Flowering trees to eventually bring rainbow of color to downtown Encinitas

Downtown’s E Street could eventually be known for its spring-blooming, sunshine-yellow jacarandas, while D Street could become famous for the fiery red fall foliage of Chinese pistaches as Encinitas’ street tree “infill” plan takes root.

A city-sponsored Arbor Day planting event, set for April 13, will be the first leafing out of the city’s new plans, but the full transition to a more colorful tree canopy is expected to take many years as existing, aging city street trees need to be replaced.

“Keep in mind, this is an infill program and it’s going to take a long time to get what we see here,” Councilman Tony Kranz said Wednesday, March 20, as the City Council debated the proposal.

The city’s new Downtown Street Tree In-fill Program, which the council unanimously supported March 20, calls for the east/west-running streets -- downtown’s letter-named streets -- to eventually all have trees with vivid spring blooms or eye-catching fall foliage.

On the north/south-running streets -- downtown’s numbered streets -- the goal will be to have “wide, umbrella-shaped canopy trees” in the mid-block sections and tall trees on the corner spots, a city staff report notes.

The east/west street tree list contains Marina Madrones, Silk Trees, Golden Trumpets, Crape Myrtles, Chinese Pistaches and Yellow Jacarandas. Each street is designated to contain a particular type of street tree, thus creating a solid strips of color. The north/south list has two options for umbrella-style trees -- Escarpment Live Oak and Island Oak. It also has two tall tree options for corner spots -- Lemon-Scented Gum and Cork Oak.

All the trees on the city’s new plant palette list are drought-tolerant. They need to be; many of the spots where they’ll initially be planted don’t have irrigation. They’ll be getting watered via a city water truck their first three years in the ground, but after that they’re on their own, city arborist Christopher Kallstrand told the council.

Last year, a survey of the downtown region found 220 bare places where city street trees could be added, but noted that irrigation is often lacking in these locations. Adding water lines and installing water meters to all the spots was estimated to cost $1.7 million. Temporarily watering young, drought-tolerant trees over a three-year period was forecast to be a far more affordable $78,700, a city staff report notes.

Plans call for 50 of the 220 vacant spots to be filled during the city’s annual Arbor Day celebration. This year’s event is set for 8:30 a.m. to noon April 13 on Second Street between W. E Street and W. F Street.

In the fall, the remaining 170 vacant spots will be filled, Kallstrand said. And, the plan is to use the new street tree plant palette as a guide in the years to come as downtown’s existing trees need to be replaced, Kallstrand said.

Downtown already has dozens of massive ficus trees, which were planted by Encinitas civic groups in the 1960s. These beloved trees provide a vast shade canopy, but their aggressive root systems have buckled city sidewalks and harmed private property, resulting in damage claims against the city and talk of removing them. The city has embarked on an extensive pruning program for some of the trees in an effort to resolve complaints, while preserving the trees.

The city staff report on the tree infill plan stresses that the document does not call for the removal of any existing street trees. It’s a roadmap for what will be planted as spaces come available, the report states.

The tree species list project was put together by a city subcommittee. Members included Kranz, former councilman Mark Muir and two members of the city’s Urban Forest Advisory Committee, William Morrison and Tim Clancy.

—Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune