MARINA DEL REY

TREES & BIRD NESTING

Trees in Marina del Rey

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

The tree removals from Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park resulted in many inquiries from the community. This page intends to respond to some of the public’s most frequently asked questions. It will be updated as needed to add new information and clarify existing information. If your question is not answered here, please email info@bh.lacounty.gov.

In response to feedback from the community, the Department of Beaches and Harbors’ plans for the trees and the park itself have changed. One tree and the stump of another tree were removed. All other trees in the park were pruned to lighten their crowns, make sure they are balanced and correct future regrowth. All pruning was  consistent with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines and supervised by a Certified Arborist.

The Department will also work on a new landscaping plan for the park. This plan will take a holistic view of the park, with an emphasis on preserving and protecting existing trees and public recreational purposes. Once completed, the plan will be presented to the Design Control Board (DCB) for review at a public meeting.

Because the Department’s plans changed, some questions previously listed here became irrelevant and were removed; however, we did our best to incorporate the information into other responses in the interests of transparency.

This page was last updated Jan. 6, 2021.

Austin E. Austin Jr. Park was closed because of arborists’ observations that some of the trees in the park are at risk of partial or total failure and pose safety hazards to park visitors and property. The park reopened on Dec. 21, 2020, after the necessary work on the trees was completed.

During the summer, the Department conducted repairs and partial replacement of existing concrete pathways in the park, which impacted the roots of some of the coral trees.  The Department is focused on addressing potential risks from falling trees or limbs. Initially, the Department planned to remove four trees that posed safety hazards to park visitors. One of those trees (VM-30) was removed Sept. 11, 2020. A fifth tree, VM-29, was later marked for removal because its condition visibly deteriorated between the arborist’s first inspection in July 2020 and a desk review in October 2020.

In response to feedback from the community, the Department decided to remove VM-29; remove the stump of VM-30; instead of removal, prune the other three trees (VM-27, VM-28 and VM-33); and prune all other trees in the park. This work was completed Dec. 21, 2020.

The Department previously stopped irrigating the park and mowing the lawn around the trees to ensure the trees do not receive too much water and to protect their roots.

As with all trees removed in the Marina, both VM-29 and VM-30 will be replaced in the park on a 1:1 basis. Long-term, the Department will also work on a new landscaping plan for the park. This plan will take a holistic view of the park, with an emphasis on preserving and protecting existing trees and public recreational purposes. The landscaping plan will be reviewed by DCB at a public meeting.

Prior to this, the Department had no plans to re-design Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park. Instead, we focused on maintaining the park as it currently exists.

VM-27 is a coral tree that was in danger of toppling at Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park. Most of its limbs were removed in September as part of the process of removing the entire tree. Nevertheless, the Department ultimately decided not to remove the tree, and instead, the remaining canopy was pruned and balanced under the supervision of a Certified Arborist.

VM-27’s very shallow root system was causing the sidewalk to buckle, posing a risk of injury to pedestrians. The roots were cut back as part of repairs to the existing sidewalk. Unfortunately, cutting back the roots compromised the root system, leaving a much smaller base to hold up this very top-heavy tree. The consulting arborist, who is a Certified Arborist and Tree Risk Assessment Qualified, recommended immediate removal because with such a small base, the tree was at risk of toppling when faced with a wind- or rainstorm, which posed an obvious public safety hazard.

As an alternative to complete removal, the arborist recommended pruning, excluding access to the tree and monitoring. Now that the tree has been pruned, the Department will consult with a Certified Arborist to determine whether the area under the tree’s canopy should be fenced off. The Department and a Certified Arborist will monitor the tree, and the Department may ask the arborist to re-assess the tree’s failure risks.

VM-28 is a coral tree that was in danger of toppling at Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park. In lieu of removal, the tree was pruned to significantly reduce the size and weight of its crown. The work was done under the supervision of a Certified Arborist.

VM-28’s very shallow root system was causing the sidewalk to buckle, posing a risk of injury to pedestrians. The roots were cut back as part of repairs to the existing sidewalk. Unfortunately, cutting back the roots compromised the root system, leaving a much smaller base to hold up this very top-heavy tree. The consulting arborist, who is a Certified Arborist and Tree Risk Assessment Qualified, recommended immediate removal because with such a small base, the tree was at risk of toppling when faced with a wind- or rainstorm, which posed an obvious public safety hazard.

