Not everyone is happy to see the trees go, with some residents arguing the large-canopy ficus provide valuable shade along the busy thoroughfare and contribute to San Marino’s character.
Officials aim to replace the ficus trees with a variety of Chinese pistache that will eventually grow to a similar three-story height but with a lacier canopy, less invasive roots and no troublesome berries dropping off, said city arborist Ron Serven.
The pistache, a deciduous species with leaves that change color in the fall, would be 10 to 12 feet tall when planted, similar to pistache already used to replace three problematic ficus trees on Mission Street, Serven said.
Serven estimated the targeted ficus trees are 50 to 60 years old.
San Marino City Council members voted 4 to 0 on Wednesday to set aside $85,800 for ficus tree replacement in the city’s 2013-14 budget. Councilman Allan Yung was absent.
Resident Miriam Nakamura-Quan objected, describing the ficus trees as fresh-air generators that shield traffic emissions and noise while also concealing dilapidated building facades.
“When the trees are cut down they will reveal old, outdated and ugly storefronts,” said Nakamura-Quan, who was involved in 2009 protests over the removal of 11 ficus and 20 carrotwood trees along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena’s Playhouse District.
She called on council members to reconsider.
“Taking out those trees would change the city’s historic character,” said Nabil Sejaan, also of San Marino.
But the council’s decision was a relief for Kraemer Jewelers owner Steve Gilmore, who said the ficus trees have presented problems throughout the business’ 50-year history at various locations along Huntington.
“Anybody who does business on that sidewalk doesn’t like these trees,” said Gilmore, who complained of perennial struggles to clean up carpet-staining tree droppings, and said that just last week he saw a pedestrian trip over concrete raised by ficus roots.
“Leaves I can deal with, but the lady who took a header in front of my store? That stuff is going to go on forever” until the ficus trees are removed, Gilmore said.
Chris Datwyler, Gilmore’s landlord in the 2500 block of Huntington, told council members that ficus droppings continually threaten to clog roof drains, and that various tenants have complained about the trees for more than three decades.
Serven said a verbal survey of 35 area store owners revealed 31 in favor of ficus trees getting the ax.
Mayor Eugene Sun warned that officials should proceed carefully to ensure that the ficus replacements would have a substantial presence, but said he could not turn a deaf ear to the complaints.
Councilman Richard Ward put it more bluntly.
“I think it’s well [past] time we got rid of those trees,” Ward said. “It’s hard to believe we put up with this variety that long.”