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Newport to go ahead with cutting down three condemned Balboa Island trees initially spared the saw

A worker cuts branches off a decaying eucalyptus tree outside Starbucks along Balboa Island’s Marine Avenue in Newport Beach early Monday. Three other trees on the street got a temporary reprieve.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Though three eucalyptus trees slated for removal on Balboa Island’s Marine Avenue got a reprieve early Monday as workers started cutting down a fourth, the delay will be short-lived.

Some Newport Beach residents sent weekend emails to the City Council appealing for the three trees — outside the Balboa Island Museum, Basilic Restaurant and Abrams Coastal Properties — to be spared pending advanced testing of their health and stability. Those trees, and one outside the Starbucks coffee shop that workers began removing Monday, have been deemed decaying and dangerous and in the worst condition among the 40 eucalyptuses lining Marine Avenue.

At daybreak Monday, the three trees in dispute were untouched and city staff was re-evaluating their removal, said Kevin Pekar, city landscape manager.

But in the afternoon, Mayor Diane Dixon said the city on Tuesday would resume the process of cutting down all four targeted eucalyptus trees. She said it’s important that the project be completed before winter storms and more Santa Ana winds arrive.


The disputed trees remained cordoned off with tape and stanchions, and someone had attached printed messages to them objecting to their removal.

Balboa Island Museum eucalyptus
A message objecting to its scheduled removal is attached to a eucalyptus tree Monday outside the Balboa Island Museum on Marine Avenue in Newport Beach.
(Hillary Davis)

Island resident and pro-tree activist Dennis Bress said he was one of two people awaiting workers at 3 a.m. Monday and one of the locals who pressed Dixon on Sunday to reconsider removal of the three trees.

Bress agreed that the tree outside Starbucks needed to come down. But the others are “thriving and beautiful,” he said.


Dixon, however, said she “again reviewed all of the information with our staff this morning and remain in agreement that the city has made the right decision and these four eucalyptus trees should be removed.”

At about 6 a.m., city staff arborist John Nelson stood under the jade-toned pagoda-style facade of the Shanghai Pine Gardens restaurant at the corner of Marine and Balboa avenues watching about 10 city workers and contractors cleaning up after removing the crown of the eucalyptus outside Starbucks across the street. The tree was diagnosed as having decayed heartwood and cannot be saved, Nelson said.

Cropped eucalyptus tree on Marine Avenue
A eucalyptus tree outside Starbucks on Marine Avenue on Balboa Island is pictured Monday morning after it was cropped overnight in preparation for removing it this week. The tree was determined to be decaying and not salvageable.
(Hillary Davis)

The work began a three-day process. On Tuesday, workers will remove the trunk and main limbs and on Wednesday will grind down the stump.

The work is set to run between 3 and 6:30 a.m. to minimize effects on local businesses and vehicle traffic, the city said. Road closures and detours will be in place during work hours.

A worker cuts off a branch from a decaying eucalyptus tree along Marine Avenue early Monday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Crews also removed three non-eucalyptus trees for replacement with trees that better match the rest of the street forest.

The city recently started refilling five other tree spaces that had long been empty.


New tree on Marine Avenue
A new eucalyptus tree is planted in a spot that had long been empty along Marine Avenue on Balboa Island.
(Hillary Davis)

Residents and arborists have debated the health and stability of several trees on Marine Avenue for months, drawing on varying professional and personal opinions.

The city Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission agreed to a compromise in September in which four trees would be removed and six others that appear distressed will undergo advanced stability and health testing. If those six trees show decay, they will be culled around January.

The council affirmed the commission’s decision.

Bress said he wanted to confirm whether a city policy required advanced testing for the targeted trees before removal.

The city’s policy on “special trees,” a designation given to tree stands like Marine Avenue’s that “have historical significance and/or contribute to and give character to a location or to an entire neighborhood,” says those types of trees must be retained unless there are overriding concerns about their health, hazards to people or interference with infrastructure.

The policy says city staff must prepare a report outlining treatment to keep the trees in place and submit a report to the parks commission if the treatment is unsuccessful or impractical. All of that happened before the commission’s September decision. The policy doesn’t specify advanced testing.

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2:30 PM, Oct. 14, 2019: This article was originally published at 9:15 a.m. and has been updated with additional information.