As an alternative to complete removal, the arborist recommended pruning, excluding access to the tree and monitoring. Now that the tree has been pruned, the Department will consult with a Certified Arborist to determine whether the area under the tree’s canopy should be fenced off. The Department and a Certified Arborist will monitor the tree, and the Department may ask the arborist to re-assess the tree’s failure risks.

VM-29 is a coral tree that was removed on Dec. 21, 2020, from Aubrey E. Austin Park because it was in danger of falling down.

During an initial inspection in July 2020, the consulting arborist indicated that the tree could be saved using mitigation measures, such as end weight reduction and structural pruning. In response, the Department decided not to remove this tree, and instead included it as part of the list for the 2020 annual pruning.

Unfortunately, the tree’s condition visibly deteriorated in the following months. The Department requested a second inspection in early October. After reviewing current photos of the tree and comparing them to records from the July inspection, the second arborist noted the “dramatic change” in the structural stability of the tree, including significant changes in lean, root plate lift and soil heave, and recommended removal.

The second report was prepared by Certified Arborist Michael J. Bova (#WE-3372A), an Area Manager for Davey Resource Group Inc. He is ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified and a Registered Consulting Arborist (#549).

A replacement tree was planted on Jan. 6, 2021. (More information about replacement trees.)

VM-30 was removed Sept. 11, 2020, and its stump was removed Dec. 21, 2020.

The tree was at risk of falling. Because the tree’s very shallow root system was causing the sidewalk to buckle, posing a risk of injury to pedestrians, the roots were cut back as part of repairs to the existing sidewalk. Unfortunately, cutting back the roots compromised the root systems, leaving a much smaller base to hold up these very top-heavy trees. Our consulting arborist recommended immediate removal because with such a small base, the tree was at risk of toppling when faced with a wind- or rainstorm, which posed an obvious public safety hazard.

A replacement tree was planted on Jan. 6, 2021.  (More information about replacement trees)

The Department previously planned to remove VM-33, a fourth tree whose roots were pruned, will no longer be removed. In lieu of removal, the tree was pruned to significantly reduce the size and weight of its crown under the supervision of a Certified Arborist.

The Department previously planned to remove VM-33 because while the tree was not in danger of falling, it still created a safety risk for pedestrians in the park. The tree is adjacent to a bench and a pedestrian pathway, and some of the tree’s remaining roots are lifting a section of the concrete walkway. The walkway will require replacement in the future.

The arborist did not recommend this tree for immediate removal, noting that the tree could be saved if no further root pruning occurred; however, any repairs to or replacement of the adjacent concrete walkway would change the risk to VM-33. The arborist’s recommended alternatives to further root pruning and concrete replacement involve changing both the materials and elevation of the sidewalk to preserve the tree’s roots. Fixing the existing walkway to maintain the current park layout would require pruning the roots.

The walkway was ground earlier this year to reduce trip and fall hazards; however, the concrete is in poor condition and will not withstand additional grinding. Nevertheless, this grinding will reduce the risk to pedestrians as the Department takes a broader look at the landscaping for Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park.

All other coral trees in the park were pruned on Dec. 21, 2020. These trees were already scheduled to be pruned during our annual tree maintenance; the work was delayed by the discussion surrounding the five previously mentioned trees.

Yes. Both were prepared by ISA Certified Arborists who are Tree Risk Assessment Qualified, which means they have undergone additional specialized education to learn how to assess and mitigate tree risk.

The report on VM-27, VM-28, VM-30 and VM-33 was prepared by Vincent Amoroso (#NY-6116A). The report on VM-29 was prepared by Michael J. Bova (#WE-3372A).

The original cover letter accompanying the report contained an error, but there was no error in the report itself. The original cover letter stated that 40 percent of the roots in VM-33’s critical root zone were severed, while the report said only 25 percent were severed. When asked which was correct, the arborist said 25 percent of the roots in the tree’s critical root zone were severed.

We have posted and linked to the corrected version, but we are noting it here for transparency.

Generally speaking, non-emergency removal of nesting trees requires a Coastal Development Permit, which requires a public hearing before both the DCB and the Regional Planning Commission. Non-emergency changes to landscaping aesthetics that do not involve nesting trees require review and approval by the DCB.  Replacement of existing, non-nesting trees and plants with the same or similar species do not require review by the DCB.

