Tree policy vote delayed for Santa Monica official’s presentation


The City Council delayed at the April 16 meeting a decision on proposed changes to Laguna’s tree removal and replacement policy.

Councilman Peter Blake was the lone vote opposing the delay until after Santa Monica’s Public Landscape Manager and former Director of Tree Preservation for New York City Parks gives a presentation on May 1 in Laguna Beach. The presentation is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

“We are lucky to have our City Council and Public Works [Department] be supportive of having Mathew Wells come to address our community with respect to maintaining a sustainable urban forest,” Barbara MacGillivray stated in an email.

The presentation is independently sponsored by the Laguna Beach Urban Tree Foundation, funded by MacGillivray and her husband, Greg. 

Early notification of the presentation has been sent to folks in Laguna who, the Foundation explains, have expressed concern and interest in maintaining and maximizing the extent of the community’s arboreal cover, according to the email. 

Tree policy ocean

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Trees are often a source of controversy in Laguna: a view of Ocean Ave

Laguna Beach resident Adam Schwerner, who is in charge of Disneyland’s “treescape” and formerly in charge of Chicago’s, asked Wells to make the presentation in Laguna.

Wells has worked in Santa Monica for five years. Before that he worked in New York and in London. He has a Master’s degree in urban forestry and arboriculture, and is a Chartered Forester. He presents programs at international tree conferences. 

MacGillivray has a support paper for the Wells presentation. She has requested that those with a passionate appreciation for the value that trees offer read the paper and formulate questions that might be asked at the presentation, 

“Hopefully all of you will be able to attend,” she wrote, and asked to be made aware of anyone who should be contacted about the presentation.

“City Council members and Public Works staff have all agreed to be part of this and are as concerned as we are about the future of our urban forest,” MacGillivray’s email concluded.

The City Council approved modifications to the Interim Public Tree Removal Policy in 2017. The modifications included deleting the requirement for an on-site meeting with two City-retained arborists regarding the removal of dead trees. An exemption to allow the removal of trees with a six-inch or less diameter when damaged, or in serious decline and/or dying, without the need for the on-site meeting and an arborist’s report was also approved.

Laguna’s current tree removal policy requires significant staff time to administer, and the cost of arborists’ services to inspect trees, prepare reports, and attend on-site and City Council meetings exceeds several thousand dollars per tree, according to a report submitted by Shohreh Dupuis, director of Public Works.

The estimated cost of removing a tree is $5,400 per tree under the current policy. Staff time is estimated at 40 to 60 hours.

Landscape architect Ann Christoph and nursery owner Ruben Flores questioned the cost at the April 16 hearing.

Proposed changes to the policy would allow tree removal determinations to be made by Dupuis, based on urban forestry standard criteria for tree removals.

Additionally, the proposed revisions would add requirements for replacement of the removed trees and identify a process for replanting.