ENCINITAS — In a unanimous vote March 18, City Council approved a policy codifying the importance of trees to the municipality’s character.
The urban forest tree policy was light on specifics. But some residents were pleased that the city was taking action. “It’s a good first start,” former Mayor Sheila Cameron said.
Public Works Department Director Larry Watt told the council his staff has been working on the document with input from the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee since September 2008. “I think the understatement of the night is that trees are a very important part of the city,” Watt said.
The policy includes a set of objectives that guide the maintenance, removal and planting of the city’s stock of approximately 15,700 trees. It will not apply to trees on private property.
According to Watt, the goals of the new policy are to foster species diversity, use native, non-invasive tree selections, recycle tree trimming waste and practice industry-accepted methods of tree maintenance.
Mayor Maggie Houlihan said the guidelines were necessary to ensure a unified approach to tree management. She also asked staff to consider adopting a goal to reduce the use of pesticides and fungicides on trees. Watt said the administrative manual would contain a “best practices” section to address those concerns.
On more than one occasion, the removal of trees on public property has caused controversy. In August 2008, three large Eucalyptus trees along North Coast Highway 101 in the North County Transit District right-of-way were removed.
More recently, 11 trees were removed in Orpheus Park despite a public outcry. In his report to the council earlier in March, Parks and Recreation Department Director Chris Hazeltine said the city was obligated to remove the trees based on minutes from a 1990 Planning Commission meeting that mentioned protecting view corridors of neighboring residents and not negatively impacting property values.
Watt told the council that staff would present a considerably more detailed policy in June. Councilman Jerome Stocks said the Planning Commission should vote on the final report rather than the council. “To cut them out of the loop I think is inappropriate,” he said.
Resident Tony Kranz urged the council to read the tree policy adopted by the city of Davis. He questioned the staff’s definition of a tree. “I’d like to know what we consider a tree,” he said. “This might lower our inventory (of trees) and make it more manageable.”
Watt said the staff would seek designation as “Tree City USA” with the National Arbor Day Foundation as part of the policy objectives.
Also, the guidelines call for a “heritage tree” designation to protect certain landmark trees by requiring a special permit and public outreach before they are removed. Residents would have the ability to nominate trees based on certain criteria.
Councilman James Bond said he was concerned that the heritage tree protection would infringe on private property owners. “I don’t think this addresses anything in your backyard unless you want it to,” said committee member Mark Wisniewski, a certified arborist. “That’s an important clarification so we don’t run afoul of property right,” Bond said.