Emergency tree removals require swift action to ensure the safety of the public. An ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified arborist determined that the designated coral trees at Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park were at risk of falling down and should be removed as soon as possible. None of the corals at the park are nesting trees.

Due to the trees’ large, shallow root systems, the concrete sidewalk was buckling, posing a trip hazard to park visitors and passersby. The roots were cut back so the existing sidewalk could be repaired. The sidewalk was not widened, a new path was not created, and there are no plans for additional cement areas.

The coral trees in Marina del Rey are pruned annually. Pruning activities occur during the non-nesting season for birds (October through December) in accordance with the Local Coastal Program (LCP). Only emergency tree work is allowed during the nesting season.

Ideally, coral trees should be pruned in the spring after flowering. This is impossible to do in Marina del Rey under the LCP. First, non-emergency tree maintenance can only be performed in the fall and winter months of October, November and December, which is much earlier than recommended. Second, the LCP only allows for emergency tree maintenance during bird nesting season. Required annual pruning work on coral trees during nesting season does not qualify as emergency tree maintenance.

Nevertheless, more frequent pruning can actually harm the trees. In general, the more often the trees are cut, the more they are stimulated to grow. Trees also do not fully heal when they are cut—the most they do is scab over with bark—and wounds left behind from pruning are susceptible to disease, rot and pests, among other ailments.

When a coral tree’s branch is cut at the end or the middle, the tree pushes out a lot of bushy, fast and weak growth called “suckers.” The suckers add more weight to the ends of the branches, which increases the risk of branches suddenly falling. This year, the Department has already seen at least six partial coral tree failures on property it maintains.

Yes. Replacement trees for VM-29 and VM-30 were planted on Jan. 1, 2021. According to the Marina del Rey Local Coastal Program, all trees removed must be replaced on a 1 to 1 basis. Replacement trees were planted within 20 feet of removed trees’ locations, in accordance with the Department’s Tree Management Program.

While sometimes replacement trees may, with specific approval, be planted far from the original tree’s location, the new trees were planted in the same spaces as their predecessors at Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park on Jan. 6, 2021. While the anticipated landscaping plan may require extensive changes to the park and will go before the DCB, which in theory would delay planting by more than three months, the Department did not wait to plant replacement trees.

Note that the new trees are not coral trees. Although planting coral trees was once popular in Southern California, our experience is that Erythrina caffra is inappropriate for the parks and other public areas in Marina del Rey due to the conditions in the Marina and the requirement that annual pruning only occur in the during the non-nesting season for birds.

Additionally, the County does not recommend planting coral trees along roadways in our area. The Department of Public Works maintains a database of trees recommended for specific areas within Los Angeles County, including Marina del Rey.

Our consulting arborist recommended that we plant New Zealand Christmas trees (Metrosideros excelsa) in Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park. This species of tree has previously been planted elsewhere in the Marina, including on Fiji Way between the entrances for the boat launch and Dock 52, and at Marina “Mother’s” Beach. Visually, the New Zealand Christmas tree is the tree that most closely resembles a coral, while also being more suited to the conditions of the Marina and exposure to wind at the park. Because New Zealand Christmas trees are aesthetically the most similar to coral trees among the trees currently recommended for planting in the area, DCB review and approval of the replacement trees is not required.

The proposed Marina del Rey Signage and Gateways Master Plan would provide a design framework for directional signs around the Marina, including street signs and parking lot identifiers, as well as gateway signs at the entrances to the Marina.

Although a conceptual plan was approved by the Design Control Board (DCB) in December 2017, additional design work is needed before the project moves forward. The project is currently on hold until funding is secured. Before the project advances into its next phase, an updated conceptual plan will be presented to the DCB for review and approval at a public meeting. Agendas and supporting documents for DCB meetings are posted online.

Note: An earlier version of this answer noted that the design had been “rejected” by the Department. The response has been clarified to say that the conceptual design needs additional design work, which must again be approved by the DCB before the project can move forward.

