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Sidewalks project takes out about 35 trees in Newport Heights, where boy was hit and killed last year

A tree-removal worker cuts down a eucalyptus piece by piece in the Newport Heights neighborhood.
(Courtesy of Candice Woodward)

Making sidewalks contiguous in Newport Heights means the removal of several dozen trees — a change that has some residents unhappy.

Sandy Verkerk, who lives on Riverside Avenue, laments the loss of several towering eucalyptus and other trees along 15th Street as part of a sidewalk project that she said was discussed too quietly.

Most streets in the neighborhood don’t have sidewalks, although 15th does on its north side, as well as sporadically on its south.

“As a resident, I understand the city’s responsibility to care [for] the environment we all love so much, while keeping the residents safe,” said Verkerk, who said other neighbors are also upset to see the trees go. “However, this latest destruction of the trees and growth along 15th Street for a sidewalk is outrageous and heartbreaking.”

Workers started removing the trees this week.

A partially cut eucalyptus.
(Courtesy of Candice Woodward)

Newport Beach Public Works Director Dave Webb said tree removal will continue into next week, followed by grading for the sidewalks. Workers will begin pouring the sidewalks the week after next, with the project complete before the school year resumes.

In bringing the sidewalk project before the City Council in February, public works staff noted that a planned improvement project involving bike-lane striping yielded more support for sidewalk improvements instead — namely, on the south side of 15th between Irvine and Santa Ana avenues, where gaps have remained for years.

Nearby schools, including Newport Heights Elementary and Ensign Intermediate, also requested fill-ins of the missing sidewalk segments around their campuses, according to a city staff report at the time.

The city rolled the sidewalk improvements into a project to resurface the neighborhood alleys.

“It is never easy to remove mature trees, as area residents can develop great fondness for them, but the sidewalk cannot be completed without removing those that would block the path of the sidewalk,” said the city report, which estimated that about 35 trees would have to be felled for the sidewalk.

Webb said the city made it clear that trees would be removed for the project. He said he understands that some people think they define the neighborhood, but he said staff was also under clear direction from the City Council to install sidewalks in the interest of safety.

“There was some compromise there,” he said.

He said the city will plant some replacement trees, although not that same type of eucalyptus.

Verkerk said the sidewalk project is an understandable emotional reaction to the death last year of an 8-year-old boy who was struck by a garbage truck while riding his bicycle home from Newport Heights Elementary School.

She said she is sensitive to the tragedy and suggested that the city work with the schools to promote safe walking and riding practices for children traveling through the streets that don’t have sidewalks.

She wondered if there could be an alternative.

“This is not the ultimate protection for anyone. Awareness and education is the key for all who travel these streets. Not an all-out assault on the environment,” Verkerk said. “This is not the answer.”

An uncut eucalyptus tree.
(Courtesy of Candice Woodward)

hillary.davis@latimes.com

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD


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