Newport council approves removing 18 more trees

NEWPORT BEACH — Despite opposition from some residents, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to remove 18 eucalyptus trees on the West Bay neighborhood's Holiday Road.

Officials overturned a Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission decision from earlier this month that determined the trees should stay, and that the city should look at alternatives.

Since a large blue gum eucalyptus fell on a car near the Newport-Costa Mesa border in September and killed a motorist, Newport officials have moved swiftly to analyze the city's other similar trees and cut down those they deem hazardous.

Tuesday's meeting was the first time the council was asked to address the issue directly.

"I would have a great deal of trouble living with myself, making the decision to keep those trees up, in the face of this information, and God forbid someone else be injured," Mayor Mike Henn said. "I hate the idea that these beautiful trees need to come down, but I don't see there is any choice in the matter."

Some residents who live on and around Holiday Road said they love the trees and thought the city was rushing to judgment in the matter.

"You're going to erase a hundred years of history in one afternoon," said Jenna Keith-Birney, 29.

Keith-Birney, other residents and Councilwoman Leslie Daigle questioned the city's inspection process. They asked why this was the first time administrators had realized that these trees were so dangerous that they needed to be removed.

Dan Jensen, an independent arborist, assessed the blue gums citywide and found that the Holiday Road trees were among hundreds endangering homes, pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.

Hired by the city after the September accident, Jensen used a 12-point scale that officials said was standard for the tree industry.

On Holiday Road, 14 trees ranked nine or above — the threshold for high risk and prompt removal — while four others were deemed moderate risks. Municipal Operations Director Mark Harmon recommended that all be removed because the moderate-risk trees could be compromised by their neighbors' removal.

A broader theme emerged at Tuesday's meeting: The city's blue gum eucalyptus trees, which were planted decades ago to protect farm crops, have outlived their use.

Over the years, the city urbanized around these trees as road crews, developers and others cut into their root system, compromising their health.

"The pressure that has been placed on these trees for so many years adds up," said Dan Sereno, the city's arborist. "There's a point in any living organism's life where it has reached its useful life and it has become hazardous … they are in this range now."

Twitter: @mreicher

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