No. No development is proposed within the park that would result in the removal of any trees. A gateway monument sign consisting of large letters spelling out “Marina del Rey” is proposed in the park as part of the conceptual Marina del Rey Signage and Gateways Master Plan approved in 2017 by the Design Control Board; however, the sign would be located in the open lawn area adjacent to the waterfront railing, at least 30 feet southwest of the nearest coral tree. The sign would not have any impact on any trees within the park. The project is currently on hold due to funding.

No trees would be removed for the creation of such a sign.

No.

The Marina del Rey Local Coastal Program requires that non-mechanized equipment for tree maintenance or removal be used within 300 feet of a nesting tree, so as not to disturb courting or nesting birds. Because the trees were being removed during the nesting season for birds (January through September), the Department was required to have a qualified biologist survey the trees slated for removal and any trees within the 300-foot buffer to ensure there were no active nests that would be affected by the work.

One tree in Mariners Village that is within the 300-foot buffer, MV-28, has a colonial waterbird nest. This nest was recorded in our annual bird nesting report, and because it is a nesting tree, the biologist specifically focused on MV-28 during her survey. She found nothing to indicate that it is an active nest—neither adult or fledgling great blue herons nor nesting behavior was observed. No other bird nests were found.

If the biologist had detected an active nest, she would have informed the Department and the work crew of the measures needed to protect the nests, such as using non-mechanized equipment, setting up a minimum buffer, and scheduling a biological monitor to be present onsite to monitor the nest for the entirety of the work.

Because no active nest was found, there was no need to limit work to non-mechanized equipment.

No. While documents do exist online for the Mariners Village Redevelopment Project, the entire project was scaled down considerably as part of a compromise between the lessee and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The new project does not involve Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park (Parcel BR), which is a public area of the Marina operated and maintained by the Department.

The proposed changes to the park (“replacing the existing major vegetation and landscaping”) were scrapped when the project was scaled down, and the Department had no plans to implement them on its own. In fact, the Department was focused only on maintaining existing structures in the park with existing materials until very recently.

Yes, but only as the trees fail.

In the 50-plus years since the trees were first planted, we’ve learned that coral trees, while beautiful, were not the best fit for the environment surrounding Marina del Rey and the restrictions put in place by the Local Coastal Program (LCP) to protect nesting birds. While they grow quickly, coral trees require a lot of room and need no supplemental water once established. Many of the corals in the Marina were planted too close together in public park settings and surrounded by grass that requires frequent irrigation and mowing.

Because corals grow so quickly, they ideally should be pruned in the spring after flowering, and some individuals recommend pruning coral trees up to twice per year. This is impossible to do in Marina del Rey under the LCP. First, non-emergency tree maintenance can only be performed in the fall and winter months of October, December and November, which is much earlier than recommended. Second, the LCP only allows emergency tree maintenance during bird nesting season. Annual pruning of coral trees during nesting season does not qualify as emergency tree maintenance.

Coral trees also require a lot of room to grow and stay healthy. The trees grow into a mushroom shape 20 to 40 feet tall and about 40 to 60 feet wide. When coral trees are planted too close together or too close to tall buildings, their branches tend to grow taller to compete for sunlight and air circulation. These taller, narrower trees are more likely to have too much weight at the end of their branches. Aubrey E. Austin Jr. Park, for example, boasts 15 coral trees when eight or nine would have been enough.

The trees require no extra water when they’re mature. This includes irrigation from lawn sprinklers. The extra water encourages the tree to grow more, further increasing weight on the branches. Marina del Rey’s water table is very close to the surface, so the trees can tap into groundwater as well. While we can reduce irrigation from sprinklers, we cannot prevent these trees from accessing groundwater.

Why do we keep talking about weight on the branches? Well, coral trees have soft and brittle wood, so their branches break easily. More weight on the branches means the branches are more likely to break and fall. The additional weight on the branches also makes the trees top-heavy, which can undermine the tree’s stability. So far this year, we’ve seen partial failures on six different coral trees in areas maintained by the Department. Obviously, falling branches and trees pose a risk to passersby, and reducing this risk is a priority.

For similar reasons, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is also replacing its corals in Marina del Rey with African fern pines.

We must emphasize that we are not removing coral trees specifically to replace them with another tree. The lifespan of a coral ranges from about 40 years to as much as 150 years. With the number of coral trees in the Marina, it will likely be many years before they are all gone.

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