Ficus trees’ removal is put on hold

In a good mood following a ceremony declaring Sept. 14, 2016 as Mickey Moniak Day — with the Leucadia resident and top overall pick in the June Major League Baseball draft on hand to accept a proclamation — the Encinitas City Council agreed to halt the removal of four ficus trees until the city has a chance to look at a citizen group’s application for the downtown ficuses to earn Heritage Tree designation.

The decision was met with applause from several Encinitas citizens who came to plead with the Council during public comment. Though four members of the public spoke on this issue, it only took one — former Encinitas Mayor Sheila Cameron — to say her piece before Council member Catherine Blakespear suggested the Council take action.

“We have put in an application for Heritage Tree status … for (all of the trees) gracing Second and Third streets, cross streets from B to K, which provide a natural canopy corridor, much like a forest path through our town,” said Cameron, who was speaking on behalf of the Encinitas Save the Trees Committee.

“Included in the nomination for Heritage Tree status are those four ficus trees currently slated for removal. We therefore request the processing of the removal of these four ficusus be halted, pending the Heritage Tree nomination review process.”

Blakespear was met with unanimous agreement from the rest of the City Council, though that same Council had agreed in an August closed session to remove the trees, two of which are on the 600 block of Third Street and two of which are on the 1000 block of Second Street.

At a public meeting on Sept. 6, led by interim city manager Jim O’Grady, city staff told concerned citizens that the trees pose safety issues and are a potential legal liability to the city. City staff told residents at that meeting that the four trees would be removed two to three weeks from that day.

“I am worried about the city’s liability, but I also want to make sure that we have pursued all of the avenues that we could to keep the trees,” Blakespear told the Encinitas Advocate. “At base, I care about the tree canopy and I think it does create an atmosphere downtown. I would like to be able to save as many trees as we can and I want to make sure we have turned over every stone.”

In the Encinitas Urban Forest Management program’s administration manual, the Planning Commission may designate a tree or trees as Heritage Trees due to any of the following factors:

“1. The tree/s is/are one of the oldest and largest of its species. 2. The tree/s is/are of unique form or species. 3. The tree/s has/have historic significance due to an association with an historic building, site, street, person or event. 4. The tree/s is/are a defining landmark or significant outstanding feature of a neighborhood.”

The nomination form will be inspected by staff, then sent to the Environmental Advisory Committee for approval, before the Planning Commission gives its final approval. The process was sure to take longer than the trees had before the scheduled removal, necessitating the Council decision.

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