CORONA DEL MAR — Crews will begin removing 33 blue gum eucalyptus trees, probably starting Monday, along Fourth Avenue, a city official said Thursday.
"I know this is hard," said Mark Harmon, Newport Beach municipal operations director, to a crowd of 50 at the OASIS Senior Center. "This is a public safety issue."
Of the trees, 31 pose a high to extreme risk of falling and two pose moderate risk, he said.
City arborists and an outside expert inspected Corona del Mar's blue gums following a Sept. 15 accident on Irvine Avenue in Costa Mesa, near the Newport Beach border, when a blue gum fell and killed 29-year-old Tustin resident Haeyoon Miller.
After that incident, crews removed 100 trees from the Irvine Avenue median and began inspecting all blue gums in the city, mostly in Corona del Mar, along Holiday Road and along the Castaways Park bike path.
The inspections considered the size, health, site condition and whether the trees were in populated or heavily used areas, Harmon said.
Tree removal will take about a week, with crews working first to remove 22 trees on the north side of East Coast Highway and then removing 11 trees on the south side. The trees are 50 to 60 feet tall and weigh 6 to 8 tons each, Harmon said.
One Corona del Mar tree on Fourth and Goldenrod avenues that failed inspection, and was suggested for immediate removal, fell soon after during an Oct. 5 rainstorm. That tree damaged two homes, four cars and another blue gum across the street. Crews removed the damaged tree and four others immediately.
One resident said she loved her three eucalyptus trees, which she named Huey, Dewey and Louie.
"They took Huey and Dewey," said Mary Porter. "Now Louie's in trouble. Don't you think they could be shortened or something?"
Harmon said no.
"Topping them kills eucalyptus," he said.
Other residents questioned the city's tree-trimming schedule and complained about Marguerite Avenue's palms, which drop heavy, sharp fronds.
Others asked about where birds would go when the trees were removed, and if the city wasn't making a "rush to judgment." Some questioned how the city's arborists couldn't have seen the danger that the blue gums posed in their regular inspections.
Harmon said city officials would pre-determine about three trees that would be good replacements and let residents where a blue gum was removed make the choice. The city also would pay for irrigation system repairs and fresh sod, he said.
But a few residents questioned the reforestation plan.
"I understand the trees have to go. I understand why," said Todd Kuh. "Fourth Street has a very strong identity with these trees. I would like to at least have the city consider the possibility of block-by-block consistency."
Resident Joe Garrett said, "I love the trees. I love Corona del Mar. I love the fact that it's an urban forest, a tree community. We'll lose our identity as a city."
Harmon said there was no way to save the blue gums.
"I understand that they define your neighborhood. I get it," he said. "But these trees are a safety issue and need to be removed."