Commissioners approve cutting down Echo Park street trees and planting new urban forest

Giant ficus is one of 35 trees to be removed from Sunset Boulevard

Giant ficus is one of 35 trees to be removed from Sunset Boulevard

The Board of Public Works this morning approved  the removal of nearly three dozen Echo Park street trees – including a towering ficus described as big enough to have its own Zip Code – and the planting of  more than 100 new trees along Sunset Boulevard.

The tree removal and planting is part of a $750,000 project that will include new benches, trash cans, sidewalk improvements and other features along a 1.3-mile stretch of Sunset between Rosemont Avenue and Everett Street.  While some Echo Park residents havevoiced opposition to the tree removal, no one spoke in opposition at today’s hearing.

City officials initially proposed cutting down 58 trees for a variety of reasons, including those that had damaged surrounding sidewalks or appeared to be sickly or deemed inappropriate as street trees. But the list was whittled down to 35 to preserve some large ficus that provide shade for bus passengers and pedestrians, said Christine Peters with the office of Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.

Most of the trees that will be cut down are relatively small gangly chitalpas that fared poorly on Sunset Boulevard in addition to some olive trees and a banana plant, she said. But the removal list also includes one the largest trees on Sunset Boulevard, a giant, 35-foot high ficus between McDuff Street and Laveta Terrace that stretches half-way across the street. After being shown a photo of the tree,  one of the Public Works commissioners quipped,  “That thing has it’s own Zip Code.”

Peters said that tree specialist had determined that the tree, which had buckled and broken the surrounding sidewalk, posed a safety hazard.  “As much as we all fought to try and see what could be done to save it, the experts came back and said … it could potentially cause a public hazard and tip over.”

More than 100 new trees –a combination of  Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) and  Australian Willow (Geijera
parviflora) – will be planted along Sunset Boulevard as part of the project, which was financed with federal funds.


  1. What a shame. Most of these trees don’t need to be removed. Makes me wonder what brainless idiot is running this circus! The city claims they don’t have the budget to cut trees when you call to have them trimmed in your neighborhood block that obstructing street lights. Go figure!!!

    • Right you are. This is simply a make-work project, with the city using federal funds for it. They had to invent something to do, so they figured they would take out all those existing trees — and leave the community barren. That is, destroy the community for the benefit of a couple very temporary jobs.

      And the community people who went along with it let themselves be manipulated. For one thing, they never should have accepted that crap about the one Ficus tree could fall over! Yes, and my house could collapse down around me too, so maybe we should clear out all the houses while we’re at it. Trees don’t just fall down unless there is something very significant wrong with them — and that is not being asserted about that ficus. You don’t take down a tree simply because it is the size of a mature tree!

      VERY bad idea to take out all those trees and all at once.

      Yes, that is what the situation is when you do something like this: For the rest of the time you live in Echo Park, for many people for the rest of their lives, the streets will be barren. It takes several decades for trees to grow to full maturity. And under the thinking of this plan, when these new trees do get to maturity, we should cut them down as fast as we can.

      Until then, I hope you like barren concrete.

      • Really? Boy, you’re both so knowledgeable about trees. Because one of the other enormous ficus trees – on Berkeley – blew right on over during a wind storm, crushing cars and tearing up the street. You can’t let ficus trees get that large in an urban environment. They should never be planted in an urban environment. They look lovely well away from sidewalks and homes … and pipes. So gimme a break with the outrage.

    • If Antonio Villaretardo were still in charge, I’d be afraid of this plan. Now that Mr. Garcetti is in charge I haven’t a worry. I believe our mayor has a special place in his heart for Echo Park (I even saw him at the lake with his wife and kid playing there on thanksgiving day). He spearheaded the renovation of the Echo Park Lake which is absolutely beautiful now and is being very well maintained.
      The fact is that the ficus trees were the wrong choice and now we must correct the problem. It’ll be painful at first but trust that in the long run we’ll be better off.

  2. Ficusgate goes deeper…..follow the money…..

    EVERYBODY WHO IS FREAKING OUT ABOUT THESE TREES – Sunset streetscape improvements have been in planning for 2 YEARS! Have you been to any meeting to learn about how ficuses perform in an urban environment? There is a lot of community outreach and meetings and planning and etc. about of all of this stuff. EPIA and GEPENC and CD13 are all good resources.

    I will grant that the ficus removal on the bus stop on Echo Park Ave. north of Sunset was handled terribly, but then again LA’s favorite figurehead (hizzoner Eric Garcetti) was busy with an election. There are a lot of community minded people at work in Echo Park – get out from your behind your screen and get your ass to a meeting!

    • Not to mention, it seems that most people involved in Echo Park community outreach and activism aren’t actually opposed to this plan. A lot of the complaints I read on the Echo Park Elysian yahoo group were related to how the trees planted on Echo Park Ave. have already died; most people were just asking the city to ensure these trees are adequately watered and cared for.

