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The council has directed city staff to work with developers to find alternatives to more typical roadway designs in an effort to protect mature trees.
The council has directed city staff to work with developers to find alternatives to more typical roadway designs in an effort to protect mature trees. File photo
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Encinitas council sets goals to protect mature trees from development

ENCINITAS — A number of Encinitas residents have shared concerns over tree preservation in the face of increasing development, prompting the Encinitas City Council on Dec. 8 to direct city staff to get more creative with developers to better safeguard mature trees.

The council unanimously supported the agenda item initiated by Councilman Tony Kranz.

The city’s General Plan Resource Management Element includes a stated goal that the city will “make every effort possible to preserve significant mature trees.” The goal continues to state that “mature trees shall not be removed or disturbed to provide public right-of-way improvements if such improvements can be deferred, redesigned, or eliminated.”

However, there has not been a clear way of implementing the policy and the goal contradicts other city design standards.

“I think some of the time we prioritize some of the curb and gutter and street widening over the trees,” Kranz said. “I think that as a city council, we want to emphasize this particular general plan goal.”

In 2017, both Blakespear and Kranz voted to approve an amendment to the city’s Municipal Tree Ordinance (Chap. 15.02) to add protections “required to protect its urban forest and its Heritage Trees.”

“The City will use best practices to protect existing trees from the impacts of development and maintenance projects,” the amendment reads.

Additionally, the opening line under the chapter “Protection of Trees” states: “Every effort should be made to protect trees during construction.”

Rows of ficus trees in Encinitas.
Rows of ficus trees line a street in Encinitas. File photo

However, it remains unclear what impact this new direction will have on existing projects, such as a housing development on Melba Road that is slated to remove several mature Torrey Pines trees.

Resident Jennifer Hewitson spoke at the meeting about the importance of saving mature trees on Melba Road, not just for the community value, but also for the ecological ramifications.

“Multiple species rely on this tree-covered open space for survival, including threatened monarch butterflies staying through spring and summer,” Hewitson said.

“We can’t talk about Melba specifically because that’s not agendized,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said. “I think that there are projects like that one that would be implicated by this and we can ask for that to be bought back.”

Blakespear asked staff to bring back an item on the Melba project to have a more in-depth conversation on the development.

Roy Sapa’u, the city’s director of development services, said staff could return in the future with a streamlined policy to meet the city’s stated goal of protecting mature trees. Until that time, city staff will provide the Planning Commission with options for projects requiring road improvements that could require the removal of trees.

Only the City Council has the power to waive public road standards.

“The issue of mature trees isn’t just about road improvements but there are also other policies related to the preservation of mature trees to the extent feasible,” Sapa’u said. “Ultimately if the goal and the direction is to preserve mature trees, you’ll see projects coming before (the city council) with the option of either eliminating public road improvements or deferring public road improvements in order to preserve mature trees.”

Blakespear acknowledged there will still be an inevitable conflict with the city’s other goals.

“Our mobility goals at times will run into this,” Blakespear said. “You need some kind of dispute resolution when those goals run into each other.”