Widespread anger at Los Angeles City government’s failure for three years to adopt best practices to save large public shade trees while repairing sidewalk cracks finally erupted, in Hollywood, last week. It focused on 18 huge shade trees that form a magical green tunnel in a working-class neighborhood on Cherokee Avenue. The street captured public attention because it will bake from heat waves once the city cuts the trees down.
With environmental and community groups accusing the city of knowingly falling more than a decade behind environmentally progressive cities by letting its tree canopy die off, embarrassed Los Angeles officials agreed not to cut down the stand of thick trees, and a second stand of trees on 48th Street also set for destruction. They’re safe at least for now.
Meanwhile on Friday, a judge denied a Temporary Restraining Order sought by two tree advocacy groups involved in the uproar, Eastside Nature Alliance and United Neighborhoods For LA. The two community groups are legally challenging the City of L.A.’s old-school practices in chopping down trees instead of saving them. But the judge denied the TRO aimed at saving trees in both Hollywood and South L.A., ruling it wasn’t needed since city officials had decided to back down in the face of public outrage.
Mitch Tsai, attorney for the two plaintiff groups, said, “After the city voluntarily agreed to not remove the Cherokee Avenue trees and South L.A. trees under the Sidewalk Repair Program, the court today decided a temporary restraining order was not necessary. We are happy the city has voluntarily agreed to not remove the trees on Cherokee and on 48th Street at this time, and the city appears open to agreeing to not rush forward with tree removals before they have completed a full decision-making process.”
Led by Angelenos4Trees, Coalition to Preserve LA, and several other groups, a press conference last week featured dramatic stage-lighting cast upon the majestic trees after dark. Neighbors came out of their apartments to talk about their love for the towering trees that have made that older stretch of Cherokee a place of coolness and great beauty for years.
For three years, the city’s Board of Public Works has failed to investigate best practices for saving such trees when sidewalks must be repaired. Such tree-saving practices are long underway in dozens of cities using new materials, redesigned sidewalks, reworked tree roots and numerous other innovative work-arounds that save both mature shade tree AND allow sidewalk repair.
Even nearby Pasadena, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills have more advanced approaches than Los Angeles — all of it ignored for years due to a mix of disinterest and refusal to fund it by Los Angeles officials.
Los Angeles is a hold-out in an era when cities are rushing to save their publicly owned street trees to fight climate change and dangerous, growing heat waves caused by the man-made “heat-island effect.”
The city’s terrible Summer of 2018 Heat Waves set off great anger over the Cherokee Avenue situation as word spread that the City Council, mayor’s office and Board of Public Works had repeatedly ignored recommendations and pleas that they catch up with the rest of nation and world.
In 2015, the Los Angeles Times editorial board warned the City of Los Angeles, after it settled a massive lawsuit over its cracked and neglected sidewalks: “The easiest and cheapest solution would be to chop the [trees] down, fix the sidewalks and plant some small, decorative species in the parkway…. it would be in line with the settlement, which puts the top priority on sidewalk safety, not preservation of the urban canopy. But it would be shortsighted.”
But shortsighted has thus far won the day.
Los Angeles slashed its tree-care budget so steeply during the Recession that the Urban Forestry Division was forced to sell off all of its tree-care trucks. The city has been reduced to 20-year-old practices — chop down the trees and move on. The demoralized Urban Forestry Division, which under Mayor Richard Riordan was booming with 270 employees, today struggles along with just 140 workers amidst a booming economy.
Meanwhile, environmentally advanced cities such as Seattle work from a detailed 86-page tree protection/sidewalk protection manual that provides specific custom work-arounds for each “tree-sidewalk conflict” to save every possible tree if the sidewalk is damaged.
How many heat waves before Los Angeles decides to get with it?
Below are the groups who supported last week’s press conference to save the trees on Cherokee Avenue:
Trees Committee, Neighborhood Council Sustainability Alliance
Environmental Health Committee, Neighborhood Council Sustainability Alliance
Coalition to Preserve LA
Eastside Nature Alliance
Save Coldwater Canyon