      I actually looked at the plan blueprints, and the trees slated for removal (beside the big one, which I will miss) are dying and diseased. As long as the city waters these new trees, we should be in good shape. Plus, this is tied into that plan that will install new bus benches (!!) and new solar powered trash cans (!!!) all along Sunset!

  3. what a shame

  4. I understand the reasoning behind taking the trees out. I just don’t understand why the replacement trees do not appear to be tended to. As for getting “off my ass” and attending meetings, I gladly would have attended the meeting today, had it not been at 9:30 on a work day. Unfortunately quite a lot of the meetings are held during working hours. When I worked part time I had much more time to attend meetings and voice opposition. I do agree that community involvement is key, but I also don’t think it is fair to assume folks are being lazy, when the reality is their work schedules are not conducive to attending community city planning meetings.

    • The reason the new trees are not watered is simple: that is a recurring cost. Planting new trees is a one time cost. I’m not saying that makes sense; to the contrary, it’s crazy. But such is the logic of LA.

  5. Have to lean to side of tree removal — our pops is now 98 and main concern is gravity and a level walking surface. Even a level surface can be dangerous at his advanced age, one stumble, one slip and there he goes.

    LA’s big ficuses are absolute hell on sidewalks, some concrete slabs I’ve seen are so tilted they are good only for skateboarders and bikers to leap from. I’ve never heard of root pruning as a solution to the ficus problem; and if done and sidewalk is repaired the problem may return.

    Unfortunately it seems they must be removed. Can only hope the replacements are cared for, one day becoming the shade and ornamenal trees we need on our streets. Along with other amenities promised.

  6. I can understand why people get upset when a big shade providing tree gets cut down, but you really have to do your research about Ficus. They are very hardy trees that grow quickly, which is why the city thought they were the perfect street trees when they planted them years ago. The thing is that they just keep growing and their roots can bust through almost anything. The roots also seek water by busting through concrete to get to pipes and they can bust through those as well. What once seemed to be the perfect city tree has turned into a nightmare now that they have gotten really mature and huge. Swapping them out for a bunch of other less destructive trees that will eventually produce even better shade is a good thing. Yes, it will be a bit bare for a few years, but that’s how you plan a garden, you have to give it room to grow. Also contrary to what many people seem to think, trees have life spans, they don’t all live as long as giant redwoods and sequoias.

    • They only have invasive roots when not watered properly. Look at how disneyland has them planted throughout their park. Most of the trees are giant now and right in the middle of beautiful concrete work. If the city only watered trees properly this wouldn’t be an issue.

    • These large ficus trees also host MANY bird species in one mature tree.
      And yes, Disneyland planted them all over decades ago, down sidewalks etc. no problems there.

  7. Why aren’t they planting natives?

    • Natives are good, but don’t provide the shade needed for large streets. They are better planted in yards or on side streets, or as occasional plantings. Also, do you mean straight natives? Trees that were here when the Spanish and Mexicans got here, or trees that are native to the same type of climates as Los Angeles?

      • Agreed. Why aren’t they planting native trees? Sycamores would be an great, just like those planted on Figueroa through Highland Park. They would provide great shade without becoming a hedge that obscures business owners’ signs (like the ficus).

        Also, if someone is aware enough to suggest natives, I’m guessing that they indeed mean natives, not drought-tolerant imports.

  8. Ficus tree are certainly beautiful, but eventually grow too big for their surroundings. Those are trees that I would rather plant in park surroundings, well away from sidewalks, masonry and pipes. In that sort of setting, their aesthetic can be truly appreciated. And Chaps, lots of trees get blown down during windstorms, not just Ficus. My friend had a 100 year old, 100 foot tall Cedar tree fall over his front yard in Altadena a few years back during a windstorm. Eucalyptus are probably the most dangerous of all, shedding gigantic limbs for no reason at all sometimes. And Graham Wellington, what was sort of whiney racist crack was that? Villaraigosa came into a city that had been ruined by the GOP caused national recession, and at the local level, mismanaged financially by Hahn and Riordan, his immediate predecessors. Villaraigosa has turned out to be one of our better mayors, along with Bradley, Yorty, Poulson, Bowron and Cryer. Villaraigosa has left the city with much better prospects and in much better financial shape, and has left a productive legacy, having worked with state and national leaders, that will continue to benefit Angelenos for generations to come. And while I like Garcetti and wish him well, he’s an unproven whelp. We’ll see how he handles it a few years down the line.

  9. If only they would remove the Ficus Trees all along Verdugo Road in GP!! Walking the sidewalk is like walking in a third world country. Buckling, Cracks, and Depressions for about a mile on both sides of the street. I could only imagine the heart ache disabled people have on these sidewalks.

  10. Volunteer Arborist

    It’s really a shame that they are going to put 35 foot tall trees under 20 foot power lines. There are definitely trees that are more appropriate for the space than those.

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