Photo by Jason Ruiz.
The leafy shade once provided to daily yoga on the bluff practitioners disappeared in dramatic fashion this week, community members discovered Tuesday.
The stumps of the formerly looming coral trees stood starkly against the oceanfront skyline, with no shelter from the sun in sight.
Community members immediately took to Facebook, deploring the city’s pruning. In response, the city posted a Facebook statement, apologizing for its lack of outreach and explaining its reasons for “significant” pruning of the trees—namely that the trees are nearing the end of their lifespan, and the city is attempting to extend their lives before they eventually require removal.
“These trees are dying. In fact, one recently lost a huge limb prompting us to begin taking protective measures. Our experts are telling us there is potentially one last chance to save the trees,” wrote the city. “That is to severely prune them so that they can hopefully grow back healthier and extend their lifespans. On Saturday, we put out signs under the trees educating the public that we would be trimming the trees shortly. However, we failed to do enough community outreach.”
In an interview with the Post, the Elvira Hallinan, the manager of the city's Marine Bureau of Parks and Recreation, confirmed the expert arborist said the trees were nearing the end of their 50-year lifespan, and incidents of heavy, leaf-laden branches falling were on the rise. The trees are scheduled to be removed, one-by-one over the course of the next year or so, but until then, they were trimmed as a recommended strategy to strengthen the trunk and prevent heavy branches from falling on yoga participants and park goers.
"With 100 to 120 people participating in the yoga program, there's a fine balance between the health of the tree and keeping residents safe," said Hallinan. "It was recommended we severely reduce the canopy so it's not so heavy on the limbs. Because of the weather [the risk of branches falling and trucks splitting is higher in hot weather], we couldn't delay much longer."
She acknowledged community outreach wasn't ideal. "We're focused on the trees and concerns," said Hallinan.
Yoga on the Bluff leader Dharma Shakti expressed indignation at the trees’ removal.
“I am so very very sad right now,” wrote Shakti in a Facebook post. “As city residents, we all pay taxes for parks like this, and yet, although we help fund them, we get no say in the way we get to use them.... Even having to have $350 permit that requires a business license just to offer FREE YOGA , feels like a bit much, I went along with it because the community loves, needs and wants their yoga.... But this!!! Really?, you take our shelter, Our sanctuary, our place that you (the city) KNOW we gather.... And this! Why?”
Mayor Robert Garcia posted a message in response, after being tagged in a number of posts expressing outrage at the essential removal of any shrubbery on the trees. He confirmed that a large branch had fallen from the tree, and said the city “didn’t do extensive outreach.”
“And as you can imagine, outreach is critical,” he posted. “[...] A discussion like this needs more input and discussion. I know our parks employees, they work very had and love our city and our trees. I’m committed to two things, 1) get all the info over the next few days and evaluate how these decisions were made so we can ensure that we are doing appropriate outreach and evaluation of the trees, and 2) work with the community, especially Dharma’s Yoga on the Bluff to save the trees or plant new ones. I’m pretty bummed about this because I love these trees.”
Hallinan said replacement trees, of a similar variety that does not involve a risk of falling branches, is in the works, and has been since before the trees were chopped.
"We're hopeful we can plant some of the new ones before we replace the dying trees," said Hallinan. She said meetings with the public will be scheduled, allowing for resident input.
“This summer, I'll miss the sweet kiss of dew that drops from the beautiful flowers in the trees, I'll miss the red seeds that the trees drop to the ground that so many of us collect for keepsake,” wrote Shakti toward the end of her post. “But mostly, I will miss the shelter of shade that those trees provided in the sweltering hot summer.... I hope we manage throughout the summer without any serious shade.”
Below and above, right: Photos courtesy of the City of Long Beach Facebook page.
This report was updated at 2:53PM with an interview with Elvira Hallinan.