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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 9, 2016 -- Nearly five years ago, the Santa Monica City Council approved the Urban Forest Plan, a detailed document establishing guidelines for managing the city’s public trees. Matthew Wells, Santa Monica’s urban forester, says an update is needed.

Wells, who was not working for the City when the plan was approved, told the Planning Commission on Wednesday that “there are changes we need to do to make it a better document.”

In his brief presentation to the commission, Wells said proposed changes include reducing the maximum representation per species of the urban forest from 10 percent to 5 percent.

Restricting this number prevents diseases or other environmental issues from decimating a large swath of the tree population at once.

Wells said the current plan does not address climate change and includes invasive species. Also, the selection of spaces for trees was not done properly in some cases.

He added that the current urban forest has too many trees that are dependent on people irrigating them to survive.

“We know with the drought, a lot of people, including ourselves, are pulling back the amount of water we’re using,” Wells said. “That unfortunately is causing some of the species that we like to decline.”

He said adjustments to the plan would not be a major overhaul, but rather “changing the decisions that could have been approved upon.”

No healthy trees would be cut down, Wells said, but rather as trees decline or die, they would be removed. Also, there are more than 2,000 spaces where trees could be placed that do not have them, Wells said.

The plan will be updated through a process that includes input from various groups, including the Urban Forest Task Force that would bring a recommendation to the City Council for final approval.

Following Wells’ presentation, tree activist Jerry Rubin told the commission he was upset about last month’s destruction of seven “baby trees” on Fifth Street near Ocean Park Boulevard.

He said he and his wife Marissa were in tears upon hearing the news.

“This is unacceptable,” Rubin said. “Some people were speculating and blaming. I urge that we don’t do that. We don’t know who it was. All we know is that it was crazy."

He said he hoped a group of students could replace the trees in a ceremony so a bad occurrence could be turned into something positive.

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