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Nearly Century-Old Sycamore Trees in Santa Monica Win Potential Reprieve from Demolition


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 14, 2017 -- Beautiful and unbowed by age, two nearly century-old sycamore trees, entwined over time to look like one as they cast a wide canopy of shade across California Avenue in Santa Monica, received a temporary reprieve from removal on Monday after the City’s Landmarks Commission delayed a recommendation not to grant protection from development.

Commissioners opted to delve further into a request from neighbors to grant the Western Sycamore trees at 1122 California the status of a City Landmark.

In doing so, the commission delayed acting on a recommendation by City planners to not grant protective status.

Sycamores on Caligornia Avenue
Sycamores at 1122 California Avenue (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

“The Commission requested additional information, including information on the context of the tree, and continued the item,” said City spokesperson Constance Farrell.

Work on demolition had already started at the vacant old single-family home on the parcel when the Wilmont Neighborhood Coalition filed a request in late October with the Landmarks Commission to save the two Sycamores, which are believed to date back to 1922, when a farm house on the lot was built.

As the two Sycamores grew over time, the larger tree started to envelope the smaller one and now “embraces” it with encircling roots, giving the appearance of a single tree, said a Santa Monica-based arborist hired by the City to consult on the matter .

Together, the two trees reach as high as 82 feet, with a canopy that spreads about 72 feet.

“Though these trees are not as old or as large as some of the giant sycamores in Santa Monica’s natural areas, they are the largest and oldest in their local neighborhood,” Jon Scow, the arborist, said in a November 27 report.

“They are exceptional for their good health and freedom from . . . infestation, their canopy coverage and structure, and their preservation through good pruning practice over the decades," Scow said.

"These two trees are outstanding specimens of their species, and their combined canopy is remarkable and uncommon,” he added. They constitute a “significant portion of the dwindling native tree canopy in the area.”

Neighbors made a showing at the commission’s hearing on Monday, faced with a recommendation from the City’s Department of Planning and Community Development not to grant landmark status.

Although the two Sycamores appear to be among “the largest native trees within the immediate area, there are many notable trees, even along the same block as the subject tree(s),” a staff report to commissioners said.

“There have been very few trees in the city designated as City Landmarks,” the report said.

“The trees that have been designated are exceptional in some way and/or associated with the history of the city," the City planners said.

"Because of the context of the subject tree(s) and the apparent lack of a historic association as representative of the City’s early development, staff does not recommend the western sycamore tree(s) at 1122 California Avenue as a City Landmark.”

Neighbors said the two trees are also significant for their survival, as the city has grown denser over the decades.

“Santa Monica is rapidly losing its stock of aged trees on private land due to development,” said John C. Smith, the neighbor who filed for landmark status on behalf of the coalition.

A survey by Scow of City-owned and privately-owned trees on nearby blocks found 16 other native species, or Sycamores and Oaks.

None, though, carried the “significance” of the two California Avenue Sycamores, due to issues like small size and poor condition.

They could not “compare in size, condition, or beauty to the subject western sycamores,” Scow said.

In the application to save the trees, Smith said the owner of the parcel, listed as Brett Cypress/ WS Investments, can still to protect the two Sycamores as part of the development plans.

“A win-win,” he said.


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