City wants ‘Lorax’ on staff

City wants ‘Lorax’ on staff
The Encinitas City Council directs City Manager Karen Brust to determine whether they can staff an in-house arborist to oversee the city’s trees and urban gardens. Photo by Tony Cagala

ENCINITAS — Encinitas officials are looking for an in-house arborist who can speak for the trees.

Call it the city’s very own Lorax.

The council at last week’s meeting voted unanimously to direct City Manager Karen Brust to determine if they can staff the position in-house with existing personnel.

“What we really had in mind was a Lorax,” City Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said, referring to the popular Dr. Seuss character that was an advocate for the trees. “Somebody whose job it is to think about the trees, and whose performance evaluation is based on overall health of our urban forests.”

The discussion of an arborist is part of a long-running discussion about the city’s so-called “urban forest,” the collection of public trees and landscape within the city limits. A subcommittee composed of Shaffer and Councilman Tony Kranz have discussed various issues surrounding the urban forest for more than a year before developing a series of recommendations earlier this year.

The City Council acted on three of the recommendations — all centered around a pilot pesticide-free park at Glen Park — earlier this year, before taking up the remaining recommendations at last week’s meeting.

Shaffer and Kranz envisioned the arborist as the go-to employee for city-owned tree issues, from out-right removal to over-pruning of trees in city parks and along city rights-of-way. The arborist would help set city tree policies, such as how often trees are pruned and what species are preferred for replanting projects.

The council, while unanimous in its recommendation, expressed varied levels of support.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir cautioned that the city has requested Brust to look at replacing several high-profile positions — including the deputy city mayor and communications specialist — without hiring additional staff. At some point, Gaspar said, Brust won’t be able to find wiggle room within the current budget.

“She is great, but she is not a miracle worker,” Gaspar said. “It is about making difficult choices. The concern is that, yes, in a perfect world it would be great to have all of these positions. But at the same time we don’t have dollars to allocate to all of the personnel.”

Muir said he would not be supportive of hiring or contracting for an arborist over something like an additional deputy.

“Unless the arborist came with a gun and can write tickets, I would have a hard time with this,” Muir said.

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