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A plan to remove approximately 100 trees on the Wilshire Boulevard median and adjacent areas as part of the Purple Line Extension project has caused concern among those in the Miracle Mile community.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is currently completing preliminary utility relocation leading up to the start of construction, and announced plans to remove two Mexican fan palm trees on the median near Wilshire Boulevard and Detroit Street. The palms are part of a cluster of four trees at the location, and crews determined that the roots from two of the trees will block the routing of fiber optic cables.
Kasey Shuda, manager of construction relations for the Purple Line Extension Project, said the two trees would likely be removed sometime after 30 days because Metro still needs city approval. Metro officials outlined the tree removal plans at a meeting on March 26 with representatives of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition (MMCC), which has an advisory board that oversees beautification and maintenance on and around Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile. The median begins west of Fairfax Avenue and extends to Sycamore Drive to the east.
In the week prior to meeting with the coalition, it was disclosed that a tree removal master plan was created by Metro in late 2013. The plan calls for the removal of approximately 100 trees along the boulevard, primarily around the locations where the Wilshire/La Brea and Wilshire/Fairfax subway stations will be constructed. Multiple community members said it was the first they learned about the tree removal master plan.
“In no case is it acceptable to start cutting down trees,” said MMCC president Lyn Cohen, who learned about the plan from another member of the coalition. “It’s not OK to think that even one tree can be removed.”
Cohen said the coalition has been working on beautifying the median for more than two decades, and it is considered the Miracle Mile’s “front yard.” The coalition oversees a business improvement district where property owners along the Miracle Mile are assessed taxes to fund services such as sidewalk cleaning, landscaping and tree maintenance. Cohen said the tree removal plan runs afoul of “everything we’ve been doing” over the past two decades. She credited the median with revitalizing the Miracle Mile, and helping to attract new business, housing and nightlife.
“We are very concerned because this is a historic landscape beautification,” she added. “We are in the fact gathering mode right now and will see what needs to be done next.”
Shuda said the trees need to be removed because of the large scope of the subway project. Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said that every tree that is removed will be replaced by two new trees once the project is completed, which is anticipated to be in 2023.
“It’s simply impossible to build a multi-billion dollar public works project underneath a busy street like Wilshire Boulevard without at least temporarily removing some urban greenery,” Sotero said. “But when we’re done extending the subway, we will make this portion of Wilshire whole again by conscientiously replanting twice as many trees as before. The Wilshire community will not only benefit from a subway option that can get them to Westwood in fifteen minutes or less, they will also have a beautified and improved urban landscape above thanks to Metro.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, sympathized with the community members, but said the tree removal may be necessary.
“Traffic has impacted us in a way we don’t like … and the coming of the subway will transform our mobility. That being said, the construction period will impact our immediate neighbors,” LaBonge said. “All of that will be replaced in a very sensitive way. There will be impacts, but it’s really important that we get the subway built. Just think about how things will be in 2034 if we don’t get the subway going.”
LaBonge said he would continue to meet with Metro representatives and would monitor the situation to ensure the tree removal would have the least impact on the community. The timeline for the majority of the tree removal has not been established, as Metro will have to work with the city and the community on the process. The preliminary utility relocation construction work has been ongoing since late 2013, and the start date for subway construction has not been established.
Attorney Steve Kramer, president of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, said he is “disappointed” in the tree removal plan, and the fact that information is only surfacing now. He described it as a blow to community members who have spent countless hours working to beautify the median.
“I am shocked to hear about this. I’m thoroughly disappointed in Metro’s ability to communicate about this,” Kramer said, adding that he is a member of an advisory group for the Wilshire/Fairfax station and assumed he would have learned about the tree removal master plan. “There is fifteen years-plus of sweat that has gone into upgrading this community, and it takes those upgrades away.”
Tim Deegan, chair of the Mid-City West Community Council, also expressed dismay about the tree removal, and added that the council will discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting. He was skeptical of Metro’s claims that every tree to be removed will be replaced by two new ones.
“That sounds like, ‘I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today,’” he said, referencing the Wimpy character from the Popeye cartoons. “There is no teeth in that.”
Cohen said the replacement plan was unacceptable, because Metro would be removing large, full growth trees and replacing them with new trees that would take years to mature. She said she is also concerned that some of the trees to be removed may be saplings planted along the boulevard in commemoration of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“You don’t just cut down and replace,” Cohen said. “With every single tree that was planted or pruned, we were there. I think everyone needs to come to the table and discuss what we are going to do moving forward.”
Sotero stressed that the only tree cutting that is certain is the removal of the two Mexican fan palms near Wilshire Boulevard and Detroit Street. He said the information about the tree removal master plan has not been finalized, but was “part of general discussions about construction impacts and mitigations during the nearly five-year environmental review phase of the project.”
He acknowledged that it is the first time the master tree removal plan has been submitted for community input, and said it is coming to light now because plans are now moving forward toward the beginning of construction. Metro will have a more concrete idea of exactly which trees, and how many of them, will be removed once a construction contractor is selected sometime this summer. He added that the tree removal plan will be part of a public outreach effort that will be stepped up as the start of construction nears, and that the earliest any master plan tree removal would occur would be 2015.
“Right now, the only imminent thing is the removal of the two trees,” Sotero said. “Most of the construction is not going to happen anytime soon. There is plenty of time to deal with questions and to gather community input.”
What complete and total silliness. They’re street trees, not a grove of thousand year old sequoias. They all die and are replaced eventually anyway. Anything growing in a 8′ x 4′ treebox surrounded by concrete has a shelf life. So we’re going to just pack it in and cancel a multi-billion dollar transportation project that stands to improve the lives of millions of Angelenos because a few people aren’t patient enough to wait for the the new trees to grow? Guess what: this is a highly dynamic urban environment. Things are always changing. Deal with it.
Do people really have so little going on in their lives? Way to complain about something that truly does not matter and hold up progress on a project that really does matter.
That Lyn Cohen is one mislead individual. To save a tree or a median for the progress of the subway is as shortsighted as it gets. The median can be rebuilt and made even better. Reducing the number of cars on Wilshire FAR outweighs the median – any day. Giving an alternative to driving has to be a top priority for the city and the entire county. Having lived in MM (on Sierra Bonita b/n Wilshire and Olympic) I always found the area as being out of step with what LA has become. SFRs on fairly large lots just does not make sense in the modern day dense urban city.
Progress require change and we most adapt as a dense urban area and that requires mass transit. Once LA/OC has a full transit system it will be the envy of the world.
I just uncovered an amazing fact. Both the 10 (Santa Monica) and 405 Freeways were constructed without even one tree cut down or one building demolished!
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Isn’t it possible for a mature tree to be temporarily removed and replanted elsewhere, then returned to be replanted on Wilshire at the appropriate time? Assuming there is an added expense for such an undertaking, perhaps the community could select a limited number of the trees that need to be removed to be preserved in this manner.