David Mendez

Wind-felled trees cost RBUSD thousands

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by David Mendez

The Redondo Beach Unified School Board voted unanimously to approve $100,000 in emergency funding to remove more than a dozen trees on the campuses of Franklin Elementary and Parras Middle schools, following incidents caused by strong, tree-felling winds.

However, in balking at the high price tag invoiced by their tree-cutting vendor, board members created a payment compromise that might cost the district more than originally estimated.

“But if that’s the case, so be it,” said board member Michael Christensen. ”I don’t think this can wait.”

The motion was forced when high winds on April 15 caused two trees to fall — one onto a car.

The vehicle was parked at Franklin Elementary when a pine tree fell on top of it. According to district staff reports, the tree was so large, covering so much of the car, that responders from the Redondo Beach Fire Department couldn’t tell if the vehicle was occupied. The owner of the car, a parent of a preschool student, walked out and claimed his vehicle shortly after.

Later that day, around 1 p.m., a tree on the Parras Middle School property fell across the sidewalk in the direction of the Lucia Avenue and Emerald Street intersection.

Removal has already begun at the schools; eight trees have come down at Parras. In the process, the district found that there were consistent levels of rot throughout the affected trees, causing the collapse.

According to district staff, RBUSD has long contracted with Tree Masters, based in Torrance, for its arboreal needs. But the company’s estimated cost of $158,000 for tree removal services at both schools caused board member David Witkin to pause.

“I thought these dollar amounts were eye-popping,” Witkin said, noting that a call to an arborist informed him that costs to remove a large pine tree can range between $750 to $2,500. “So if we look at the costs for Franklin for a large tree, it’s anywhere from $12,000 to $14,000.”

Fred Naile, the district’s director of facilities and maintenance, said that the “huge trees” at Franklin are complex jobs that one can’t accurately price from a distance. “The manner it has to be taken apart takes hundreds of cuts,” he said. Plus, the cost also must account for pickup and hauling of the wood from the fallen trees.

The contractor, Naile said, began work as rapidly as possible “in sake of safety” on a handshake. “He pulled every crew and brought them to us — he’s got other people waiting, and we’re not…He’s got our best interests at heart,” Naile said.

Despite that argument, Witkin and the two other board members, Christensen and Brad Waller, had their reservations as well, pushing for a modification of the payment to Tree Masters.

“Whatever the modified amount, I think it’s important; I want the work done,” said Superintendent Steven Keller. “The more [Naile] speaks, the more I don’t want there to be a job stoppage.”

Ultimately, the board settled on a compromise. The district would pay $100,000 upfront to Tree Masters for work completed, and create a pay schedule for the rest of the work, based on time and materials for the rest of the job.

The district would then bear the risk of paying more than the remaining $58,000 of estimated work.

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