Tree mishap 'looked like devastation'

COSTA MESA — City officials say miscommunication with contractors hired to repair Mesa Verde sidewalks and streets led them to mistakenly remove a resident's old tree.

"We remove trees causing damage, and we do contact property owners [beforehand]," said Costa Mesa City Engineer Ernesto Munoz. "It just happens to be an unfortunate incident."

City officials agreed to leave the Brazilian pepper tree alone at the homeowner's request two weeks before to the July 26 incident, but it somehow stayed on the list of trees slated for removal.

"It just looked like devastation," said homeowner Heidi Kearns, who has lived in the 1600 block of Labrador Drive for 30 years. "I didn't come home and expect to see that at all. It felt like, you know, a family member died. I literally was crying. It's a pretty big thing."

The tree was more than 50 years old.

The contractor at fault, All American Asphalt, started working in June to repair more than 100 Mesa Verde streets, curbs and sidewalks. The city's $2.8 million contract with the company is for four months and uses funds from the city's Measure M and gas tax funds, Munoz said.

Five trees causing damage are expected to be removed during the project.

The pepper tree provided a wide canopy over the front lawn and its plants, Kearns said, but its roots damaged the home's plumbing and lifted the front sidewalk.

It was a problem, but she said "it was [her] nuisance" to address.

Now the front yard is bathed in light — a problem for plants not acclimated to heavy sun exposure.

"My ferns are all burning," she said.

Kearns studied horticulture in school and used to run a landscaping business with her ex-husband.

The city has offered to replace the tree with two others, but it's of little consolation for Kearns. That tree had been there since she bought the home. Her kids grew up with it in the front yard.

"I think there's going to be a lot more to mitigate," Kearns said.

"She did indicate that she did not want the tree removed and we noted that," Munoz said. "It just got away from the contractor and when we found out, it was too late."

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