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Neighbors join forces to replace missing street trees

Hot Property | Neighbors join forces to replace missing street trees
Trees line Warner Avenue in the Holmby-Westood neighborhood, among the stock of trees planted by the Janss Investment Corp. in the 1920s.
(Kathryn Welch Howe)

The powerhouse that is a tree — still and stoic, yet surging with water and nutrients fashioned into leaves that exhale oxygen — is a neighborhood’s shadiest best friend.

It’s easy to disregard these wondrous dynamos until they’ve vanished, leaving earth and sky startlingly barren.

Knowing the cost of taking trees for granted, Holmby-Westwood residents will hold a neighborhood tree planting Saturday, the start of a bid to replenish 300 missing parkway trees.

The area’s 2,000 street trees are notable for having been systematically planted by Janss Investment Corp. in the 1920s, even before the developer built any homes. The original 15 tree species include Charing Cross Road’s Chinese elms, Dalehurst Avenue’s Aleppo pines and Le Conte Avenue’s river she-oaks.

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“Because our streets wind around, up and down, there’s a rhythm that the trees help create, as well as consistency and a connectedness,” said Marnie Bodek, co-coordinator of Greening Holmby-Westwood, which is organizing the planting.

The 20-member neighborhood crew teamed with Los Angeles-based TreePeople to identify “dream streets” that desperately need trees. First up, the intersecting blocks of Malcolm and Manning avenues will be planted with 15 8-foot-tall trees: Coast live oaks will line Malcolm Avenue, and Manning Avenue will sprout fruitless olive trees.

The area’s full restocking effort of 300 trees will take five to 10 years, Bodek estimates. The new species are drought-tolerant and disease-resistant, as are some of the area’s replacement trees that have been planted through the decades.

Besides aging out, the neighborhood’s “heritage” trees have been affected by multiyear droughts and various blights and pests, including the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle. This native of Southeast Asia, first discovered in L.A. in 2003, could kill as many as 38% of the 71 million trees in Southern California, or a total of 27 million trees, the U.S. Forest Service reports.

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The city has placed new emphasis on maintaining and increasing Los Angeles’ 750,000 street trees, starting with a proposed “tree summit” of advocates and experts to recommend protective policies.

The effort stems from an obvious fact, but one that’s easily forgotten: Trees are seriously valuable.

California’s 9.1 million street trees are worth $2.49 billion, according to a 2016 U.S. Forest Service study. Although that figure includes numerous factors — from energy savings to the absorption of pollutants — homeowners can easily green their property values as well by planting just a single tree.

A tree placed in front of a home will boost property values by an average of $7,000, said Brian Rekart, TreePeople’s director of forestry.

A 2007 University of Washington examination found a 7% increase in property values when yard or street trees are present. Neighborhoods with “good tree cover” had home prices 6% to 9% higher than average, and mature trees in high-income neighborhoods pushed up values by 10% to 15%.

Trees can also pare monthly utility bills. Project co-coordinator Kathryn Welch Howe said she hasn’t used air conditioning more than once a year since buying her home 25 years ago along leafy Le Conte Avenue.

Bodek and Welch Howe’s planting crusade launched after they attended TreePeople’s free Citizen Forester workshop, which guides planting efforts and educates residents about trees. UCLA geography students assisted by identifying the total number of trees, and those missing.

TreePeople helps homeowners choose trees from a city-approved list of more than 100 species. Founded in 1973, the organization has helped Angelenos plant and care for more than 3 million trees. The trees are provided at no cost by City Plants, a public-private partnership funded by the L.A. Department of Water and Power, grants and corporations.

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Coast live oaks were selected for Malcolm Avenue because its nearly 9-foot-wide parkway can accommodate the trees’ massive growth. Crowns can spread 100 feet, forming “a kind of mystical canopy” when lining both sides of a street, Rekart said.

TreePeople itself does not plant trees, Rekart stressed; rather, “we engage communities and support the process,” making plantings easy to do.

Holmby-Westwood’s greening campaign involved some door-knocking: Homeowners must give the city signed permission for street trees to be planted in front of their houses. The team also obtained commitments from residents to water their street trees for three to five years — crucial to survival.

On planting day, TreePeople provides tools and supervises the process, which includes a welcoming ritual for each tree. Rekart called the ceremony, which dates to TreePeople’s founding in the 1970s, “a hippie-ish kind of thing.”

hotproperty@latimes.com

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