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City OKs pilot for downtown ficus

ENCINITAS — Encinitas will try to spare four downtown ficus trees, which have been the center of months of controversy, through pruning and root maintenance.

This could pave the way for a similar maintenance program for another 50 or so ficus trees in the downtown area.

The council unanimously voted in favor of a pilot maintenance program for the four trees, which are located on city property between the sidewalk and curbs. Two are on Third Street near E Street, and two are along Second Street between I and J streets.

The vote also included a recommendation that staff return with a comprehensive program to maintain the rest of the ficus trees as well as the city’s other public treescape.

Encinitas has 55 ficus trees downtown. A number of residents have said they love the tree’s broad canopies that provide shade along downtown’s streets, but property owners have complained that aggressive root structure and large branches of some of the trees have caused safety hazards and nuisances.

Originally, the city was scheduled to remove the four trees in June, but public outcry prompted the city to delay the action.

In August, the City Council voted to go ahead with the removal work after lawsuit threats from neighboring property owners and obtaining an arborist’s report that the four trees pose a moderate to high safety risk.

City crews were prepared to take down the trees some time in the next week after staff informed supporters at a community meeting on Sept. 6 that the trees would not be saved, but delayed the removal yet again in September when a local tree-advocacy group submitted an 11th-hour application for heritage consideration.

The council’s Sept. 28 vote will allow for staff to perform what they are calling “enhanced tree maintenance” on the four ficus, including a special type of pruning, crown maintenance and root maintenance, in an effort to slow or reverse some of the damage.

If the program is successful, the city could later adopt a similar program for all of the ficus. City Public Works Director Glen Pruim estimated that the program could cost $800 per tree per year, or roughly $44,000, for the crown reduction and $10,000 per year for an assessment of the roots.

But the council said any project beyond the four ficus would be subject to a request for proposals from local arborists and tree maintenance companies so as to get the lowest possible cost.

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