Explaining tree removals

Dear Editor:In an on-going effort to beautify the City of Downey, the Maintenance Services Division has long observed the frontage road island on Foster Road from Faust Avenue to Carfax Avenue to be in a state of decline and in need of a fresh, new landscape. The oleander shrubs on the frontage road island were dying from an incurable bacterial leaf scorch disease and the remaining hodge-podge of trees added little aesthetic impact to this quiet residential area on the City's southeast border. During the past 2 weeks, actions were taken on the part of the City that unfortunately caused quite a stir in the neighborhood. In order to start with a clean slate, staff opted to remove all trees and shrubs growing in the frontage road island. Removal of the dying Oleanders was done by City staff. The City's tree trimming contractor, West Coast Arborists began removing the trees prior to the Independence Day weekend. The primary tree species removed were Lemon Scented Gum (Eucalyptus citriodora) and Kaffirboom Coral Tree (Erythrina caffra). The Lemon Scented Gum grows to 100 feet tall. However, in this frontage road island location they were unwisely planted underneath overhead power lines. For many years, utility companies had topped these trees to provide safe wireline clearance, maintaining their height at about 20-25 feet. The act of topping trees is not in accordance with sound arboricultural practice, since it leads to weak branch structure and increases the likelihood of breakage and disease problems. The repeated topping of the Eucalyptus trees in the Foster frontage road island left them scarred, disfigured and unsightly. The Coral Trees on the Foster frontage road island produced colorful seasonal flowers, but were prone to splitting and branch drop each year. In addition to weak structure, this species also casts a dense shade and has an aggressive root system, to the detriment of understory plantings that were planned for this location. After careful consideration, it was determined that none of the trees in the Foster frontage road island could be saved. Both the Eucalyptus and Coral Trees posed potential liabilities to the City. Moreover, since the City would be planting replacement trees and shrubs, it was determined that removal of these undesirable trees would achieve maximum aesthetic impact in keeping with the proposed theme of California native species. Removal of the Eucalyptus has another benefit. Studies have shown Eucalyptus produce high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Similar to smog, these biogenic emissions can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory system. Thus, removal of the Eucalyptus will actually improve air quality. Replacement plantings on the Foster Road Beautification Project will consist of attractive, low VOC emitting California native trees and shrubs funded by a grant from the Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD). This grant also funded a similar beautification effort on the Florence Avenue frontage road islands from Julius Avenue to Hopeland Avenue and from Eglise Avenue to the San Gabriel River completed last spring. In addition to improving air quality, the native plants chosen for the Foster Road Beautification Project are drought tolerant and attractive to wild birds and butterflies. Below is a complete list of the 16 species of plants approved for funding under the AQMD grant. The attractive yellow flowering plant that many people have noticed on Florence Avenue is the Desert Museum Palo Verde (Cercidium x 'Desert Museum'). At this time, the Foster Road Beautification Project is limited to the frontage road island from Faust Avenue to Carfax Avenue. Following removal of the tree stumps by West Coast Arborists, City staff will lower the soil grade a few inches to promote retention of storm runoff. A new water service for the proposed irrigation system will be installed by the City's Utilities Division. With the assistance of student interns paid by the AQMD grant, Maintenance Division staff will plant the new trees and shrubs and install a linear drip irrigation system. At the conclusion, trees will be staked and a thick layer of cover mulch will be spread to conserve soil moisture and minimize weed infestation. During the summer months, our Trees, Parks and Grounds staff will be busy with irrigation repairs and special projects in the Civic Center and parks. Consequently, the Foster frontage Road Beautification Project will be prosecuted only 2 to 3 days each week. Barring unforeseen circumstances, all work should be completed in about 6 to 8 weeks. Surplus funds from the AQMD grant will also be used to restore California native plantings at the south end of Wilderness Park following completion of the Foster Road Beautification Project. In the future we will strive to better inform the public of such projects prior to the start of work. -- Lea Sharp, Maintenance Services Manager City of Downey

********** Published: July 14, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 13