CARLSBAD — The three enormous ficus trees which decorated Jefferson Street are gone. The Carlsbad City Council directed staff to have them removed because of root system liability, and on Oct. 19, they were cut down.
What spurred the motion was widespread sewer line damage which affected nearby apartment complexes. Some renters had backed-up sewage inside their homes.
Since the 40 to 50 year old ficus trees are city-owned, they paid a damage claim of more than $36,000 to the complex owners this past spring.
Still, some are wondering why the trees were removed since extensive repairs were made to the sewer pipes, lines, and clean-up efforts.
“The contractor would only guarantee the work for one year and there is a reason the contractor will only guarantee the work for one year,” said Chris Hazeltine, City Parks and Recreations Director. “Ficus trees are known to have heavy and very invasive root systems.”
Hazeltine also pointed out that ficus trees are not an approved species for street trees.
Longtime Carlsbad resident, Ila Schmidt, disagrees with the city’s tree removal decision. Even after her attempts in filing an appeal and speaking to the city council at a recent meeting, Schmidt’s efforts didn’t make much of an impact.
“The bottom line is that I think that the people on the city council are a bunch of cowards,” she said, adding how the members freak out about any potential litigation.
Schmidt said she heard that with the new technology the company used to do the sewer repair, it would take decades for the ficus root system to do any damage again.
Having worked with an architect for 20 years, Schmidt said,she knows a lot about ficus trees. “They can cause problems, but you can fix it, and you can deal with it,” she said.
Schmidt was on the sidelines as work crews cut down the mature trees and described the scene as very disturbing. It was devastating for her watch the magnificent trees on the chopping block.
People passing by, she said, couldn’t believe the sight. “Most of the people who drove by had no idea this was even going to happen,” she said.
If she could do it all over again, Schmidt said, she would have sought out more media coverage months ago to help publicize her efforts.
“Those trees were just beautiful and I really did the best I could,” she said.
Susan Mount, who works and lives in the Village, was saddened about the trees.
“It’s just heartbreaking and it’s going to change the whole feeling of the street,” she said.
According to Hazeltine, the city will be replacing the ficus trees with brisbane box trees.
In Carlsbad, there are nearly 11,000 street trees and the city budgets roughly $650,000 per year for maintenance costs. Two certified arborists are on staff.
“We have had a Tree City USA designation for seven consecutive years and that’s not an easy designation to achieve and keep,” Hazeltine said. “We are a very tree friendly city and we don’t remove them unless there is a good reason to do so.”