Beverly Hills News – Model Tree Trimming on Parcel 13 Viewed by Public
Posted: Monday, July 11, 2016 – 1:11 PM
By Victoria Talbot
Early Monday morning, a small group of concerned citizens watched while Beverly Hills’ Urban Forester Ken Pfalzgraff supervised the careful trimming of a tree on Parcel 13, along Civic Center Way and Maple Drive.
Only one of the trees on Parcel 13 was trimmed today. The pruning was a “model tree,” or demonstration, to show the public what can be expected as the City progresses on to trim all the trees.
The trees suffer from neglect that has left some branches perilously close to the street, with some trees listing. Though they are on City property, the City has not managed them except to issue citations and warnings through code enforcement, to the Beverly Hills Land Company. A covenant with the Beverly Hills Land Company gave them responsibility for the trees, even though they are on an easement owned by the City of Beverly Hills.
Since 2011 the City’s Code Enforcement has communicated numerous times with landowners to bring the property into compliance and to clean weeds, debris and trash from the site, and to irrigate the trees, according to documents obtained by the Courier in a Freedom of Information Act request.
The City claims that the trees are of concern for reasons “ranging from poor overall health to structural instability.” The City claims they are a danger to the public, and though they will attempt to maintain “some level of aesthetic, public safety will be the main consideration as these trees are pruned.”
The City lost a lot of credibility when, on Nov. 21-22 of last year, over 196 trees on Parcels 12 & 13 were cut to the stumps by West Coast Arborists for landowner and developer Lyn Konheim without prior public notification.
The trees being trimmed were on a City -acknowledged easement, though the City and Konheim ignored a similar easement on the north side of the property an Santa Monica Blvd. The trees on the north side were entirely cut down.
Months earlier, residents whose homes are immediately adjacent to the parcels sat through a meeting with the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to outline a proposed plan to mitigate the high levels of arsenic in the soil. Then-Community Services Department Director Steve Zoet and then-Deputy City Manager and Director of Capital Assets David Lightner were there, as were landowner/developer Lyn Konheim and his attorney Bruce Howard. In that meeting the DTSC made clear that there were extremely high, harmful levels of arsenic in the top layers of the soil and that the DTSC has legal jurisdiction over the property because of it.
It also became crystal clear that the residents were happy to have the property remain zoned for transportation and undeveloped. The trees provided a dense barrier between the residences and the soil, as well as a traffic barrier from Santa Monica Blvd. and a beautiful aesthetic.
Then, a few months later, the trees were suddenly cut down. At the time City employees insisted that the cutting was safe, permitted and legal, even creating a false narrative that was emailed throughout the City, instructing all employees that this is what they were to tell anyone who called about the tree-cutting.
Not only was no permit issued to close one lane of Santa Monica Blvd. for two days, but the trees cut were mostly on the City’s easement, which required public notification prior to cutting. In addition, the cutting occurred during a fierce Santa Ana wind. Photos show the heavy equipment enveloped in a cloud of dust rising from the ground, as unprotected workers cut down the trees.
The DTSC was not informed that Konheim was planning to clear-cut the trees. They were told that he would “trim” the trees, a process that would have resembled that which happened today. West Coast Arborists cut all the trees without protecting themselves or the public from the high levels of arsenic in the soil. No water trucks and no HAZWOPPER-certified workers were present.
In this morning’s pruning, the trees were cut from a “cherry-picker” outside the property. No one entered the property or disturbed the soil. The DTSC was present to supervise the trimming. The branches were trimmed and the trees left standing.
However, the City continues to advance a narrative that places the public on notice that there will be further mitigation efforts, such as; “It will lessen the likelihood that additional limbs from the trees will shed onto the Civic Center roadway.” The ominous message portends a future clear-cut, much as was drafted between Zoet and Konheim according to emails obtained by the Courier.
Sources tell the Courier that Konheim has spent a great deal of money and time with five different architects to produce plans for a mixed-use project on the site. To get it, he will need a sympathetic City Council to change the zoning.
Monday’s ‘model’ pruning is the City’s attempt to gain back public trust with a new transparency. The public was dutifully notified, the DTSC was present, the City used an outside arborist to conduct the pruning, and the trees were not summarily removed, as before.