According to Greg Monfette, of Tree Case Management, an arborist hired by the Larchmont Business Improvement District (BID), the ficus trees planted on Larchmont almost sixty years ago have outlived their welcome on the street, and it’s time for them to be replaced through a process of rotational management.
The BID, a consortium of property owners on Larchmont, is trying to address the broken plumbing and sidewalks caused by the tree roots for several years. According to BID Co-spokesperson Rebecca Hutchinson, the BID needs to replace the ficus trees because it will lose its insurance if it gets sued one more time by someone who has been injured falling on a broken sidewalk.
Thanks to a $15,000 grant from CD4 Council member David Ryu’s Discretionary Fund, the BID now has a comprehensive plan that identifies the worst trees to be replaced first. In the next few weeks, the BID will request a permit from the City to remove three trees – two in front of the RiteAid Drug store and the other further south, in front of Sam’s Bagels at 158 N. Larchmont. Another ficus tree at 141 N. Larchmont Blvd., which has an excessive amount of fungus at the base of the tree, has also been cited by the arborist for possible removal. Monfette has recommended the City review this tree for structural integrity.
Eventually, the BID plans call for removing and replacing all 38 ficus trees at the expense of each property owner.
“We are going to start with these three trees, then make a plan for the remainder once we get community buy-in,” said Heather Boylston, co-spokesperson for the BID. “We want a completely transparent process.”
At the time of its founding, Los Angeles, like many cities, had no street trees. Commercial streets like Larchmont were planned for commerce, with no landscaping. Instead, trees were planted in nearby parks or on residential streets. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, the trend changed. Larchmont’s 40 ficus trees were planted in 1955, with the help of then-City-Councilmember Harold Henry and the Wilshire Chamber of Commerce. (Two trees have been lost over the years for various reasons.)
Once heralded as a great street improvement, the trees have become a thorn in the side of many property owners – and tenants – who complain that the aggressive root systems of the ficuses are strangling their pipes.
The owner of the Le Petit Greek, who attended ae meeting Monday evening at Vernetti restaurant to hear the presentation by the BID’s arborist, said he has been unable to use one of the three bathrooms in the restaurant because the pipes are simply too clogged with tree roots. Even though the tree roots are the problem of the property owner, the tenants often pay for all the repairs, so many of the businesses on Larchmont are unhappy with the trees too.Aesthetically, the trees have been pruned and chopped, resulting in an unappealing Suessian lollipop shape. According to Boylston, the trees have been cut that way to contain the tree canopy and the attendant roots, as well as the seasonal production of black berries that fall and stain the sidewalk.
Almost no one would plant a ficus tree today (as the problems they cause are well known), but at the time, they were planted everywhere because they required little water and could withstand harsh conditions on the street. Most were planted without any consideration of their invasive roots.
The first three trees slated for removal would be replaced with the Brisbane Box, also known as Lophostemon confertus, but the arborist offered three choices for consideration.
- Lophostemon confertus (Brisbane Box Tree) The Brisbane box tree is currently on Larchmont at 219 Larchmont Blvd., and if this tree is trimmed properly it can be a beautiful tree for the village. The City of Culver City has them planted along Washington Blvd., from Fairfax to National. A small Brisbane Box is also planted in front of Picket Fences, at 219 N. Larchmont.
- Koelreuteria bipinnata (Chinese Flame Tree) The Chinese Flame tree has been widely planted in many communities such as Swarthmore Ave. in Pacific Palisades, and along the City of Los Angeles’ reforested Motor Ave., from Venice to National. This tree produces a beautiful flower and would add color to the village if chosen.
- Afrocarpus falcatus (African Fern Pine Tree) The African Fern Pine tree is a tree that replaces the Ficus tree in many communities in southern California, especially in Los Angeles. Venice Blvd. is lined with them, from Lincoln Blvd. to the inner city.
Under the proposal for Larchmont Blvd., new 24-36″ box size trees would placed in 5′ x 6′ cutouts, surrounded by root barriers. According to Monfette, the new trees can be placed in the same holes the ficuses are removed from, and it should only take a few days to complete the entire process.
Once the request for permits is filed, signs will be posted on the trees that have been slated for removal.