BY JORDI FAXON
Carmel-by-the-Sea is an urbanized forest, distinct from traditional urban forestry in that Carmel staggers trees irregularly to more closely simulate a forest, wherein most other municipalities identical trees align neatly like a grid alongside roads. The City Council has over the years been enacting legislation that makes the city look like a magical alcove set against the rest of the peninsula, and trees make up a big part of this picture.
“It was the policy of our forefathers and foremothers to plant trees in the right of way [the public property of downtown Carmel] and to encourage the planting of trees on private property as well,” City Administrator Chip Rerig says.
The Municipal Code is specific in its protection of trees, recommending four main tree species: the Monterey pine—the dominant species in Carmel—the Monterey cypress, the coast live oak and the coast redwood.
It’s the job of City Forester Sara Davis to judge the viability of a given tree in any location and how it contributes to the forest as a whole, to enforce the ordinance in place and to warn the City Council about trees that are diseased and pose a danger to the rest of the forest through property damage or contagion.
“You’re looking at the soils, you’re looking at the amount of light that’s available, you’re looking for any conflicts with structures, conflicts with power lines, or other trees, so you’re really picking an individual tree for an individual space,” Davis says. “Then you’re making sure the tree gets planted properly and understanding what the purpose of the tree is. Is it to be an enhancement to a landscape? Is it to shade a structure so it’s cooler? Is it to help with stormwater?”
The Municipal Code states in Section 12.28.020 that “it is not the policy of the City to approve requests for tree trimming or tree removal in order to improve the view of any person, including the applicant.” The Carmel City Council requires that residents apply for a permit, including a fee, to prune or remove their trees.
The City has an arborist team of its own for minor storm damage to trees, but for more excessive damage requiring substantial transportation, Tope’s Tree Service, Iverson Tree Service, Community Tree Service, John Lane Tree Service and West Coast Arborists are the five independent arborists that the City of Carmel outsources to.
The City Council does account for risk in planting trees to a certain extent. If a property owner has concerns about a particular tree causing damage to their property, Davis is supposed to investigate the tree on-site and determine whether it’s viable or unsafe. There are still residents who feel that too many trees have been unfairly labeled as “safe,” causing some to declare that the city’s policy protects their trees over their residents. During the rain storms of last year, the Carmel Pine Cone published an editorial which pointed out the dangers in Carmel becoming too densely forested.
“When winter storms rush onshore with their winds of 60-70 miles per hour, some of Carmel’s giant pines are suddenly transformed from friendly neighbors into fearsome intruders,” writes Carmel Pine Cone editor Paul Miller. “And during particularly stormy winters, such as the one we’re having now, they can fall by the score—taking power lines, landscapes and even living rooms and kitchens with them.”
Some residents are frustrated with Carmel’s maintenance of trees even when there isn’t a storm, commenting that the city is negligent to remove trees that show signs of disease and potential property damage.
“The main concern is the lack of pruning and proper care to the trees in Carmel,” says one Carmel resident. “When there’s a dangerous tree, they will almost refuse to take it out if it’s not sick…. I think our efforts are better spent, instead of planting where we have an abundance of trees that are causing issues, places like the rainforest that don’t have as many trees and have deforestation problems. I think that’s where, if we do need to cut down a tree, it makes no sense to plant another one five feet away.”
Yet others say that the worries of trees falling, while understandable, don’t justify many residents’ firm rallying against the planting of trees in Carmel.
“One of Carmel’s biggest draws for both residents and tourists is something that people interpret as charm,” Carmel property owner Judy Thodos says. “Occasionally, it’s just charming to see a tree [in the middle of the road] because I don’t think it hurts anybody. I don’t think there’ve been any accidents caused by those trees because they were there. I think it’s just something out-of-the-ordinary.”
For more information, visit the City of Carmel’s website, ci.carmel.ca.us, where the policy and permits on trees can all be found.