a difficult issue and he’s lost sleep over it, he added.
“I feel remiss that I’ve even waited this long,” Kiff said. “This isn’t something I can sit on any longer.”
If they are diseased or dead trees, they should be removed, Moore admitted, “but I find it hard to believe that there are that many of them.”
If it were just a few trees residents would be more understanding, agreed fellow Poppy Avenue resident, Erin McDonald.
Eucalyptus is a hardy, drought-resistant tree that can live up to 150 years, according to Moore.
“These trees have stood the test of time for some eight decades,” Moore said. “They’ve been there longer than any of us and I think have earned the right to be treated with more respect, dignity and consideration than the city manager seems to have afforded them.”
Moore asked the city to provide evidence to prove that removal is indeed the only option.
McDonald agreed that an arborist’s report or other documentation supporting the proposal to remove them should have been included with the letter.
“We’d like t see what type of reports and examinations you’ve actually done,” she said.
It is happening very quickly, another Poppy Avenue homeowner added, allowing very little reaction time from the residents.
Residents also questioned why there wasn’t a community meeting to discuss the issue and inform the public about why this “drastic action” was needed.
“It’s no wonder you have the neighborhood in kind of an uproar,” McDonald added.
The letter caught him by surprise, noted John Bryant, another resident on the CdM flower street.
Councilman Tony Petros, who described himself as a “staunch supporter of the urban forest,” said he was also shocked when he heard the news about the removal of trees on Poppy Avenue.
Petros encouraged city staff to quickly engage the residents about reforestation after the eucalyptus trees are removed so they have a say about what goes on their street.
“I’d like to open it up to all possibilities to get a canopy back on that street,” Petros said, adding that there may be some limitation regarding the species of trees.
He also suggested looking into whether or not parking was needed on the street.
“Let’s be very creative in the ways that we could possibly get that canopy back on that street,” Petros said. “It is iconic. It’s something that speaks to the village. And we should do everything we can to bring that back.”
As far as reforestation goes, “bigger is better,” Mayor Ed Selich noted, but there are limitations on the street.
Kiff agreed that reforestation is important and wants to work with the residents to get trees quickly back on the street.
“The most import thing, once these are removed, is to plant new ones and get the street canopy back,” Kiff said. “That’s a vital thing, to say ‘What’s the street going to look like next?’ and it should look like that quickly.”
Both residents, city staff and council members agreed the trees are a special feature of the village.
The eucalyptus trees give Poppy Avenue a unique character, Moore noted.
They welcome visitors to CdM, said Bryant, who grew up in Belmont Shores, but often visited the coastal community.
“You just knew you were in Corona del Mar (when you saw them),” he said.
The eucalyptus are also considered “special” trees by the city, she pointed out
She quoted the city policy on tree removal, which states, in part, that the trees are an important part of the character and charm of the entire city and provide an environmental benefit as well. They also have historic significance, she added.
Kiff agreed and emphasized the importance of reforestation.
“I’m a believer in trees on streets,” Kiff said. “It really adds a lot to the neighborhood.”
For more information, visit newportbeachca.gov