At the Annual Town Hall Meeting of the Windsor Square Association last Thursday, November 15, at the Ebell of Los Angeles, the spotlight was on the area’s tree canopy, with updates on a number of other local issues as well.
Guest Speaker and Rite Aid Trees
The guest speaker at the meeting was City Council Member David Ryu, who focused the bulk of his remarks on the efforts to save two large ficus trees in front of the Rite Aid store at 226 N. Larchmont Blvd. Ryu said the store owners wanted to remove the trees, which have large roots that have pushed up sidewalk panels in front of the store. Ryu said he and neighbors lobbied the store owners and city officials to save the otherwise healthy trees, and simply trim their roots so the sidewalks could be repaired, but they lost the fight and city OK’d the trees’ removal.
But once that fight was lost, Ryu said, he and Windsor Square residents Caroline Moser, Helen Hartung, John Welborne and Larry Guzin helped “make lemons into lemonade” and finally pursuaded city officials to replace the two old trees with two new ones, instead of the single tree originally proposed.
Ryu said the group’s efforts were part of the development of a long-term tree replacement program that will not only help Larchmont Blvd. and the surrounding Windsor Square neighborhood, but which they hope can be extended as a pilot for the city as a whole. And Ryu reported that he recently helped moved this program forward by introducing a group of three tree-related motions to the City Council. One of the motions would make changes to the city’s protected tree ordinance, the second would reform the city’s tree replacement program, and the third would “increase staffing at the Bureau of Street Services to provide more expertise and experience in urban canopy management and planning.”
Ryu said, “I’m going to be known as the Lorax of the city,” and that he is proud to have worked on the issue with the Windsor Square neighbors. “We have more experts [on trees] in Windsor Square than in the whole Department of Urban Forestry,” Ryu said. “I’m so proud to have worked on that with you…and Windsor Square gets the credit.”
Public Safety and Block Captains
In other updates, Windsor Square resident Steve Tator reported that while the neighborhood has seen in increase in crime in the last year, the Association has provided residents with a list of 10 ways to make their homes a harder target – some of which are as simple as moving trash cans away from fences so people can’t climb on them to scale walls or fences. Tator also urged residents to simply be more aware of their surroundings at all times, and to watch local news sources, such as the Buzz and NextDoor.com, to learn more about what’s going on in the neighborhood. Finally on the topic of safety, Tator also reminded people that “it’s really critical to report every crime, because that will affect police presence in the area.” Windsor Square Association President Larry Guzin, who chaired the meeting, agreed with Tator’s advice, saying, “The number one thing is to be conscious…and community minded.”
Moving on to the neighborhood’s Block Captain program, Windsor Square Block Captain Coordinator Caroline Moser described how she disseminates information through the block captain network, and reported that she is still looking to fill Block Captain positions on several blocks: 100 N. Gower, 100 N. Beachwood, 100 N. Irving, 200 S. Larchmont, 500 S. Plymouth, and 400 S. Norton.
Land Use and Preservation
On land use issues, John Welborne, the WSA vice president for land use, reported on four specific locations.
First, he noted that the old Dipple Realty building at 107 N. Larchmont, more recently home to the controversial Larchmont Bungalow cafe, now has a new tenant, Buck Mason, a men’s clothing shop, which represents a return to a legal use for that property.
Second, Welborne reported that the old Lipson building, 124-148 N. Larchmont, was recently sold to the Christina Development Corporation…but he said the fates of current tenant leases at the property are still unknown.
Third among the land use reports, Welborne said there have been a few neighborhood complaints recently about parking from visitors to the old Scottish Rite Masonic Temple at 4357 Wilshire Blvd., which is now home to the Marciano Art Foundation. Welborne said the museu apparently oversold tickets for the current exhibit by artist Ai Wei Wei, but the owners have been very responsive to the neighbors’ complaints, and the issue should be resolved when tickets for the month of December go on sale.
Finally in the land use report, Welborne clarified plans for a small park proposed for a portion of the city-owned surface parking lot at 209 N. Larchmont Blvd. Welborne said only six parking spaces along the lot’s southern border would be removed for the park, which would provide some much needed play space for local children, could help attract even more local customers to the Larchmont shopping area, and may serve as a pilot program for similar small-park development elsewhere in the city.
