City replants at site of fatal eucalyptus accident

Crews have begun planting African tulip and date palm trees on a stretch of Irvine Avenue in Newport Beach near where a woman was killed a year ago when a eucalyptus toppled onto her car.

"The African tulips have already been planted and [project manager Iris Lee] expects the date palms to be planted later this week," said Newport Beach city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan.

Work on the $308,075 replanting project started on July 30 and is expected to be completed in early November, Finnigan said. Planting will be followed by a 90-day maintenance and establishment period, "to make sure the ground cover's taking and trees are growing," she said.

The plans include a mix of 39 African tulip trees and 30 date palms, with red and orange water-friendly succulents and grasses as ground cover, Finnigan said.

The accident that killed 29-year-old Haeyoon Miller sparked questions about the health of the hundreds of tall blue gum eucalyptuses lining city streets.

The Tustin resident was stopped at a red light near Irvine Avenue and 17th Street on Sept. 15, 2011, when a 50- to 70-foot eucalyptus fell from the median and crushed the roof of her Hyundai. Miller died at the scene.

Shortly after the tree fell, the city removed 100 eucalyptuses from the area. Reviews of the trees' history led independent experts to believe that they may have been unstable. Eucalyptuses in other parts of the city were also removed.

Miller's parents later sued the cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, along with tree maintenance contractor West Coast Arborists. The suit claims that the trees, which were on the edge of Costa Mesa city limits but were maintained by Newport, were poorly maintained and leaned dangerously toward traffic.

A hearing in that suit is scheduled for Oct. 31, according to the Orange County Superior Court website.

Finnigan said the decision to replace the eucalyptuses on the 2,600-foot stretch of Irvine Avenue with African tulip and date palm trees was made with the help of a community outreach process that garnered input from neighboring residents.

"First of all, you want to see which trees we could plant on the median, then [residents discussed] aesthetics," she said. "They thought these trees were good for that median and good for that area."

A staff report from a December 2011 joint meeting of the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach parks and recreation commissions cited African tulips and date palms as attractive landscaping options that are drought tolerant and easily maintained.

"The proposed project will provide a colorful, hearty landscape that is appropriate for the local climate and will require less irrigation than the current plant material," the report said.

Both African tulips and date palms can grow to about 75 feet tall and have previously been planted in other areas of town, including on Superior Avenue, Westcliff Drive, East Coast Highway and Avocado Avenue.

Twitter: @JillCowan

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