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City to Cut Down Trees in Reforestation Plan

The city is moving forward with the removal of 24 mature Aleppo pine trees on North Niagara Street in Magnolia Park, prompting opposition from area residents.

The decision attracted about a dozen people to Tuesday’s City Council meeting to defend the trees after the city mailed a letter to residents misquoting dates and causing confusion around the number of trees that would be removed.

“We absolutely understand the concern regarding this reforestation strategy that includes these Aleppo pine trees, and we also recognize their importance to our neighborhoods and the wildlife that call these trees [their] home,” said Parks and Recreation Department Director Marisa Garcia. “It is always an incredibly difficult decision to remove any tree in the city of Burbank.”

The department heads up Burbank’s forestry services and mailed a letter to residents this week leading them to believe that 121 trees would be removed from the area of North Niagara Street between Olive Avenue and Verdugo Boulevard by Tuesday, Aug. 1.

Instead, city officials clarified that only 24 trees from Niagara Street would be removed over the course of the next year, starting as early as Friday, Sept. 15, and most of the remaining pines would be left alone.

According to Garcia, the 24 pines scheduled to be cut down have reached the end of their natural life cycle, being 100 years old and “weakened by historic droughts and the water restrictions that we are all experiencing.”

But many residents at the meeting disagreed, arguing that some of the trees could be cared for and preserved for years to come.

“Why don’t we care for them? Why don’t we figure out the best way to take care of these trees as opposed to just saying they’re old when they do actually have quite a bit more life in them. These trees can live to be 150 years old,” said Eryn Mekash, a Niagara Street resident who, along with neighbor Dyane MacKinnon, organized an online petition to save the trees.

The petition now has 1,286 signatures. In it, MacKinnon states that the residents were not brought into the discussion around tree removal.

“We were not part of the conversation or asked to have a Town Hall to discuss the trees after recent rains brought two trees down, one of which fell on my vehicle,” she said.

Heavy winter storms earlier this year brought down at least 21 trees, damaging homes, vehicles and roadways, including two of the Aleppo pines on Niagara, one which fell onto MacKinnon’s truck, blocking the street.

“The recent losses during the heavy storms that we experienced highlight the necessity for our community’s safety,” Garcia said. “Being proactive and considering future climate changes, replacing these Aleppo pine trees is an important step in prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of all of our residents.”

Mekash felt that 24 trees was a more reasonable figure and said that she would be in favor of removing a few of the trees, if an arborist shows evidence that it is in danger of falling.

According to the city, they’ve done just that, and have had three arborists inspect the trees and come to the same conclusion in their recommendations for removal. The arborists identified 26 locations to plan replacement trees, and options have been given to residents who can pay to get a larger tree. Pines and pistachio trees are among the available options, though the city will plant smaller trees without charge.

In addition to concerns that the city would cut down healthy trees as part of the reforestation program, Mekash and many area residents were critical of the city’s communication, saying that in addition to the letter, they would have liked to have a website or some source of information detailing the city’s plans in greater detail, specifying which trees were scheduled for removal and giving access to the arborists’ assessments.

“The letter that was sent was our attempt to notify residents of this upcoming reforestation plan, but it created more chaos and confusion, and a lot of stress and anxiety, and I absolutely apologize for that. … The last thing I want to do is create the perception that staff is lying because that is not the case,” Garcia said, adding that the city would be creating a website to inform residents of the reforestation plan.

“As we embark on this necessary change, the community can rest assured that replacement trees will be more resilient. They will offer a wide range of benefits including cleaner air, energy efficiency, stormwater management, temperature regulation, noise reduction and a habitat for local wildlife,” Garcia said.

Two upcoming public meetings will be held to discuss the issue where residents will be given the opportunity to ask questions about the city’s reforestation plans.

First published in the July 22 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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