Removal of Hermosa Beach tree headed back to Public Works
by Ryan McDonald
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty will get another shot at uprooting trees in front of the home he is building in the 2000 block of Monterey Boulevard.
At its November 15 meeting, Public Works Commission denied a request to remove three trees believed to be in the public right of way. What had seemed a by-the-book case for removal became complicated when Elka Worner, who has lived across the street from Doughty’s property since childhood, presented the commission with evidence that Doughty’s developer Matt Morris had violated several city codes in neglecting the three trees and by removing others without permits. During the comment period, residents and commissioners said the loss of older trees was a significant issue throughout the city.
“We don’t have a lot of mature trees in this town. I think we should reject this application. It’s a public tree,” Commissioner Kent F. Brown said.
City code requires permission from the Public Works Commission to remove trees from the public right-of-way that are above a certain trunk diameter. Typically, permit denials are appealed to the City Council. According to Deputy City Clerk Linda Abbott, no appeal had been filed as of Tuesday afternoon, after the appeal deadline had passed.
But on Tuesday, Public Works Director Glen Kau said that the issue would be heading back to the public works commission, with new information not available at the first meeting.
At the Nov. 15 hearing, Worner showed the commissioners photos of a cluster of trees at the south side of the property that were no longer there. (Coincidentally, the next item on the commission’s agenda was a request for a retroactive permit for trees removed without permission last year from a home on Hillcrest Avenue.) Staff responded that it was not clear from the photos whether the trees were of sufficient girth to require a permit. It was also not clear, staff said, whether the trees were on the right-of-way, or on Doughty’s property, in which case a removal permit would not have been required.
Although the trees in question are off the sidewalk, the right-of-way along Monterey is unusually broad. It reaches more than 100 feet in width along parts of the street, some 30 feet wider than on other city streets. Earlier this year, St. Cross Church, just two blocks south on Monterey, applied for and received permission to erect a new sign that, despite being two feet off the sidewalk, was still in the right-of-way.
Larry Murakami, who handled demolition at the Doughty property, said he did not measure setbacks or tree diameters when he removed the trees because he believed only “the big one in the middle” was off limits.
“If other ones were removed, I did so under the belief that they were okay to remove,” Murakami said.
Kau said Tuesday that when the commission reviews the application again, in January, it will be presented with images from Google Earth that show that the trees appear to be on Doughty’s property.
In rejecting the removal permit, the commissioners also expressed concern that the largest of the remaining trees, a 30-foot tall pine believed to have been planted in 1922, when the property’s previous house was built, was not dying, but merely stressed due to not being watered. Property owners are responsible for maintaining trees in the right-of-way adjacent to their property, including during construction.
“It appears that the property owner wants to remove the remaining trees because they don’t fit into his design plan. He wants to replace them with immature trees on both sides of his front door. Why should anyone be allowed to remove 100-year-old trees just because they are in the way of their design plans?” Worner said.
Morris did not return calls seeking comment. Jennifer Centeno, a certified arborist working for Morris, surmised that the remaining trees on the property had been “neglected almost since they’ve been installed” and were dying. Centeno said that the developer’s plan, which would replace the three removed trees with two new Cajeput trees and two new pear trees, was “a better option than the trees that are existing right now.”
Worner disputed the arborist’s account. She presented photos showing the 30-foot pine was green as recently as six months ago before the previous house was torn down. She also disputed the arborist’s contention that the tree was beyond saving, arguing that it was merely “stressed” because its roots had been exposed during demolition and from not being watered.
Brown, who visited the property in advance of the Nov. 15 meeting, said, “I went and looked at it, and I’ve seen many pine trees recover that are far worse than this,” he said.
Part of the challenge, officials said, stems from the fact that permits for demolition, shoring, and building are issued by the Community Development Department, while the tree removals are authorized by Public Works.
“Unfortunately, Public Works is a separate process from building,” said Reed Salan, an associate city engineer. “Building can issue a demo permit without Public Works approval. That is currently a process we are working to correct. And in this instance, that appears to be what occurred
Kau, who was hired by the city after the demolition permits for the home were issued, said Tuesday he is working on better coordination to make sure shoring permits are not issued until Public Works confirms a demarcation of the public right-of-way. He also said the city’s independent arborist will examine the pine tree later this week.
Commissioners requested that city staff work with the applicant to make sure the tree is watered while its fate is in limbo. The removal request is set to return to the commission in January.
Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office record indicates that the home was sold in 2016 for $6 million. Renderings show a modern home designed by noted local architect Louie Tomaro.