City Agrees to Replace Dying Palms

After four years of debate and study, the City Council has approved a compromise plan to replace dozens of landmark date palms in Capistrano Beach that are dying of an incurable fungus.

The City Council voted 3 to 1 Tuesday to spend $100,000 to buy and plant 85 Canary Island date palms, ranging in height from 2 to 4 feet.

Capistrano Beach residents urged the council to replace the palms, most about 20 feet tall, with bigger trees. Councilman Harold R. Kaufman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, agreed.

“It’s a waste of time to plant the smaller trees,” Kaufman said, suggesting the city buy fewer but taller trees, and replace the rest in the future as finances allow.

There are about 275 of the palm trees in Capistrano Beach, many of which line Avenida las Palmas and Calle Fortuna. About 60 of the trees are diseased, and more than 20 others are gone or damaged, some from storms over the years.

The palms were planted along streets in the 1920s when the Doheny family developed the area and are considered a signature feature of Capistrano Beach.

Ann Romano, president of the Capistrano Beach Community Assn., said residents who wanted bigger trees to give the palm-lined streets a uniform look are disappointed.

Under the compromise plan, the city gave property owners the option of contributing money to buy taller trees.

Although the fungus is believed to have first affected the palms nearly a decade ago, it was accidentally spread as late as 1993 when the trees were trimmed by a city-hired company whose workers used unsterilized chain saws.

Unsterilized pruning equipment spreads the incurable fungus, called fusarium wilt, by attacking a tree’s vascular system and turns healthy green fronds brown.

The city became aware of the fungus in 1994 and established a committee of experts to study the problem.