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Downtown’s Shade Trees May Be Replaced With Palms

Aired 4/11/12 on KPBS News.

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.

A palm tree near San Diego's airport.
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Above: A palm tree near San Diego's airport.

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.


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.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.


Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 11, 2012 at 2:41 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I like palms as there aren't too many places in the U.S. that they can grow. They have come to symbolize southern California, so I'm not sure why cities like Phoenix and LA can't do a combination of palms and hade trees instead of eliminating palms altogether.

With that said, two important items are left out of this story.

(1) what will happen to the trees? Will they be replanted somewhere in the city or destroyed? I would be much more inclined to support this idea if the current trees are going to be replanted in a park somewhere if that's possible. There are some nice mature trees on the street now.

(2) What kind of palms?????????

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 11, 2012 at 2:48 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Medjool Date palms, it's in the attachment.

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Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | April 12, 2012 at 8:15 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Palms are not a perfect tree, and they can cause problems. We've had two fall down in my neighborhood when the ground became wet and winds came up. Rats particularly like them. So do politicians and developers and minor bureaucrats, though I'm not sure why. Maybe someone struck a deal with a palm tree seller. To rip out perfectly healthy trees (which I'm sure will not be replanted but stuck in a landfill) to plant palms so we can fake a beach landscape downtown seems silly and fiscally irresponsible. Does SANDAG not have any useful projects to spend money on?

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Avatar for user 'boingo'

boingo | April 12, 2012 at 10:38 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Palm trees and eucalyptus trees are San Diegos cancer. Niether are indigenous or all that attractive. Why does'nt the city plant native trees?, When they did the center of Broadway they could have put in Sycamores, oaks and or cottonwoods, and now we would have a beautiful native mini forest that represents our region. Palms are the worst choice possible.

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Avatar for user 'jbw'

jbw | April 12, 2012 at 11:31 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Palms need a lot of care and can become a real problem if you don’t know what to expect. Dead fronds are sharp, and can cause injuries, especially to children and pets. This is a specialist job, especially with large trees.

Palm trees attract rats. They can grow to enormous heights, and could cause a nuisance to neighbouring properties. They aren't good shade trees. They have also been known to damage paved areas so planting palms could be a very expensive.

Removing mature shade trees to be replaced by palms would be a huge mistake.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 12, 2012 at 12:46 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

So much for the Wise Men of Chula Vista who decided to aling F and Third with these out of place and expensive palm trees-even as the City issued a hiring freeze.

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Avatar for user 'flyingfish'

flyingfish | April 12, 2012 at 8:51 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

$1.5 Million?!?!? Are you KIDDING ME?! I'm stunned and so upset this is even being considered. There is nothing wrong with our beautiful trees on Broadway - and the fact that with ALL the other things you can spend $1.5 M - improving city streets/potholes, removing graffiti, helping our schools, and so much more - this is what you come up with? I like our big trees that offer more shade and oxygen. It adds diversity to our city. Plant palms in a new development if you want, but it's utterly ridiculous and a waste of money to dig up (and I assume destroy) perfectly good trees. Because how many people have visited San Diego and said "Gee - my trip to San Diego was pretty great - we really enjoyed the beaches, restaurants, shops, historic buildings....but dang it, I what REALLY would have made it so much better was if Broadway was lined with palm trees....". please.

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Avatar for user 'KatieJ'

KatieJ | April 12, 2012 at 10:10 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree with all those who object to replacing perfectly good shade trees -- at a cost of $1.5 M!

There were two Washingtonia palms in our back yard when we bought the house in 1964. They were about 5 feet tall and looked like cute little pineapples. In the 1990s an owl moved into one of them and we were delighted. But by 2005 the trees were 50 feet tall, very difficult and expensive to keep trimmed, and we had a veritable plague of pigeons. And I worried every time we had a windstorm. Finally I had them taken out (they weren't worth anything, being common Washingtonias). And the pigeons disappeared!

The city has a lot of better places to use $1.5 million.

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Avatar for user 'el'

el | April 13, 2012 at 7:44 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

How pathetic!

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Avatar for user 'mccolgan55'

mccolgan55 | April 14, 2012 at 2:17 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I have to agree with the majority. This is a waste of money and totally inappropriate as palms are not native, not pretty, not pedestrian friendly, not fiscally sound, not in any way a good idea. Maybe the Centre City Development Corp. and SANDAG should get the opinion of some local urban landscape experts first and maybe get some submissions?

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Avatar for user 'gardendude001'

gardendude001 | August 5, 2012 at 9:47 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

I am glad this article was share via Facebook so I know what's happening.
It really seems that those putting forward the palm idea are pandering to an image of San Diego solely for it's 'tropical' appeal as a tourist destination.
There are no benefits but for some peoples' subjective view of the palms being 'beautiful.'
However, science supports the trees we already have and the above suggestion of reintroducing native trees would be great; what an idea for 'historic' Gaslamp than to have natives put in.
Maybe SANDAG could use that money to create a trust to fund natives or more useful shade trees than the messy and useless palms. I know anyone who has sat at a bus stop (which SANDAG is mostly redoing for any trees to be put in or replaced) would appreciate shade.

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