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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Downtown’s Shade Trees May Be Replaced With Palms

A proposal to line Broadway with palm trees would come at the expense of more than 100 shade trees.

— Downtown interest groups are working out a plan to line downtown’s Broadway Street with palm trees. To make room, they would remove nearly every existing tree – more than 100 magnolias, ficuses and other species -- along a 17-block stretch between Park Boulevard and the Embarcadero waterfront.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has agreed to fund the $1.5 million project. SANDAG staff have budgeted it into their plan to build several new express bus stations along Broadway next year.

Before it can move forward, the proposal needs approval from downtown’s development agency, the Centre City Development Corporation. Its board must approve a change to downtown’s landscape blueprint.

“This is just a concept, keep in mind, at this point,” said Dave Schumacher, a SANDAG planner.

But the change to the landscape manual was set to be considered by a CCDC committee Wednesday. On Tuesday, it was postponed to next month so its supporters can work out a plan to fund long-term maintenance of the palms.

Schumacher said downtown groups first proposed the idea last year, at design meetings for SANDAG’s new bus stations.

“I think part of the thought here is let’s put a tree that can be put up and down the full length of Broadway to kind of standardize everything,” he said.

Janelle Riella is director of policy for the Downtown San Diego Partnership, one of the groups that wants to see the palms go up.

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CCDC: Broadway Street Tree Species

CCDC: Broadway Street Tree Species

CCDC meeting agenda on the proposal to replace trees along Broadway to support future amendments to the Centre City Streetscape Manual.

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She said the palm plan was envisioned as a way to connect Broadway to the nearby North Embarcadero waterfront, a major tourism draw that will include rows of palm trees as part of an ongoing renovation.

“If you bring that all the way through Broadway, it could be really beautiful,” she said.

But Vicki Estrada, a land planner who wrote downtown’s current streetscape manual, said the plan went against the prevailing trend in urban landscape planning.

After a brief look at the proposal in her office overlooking Broadway, she tossed an artist’s rendering aside. “I’ve seen enough,” she said. “What they’ve done, it’s at the expense of the pedestrian.”

In other cities, including Los Angeles, palm trees have fallen out of vogue as street trees.

In 2006, the Los Angeles city council, citing environmental concerns, voted to ban the planting of new palm trees on most city-owned land. Officials wanted trees that provide shade, release more oxygen and collect rainwater.

Estrada said there’s a similar trend among planners in other southwest cities like Phoenix and Tucson. She said palm trees along sidewalks discourage pedestrian activity, while shade trees do the opposite.

The main holdup for the downtown plan at this point is funding the palm trees’ upkeep.

Faced with budget cuts, the city of San Diego stopped trimming the 30,000 palm trees it owns citywide.

In many neighborhoods, dried palm fronds and rotting palm dates litter the streets. Residents who want city-owned palms near their homes maintained hire their own trimmers.

Riella said the Downtown Partnership wants to make sure that doesn’t happen on Broadway. So it’s exploring a financing plan. SANDAG has agreed to maintain the trees for “a year or two,” Schumacher said.

He said the proposal is being written into the agency’s environmental documents for its downtown bus stations so that the agency can install the palms if the financing falls into place.

SANDAG staff will release those documents next month, and will take comments from the public for 30 days before asking its board to approve the plan.

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