Moving on to the somewhat related topic of historic preservation, city planners Max Loder and Kimberly Henry reported that now that the city has added more much-needed staff to its Office of Historic Resources, some of the backlog in that department has been cleared and planners are now working on a much-needed update to the Windsor Square Historic Preservation Overlay Zone’s Preservation Plan. Outreach efforts for the update process will begin soon, they said, and there will be public input and informational meetings scheduled in early 2019.
Tree Canopy Redux
Returning to the topic of trees, Helen Hartung, chair of the WSA Canopy Committee, showed a photo of central Los Angeles taken from the Hollywood Hills, and noted that the only sea of green visible in the photo is the tree canopy over Windsor Square and Hancock Park. So when it comes to trees in these two neighborhoods, she said, “We take it seriously…It’s a maintenance issue for all of us.”
Hartung said this is particulary true on Larchmont Blvd., where the trees on the retail-focused street give it it’s “village” character. Hartung noted that in recent years, there have been a couple of sudden, unapproved tree removals on Larchmont – in front of what are now the Burger Lounge and the Goorin Brothers hat shop. And those removals, along with the planned replacement of the two ficuses in front of Rite Aid, as described above, have provided new urgency to the Canopy committee’s work.
“No program has been given more effort in the last year than this canopy project,” said Hartung. She added that Windsor Square has worked harder than any other neighborhood to create a tree preservation program that starts with a basic assumption that trees should never be removed unless they are dead or diseased, and that any issues with tree roots should always be addressed first with an inspection to see if the roots can be trimmed rather than removing the whole tree.
Hartung said, though, that through the Canopy Committee’s efforts, members have also learned much about the natural lifespan of the area’s trees, and realized that many will be coming to the natural end of their lives within the next 20 years. And this knowledge, Hartun explained, led to the Committee’s “Plan B” – the development of “an orderly street tree replacement plan.” The options for the plan, Hartung said, were to 1.) do nothing and allow the trees to continue along the path toward the end of their natural lives, 2.) replace all the older trees at the same time, or 3.) to survey each individual tree and come up with a plan that over the next 20 years would remove and replace trees in a specific order to maintain as much of the current tree canopy as possible. And #3 is the path that was chosen.
Hartung described again how the battle to save the two healthy trees at Rite Aid had been lost, buthow it also energized Windsor Square’s efforts. The Association will now has plans replace the lost trees at Burger Lounge and Goorin Hats…and it advised Rite Aid and the City on replacement trees for that frontage. Hartung said the goal for the Rite Aid tree replacement was to find an evergreen variety, which would be low-maintenance, with low water use, little leafe droppage and little trimming required. She said the tree that was eventually chosen is the Saratoga Bay Laurel, which grows to about 35 feet, has a large evergreen canopy (much like the ficus but slightly less wide at about 20 feet), has minimal leaf drops, and requires little trimming.
Hartung said there will be several challenges with planting the new trees, which will need an irrigation system (there is none now, which is one reason the ficus roots grew so high out of the ground, looking for water), and which will have to fight for space with roots left over from the old trees after they’re removed. But those challenges can be solved, she said. Guzin added that the WSA has been hoping that the City would offer to pay for part of the tree replacement efforts, but no offers have been made so far. Welborne also noted that details of the Association’s full tree replacement program can be found on the WSA website.
Squeaky Wheel Honors
Moving on to one of the most fun topics of the evening, Windsor Square resident Patty Hill was honored with the Association’s “Squeaky Wheel Award,” presented each year to a member of the Association whose “persistence in addressing an issue of community concern protects or imporves the quality of life in Windsor Square.” Hill was lauded for her efforts in helping the neighborhood and the city keep tabs on the vacant lot on Wilshire Blvd., between Irving and Bronson Avenues, which has been used illegally in recent years as a parking lot by its owners at the Eastern Presbyterian Church. The lot is currently being used as a construction staging area for the DWP, and the city has now promised to restore it to its original condition (removing illegally installed driveways and curb cuts) after the DWP project is finished. Hill, who didn’t know before the announcement that she’d been chosen for the award, was delighted with the honor. “My husband’s going to love this,” she said. “I get an award for being a nag!” The certificate and trophy were presented by Welborne, who said the current progress toward restoring the vacant lot “wouldn’t have happened unless Patty had been watching.”
Finally, closing out the meeting, the WSA members ratified the group’s new slate of officers for the coming year. They include: June Bilgore, Gary Duff, Mike Genewick, Gary Gillig, Larry Guzin, Helen Hartung, Katie Jones, Kristin Mandel, Carolyn Moser, Angie Szentgyorgyi, Steve Tator and John Welborne.