Claremont Foothill Blvd upgrades include removal of unhealthy trees

Foothill Boulevard may begin to look much different in the New Year as many of the iconic trees that line Route 66 in Claremont have been identified for removal due to their declining condition.

Root rot, significant pest or disease infestation and compromised tree structure have already claimed the lives of 10 trees along the boulevard, with an additional 28 trees—including 27 Eucalyptus and one Brazilian Pepper—scheduled for removal in January as part of the Foothill Boulevard Master Plan.

Given the number of trees scheduled for removal on such an arterial roadway within the city, Community Services Director Kathleen Trepa presented the Foothill Boulevard Tree Risk Assessment at a Community and Human Services Commission meeting on Wednesday, December 3.

“We really took our time with this assessment. This assessment is one year in the works,” Ms. Trepa emphasized to the commission. “We authorized additional assessments at an additional cost because we didn’t want to make any hasty decisions about these trees.”

In August 2012, the city assumed control of Foothill Boulevard from the State of California in exchange for $5.7 million from Caltrans to fund needed repairs, improvements and ongoing maintenance. Claremont City Council allocated approximately $320,000 of these funds to develop the Foothill Boulevard Master Plan, which is currently underway with RRM Design Group as the lead consultant.

Included in the master plan design work is a complete assessment of what are now city trees along Foothill Boulevard. Cy Carlberg & Associates, a team of registered consulting arborists, certified tree risk assessors and urban foresters, was retained by RRM Design Group in Fall 2013 to evaluate the approximately 200 trees along Foothill parkways and medians. Of the 202 trees evaluated, 28 were identified for removal at a cost of approximately $12,820.

“I happen to be one who walks on Foothill and I’d noticed the orange spots on the trees some months ago,” says Claremont resident Anne Wire of the Eucalyptus marked for removal. “It’s not a small matter, at least in the area that I traverse between Indian Hill and College. On the north side, there are nine significant trees and seven of them are marked for destruction so as we enter town from the La Verne side, we wont have the same kind of signature trees we have now, they simply aren’t going to be there.”

Although the city intends on replacing the signature trees with new trees in a variety of species as part of the implementation of the master plan, Ms. Wire urged the city to consider alternatives to removal.

“There’s a lot of us, I might say, that are in decline and yet we don’t expect to be cut off,” explains Ms. Wire. “We expect, because we’re a value in the community, to be trimmed perhaps in our reaches and to be medicated and cared for and then, only in the worst situation, do we look for death. So I think we need to treat our signature trees in the same careful way.”

The trees along Foothill are not alone in their demise. The Eucalypti along College Avenue and Claremont Boulevard have also shown signs of significant decline. Trees that once appeared healthy have then, all of a sudden, died within a matter of weeks.

“The cause of death seems to be some form of root rot or a bug infestation, and it’s hard to know which came first. Root rot comes from bacteria that naturally form in various soil types and conditions and the tree can combat the bacteria naturally but then, at some point, it becomes overwhelmed. There are any number of stressors to our urban forest, and we’re not sure which pestilence has caused the Eucalyptus to succumb.”

A lack of significant growth space along the city’s medians and parkways is also of particular concern for the long-term survival rate of trees in Claremont.

 “Historically, this town really likes its tall trees, its big canopy trees, but we haven’t necessarily provided the best space to accommodate those large trees,” explained Ms. Trepa. “This will need to be a community dialogue moving forward, about how we want to manage the available growth space. Do we plant smaller trees or do we accept the fact that we want large canopy trees? But while some trees may survive 80 years in prime conditions, we’re not providing them with prime conditions and we have to pull them out at 40 years or 50 years.”

Although the city is trying to get ahead of this to see if there is anything they can do to help these trees combat whatever it is that’s their significant stressor, city staff say there is only so much that can be done on a municipal level.

“Unfortunately, we can’t change some of the conditions surrounding these trees,” Ms. Trepa said, “But, I think as we move forward with our community dialogue, we’ll begin to accept the fact that, as an older community with an older urban forest, we need to be able to introduce new trees and more vibrant trees and make sure we’re constantly phasing in as we begin to lose some of our older trees.”

Currently, the Foothill Boulevard Master Plan is going through its final design stages and will go back for final public review in the spring. The plan itself will take a number of years to completely implement, giving residents an opportunity to participate in the months ahead.

“I think it’s a process that everyone should continue to follow,” she says. “It’s an exciting opportunity to really enhance the aesthetics and the functioning of Foothill Boulevard.”

—Angela Bailey



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