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Damage caused by roots spurs plan to remove decades-old ficus trees

The city plans to cut down four large ficus trees in downtown Encinitas next week, following ongoing issues with damage caused by the trees’ roots, a city official said.

Two of the trees are in the 600 block of Third Street, in front of a home, and two are in the 1000 block of Second Street, in front of an office building. All four of the trees have been posted with notices about the impending removal.

The decision to remove the majestic, decades-old trees, all of which have green, leafy canopies spanning 40 feet or more in diameter and height, came after the city was approached by the property owners, said John Ugrob, an operations supervisor with the city’s Public Works Department.

The four trees are on city property between the street and the sidewalk, and have caused damage to nearby utility lines and building foundations, as well as adjoining sidewalks, said Ugrob.

“It’s just the wrong tree in the wrong spot. It’s just unfortunate. If these trees were in the middle of the park, it’d be great,” Ugrob said.

The city has paid for damages to nearby buildings caused by the trees, and has also had to replace the sidewalk next to the trees on Third Street, Ugrob said.

“The prudent thing to do is remove them because they’re causing damage and the damage is not going to stop,” Ugrob said. “It’s disappointing, it’s sad, we don’t want to see these guys go, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Anh Le, a Leucadia resident who often parks under the shade of the ficus trees on Third Street when he goes surfing, agreed that the loss of the trees is “just a bummer.”

“They are beautiful. It’s a shame to see them cut down,” Le said.

While he understands the concerns of the adjacent property owners, he said, “You’d like to think there could be a resolution other than cutting the trees down.”

“I don’t believe it’s anyone’s right to cut these trees down. They’re living, breathing beings,” he said.

The trees’ roots grow as wide and deep beneath the ground as their canopies grow above, said Ugrob, and trimming the roots would require digging up the street and sidewalk, an expensive proposition.

There are roughly one to two dozen ficus trees located next to sidewalks, and the city evaluates them on a case-by-case basis, eventually planning to remove all of them, said Ugrob. They represent a fraction of the city’s inventory of some 10,000 street trees. (Another 2,700 trees are located in city parks.)

The city will plant new trees to replace those that are removed during its fall planting program, working with adjacent property owners to determine the variety of trees to be planted, Ugrob said.

“The intent isn’t to remove trees, we want to keep the urban canopy, but it’s wrong tree in the wrong spot and we have to do what we can for public safety,” Ugrob said.

Those who want more information about the city’s tree maintenance and removal efforts can call the street maintenance division at (760) 633-2850.


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