By Melanie Henson and Amanda Lee
As a designated national Tree City, San Dimas is known for its cozy atmosphere. A large part of that is due to its appealing greenery.
“We love our trees, and we love the environment that we have because of them,” said San Dimas resident Alta Skinner.
But that iconic tree-lined look may be in jeopardy.
In an Aug. 24 San Dimas City Council meeting, councilmembers unanimously approved a total tree-planting budget of just $20,000. This amount was a dramatic drop from $110,000 allocated for each of the previous two years.
The new amount increases the original budget of $10,000 for the current fiscal year but still leaves a big gap in plans to continue growth of San Dimas’ urban forest, Parks and Recreation employees said.
City Manager Chris Constantin said San Dimas has been in the thick of “a massive budget deficit,” and the tree budget was just one avenue for funding cuts.
The Parks and Recreation’s Community Forest Management budget funds the purchase, planting and maintenance of new trees for six months, through a contract with West Coast Arborists, Inc. The money does not include long-term maintenance. After six months, it is up to the city to maintain the trees, and the city budget has not always taken into account the longer-term costs of maintaining newly planted trees.
“It is not enough that you plant a tree,” Constantin said. “You have to have the funds to maintain it.”
Constantin said he fully supports the expansion of a city canopy, so long as upkeep will be accounted for.
“It’s expensive to maintain trees in public spaces,” said Andrew Trotter, vice president of West Coast Arborists.
“They require proper care, somebody to make sure they get water when they’re young until they get established,” Trotter said of the costs associated with new plantings.
As trees mature, “they’re also starting to increase in potential liability,” he said. “You see it unfortunately when trees fall and hurt somebody.”
Constantin said the Parks and Recreation department is working on a strategic plan that will take all of these factors into account.
City Councilmember John Ebiner, who is the council liaison to the Parks and Recreation Commission, said he plans to bring tree maintenance into the budget picture in the near future.
Planning for plantings
As the city prepares for tree selection and planting, long-term planning is crucial.
“The street tree palette has not been [completely] determined yet,” San Dimas Landscape Manager Steve Farmer wrote in an email to San Dimas Community Post.
Fifty-three trees were removed by Foothill Gold Line from Bonita and Cataract Avenues and Arrow Highway to make room for construction of the light rail. While 26 trees of the 53 lost to Gold Line construction will be replaced at the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority’s expense, the Construction Authority will also reimburse the city for an additional 27 trees at fair market value.
Additionally, San Dimas’ Parks and Recreation Department will use grant funds on a proposed 50 new trees in Horsethief Canyon Park and other locations where diseased or dangerous trees had to be removed in the past year.
So far, “the 50 trees from the (Upper San Gabriel River Watershed Urban Greening Project) grant will be Afghan pines,” to be planted along Paseo Alondra and Horsethief Canyon Park. Meanwhile, the Gold Line replacement trees will be a combination of coast live oak, sycamore and crepe myrtle, Farmer wrote.
Char Miller, the director of environmental analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, had several recommendations for municipal trees. He suggested avoiding non-native trees as native trees can end up being more cost effective and last longer. He also advised against “wholesale plantings,” where all the street trees in an area are planted at the same time. Planting trees of various ages together builds “resilience in that urban forest because it’s not going to die at the same moment,” Miller said.
Why an urban canopy matters
If there is anything San Dimas is known for, it’s trees, according to residents.
San Dimas was designated under Tree City USA status by the National Arbor Day Foundation in 2006, which was a source of pride and accomplishment for the Parks and Recreation Department as well as those who live in San Dimas.
While trees are visually appealing, the roots go deeper than that. According to experts, trees offer a variety of benefits.
Beatriz Nobua-Behrmann, an urban forestry and natural resources advisor at the University of California Cooperative Extension in Irvine, shared a laundry list of reasons trees are good for communities, from providing oxygen to cleaning air pollution and preventing flooding.
In urban areas, concrete and pavement retain heat while trees are “basically living air conditioning. Having the trees and having the shade makes everything cooler,” said Nobua-Behrmann, who has a doctorate in biology. “If you have an area that has a big and healthy urban forest, you have to spend less energy in firing the A/C and getting your house cool.”
Nobua-Behrmann also explained the health benefits trees provide. “In places where you have more urban canopies, you have less incidents of heart disease and lung disease, asthma and other things that affect human health.” She also said studies have shown proximity to trees can help reduce stress.
Citizens speak out in favor of new trees
Many residents view trees as a positive addition to the city’s landscape for environmental and aesthetic reasons.
“I’m a firm believer we have to have trees. Not just because I like to look at them,” San Dimas resident Alta Skinner said.
Several comments on an Aug. 26 post to the San Dimas Buzz Facebook group cited improved air quality as more than enough reason to keep planting new trees and maintaining or replacing diseased ones. Others noted that trees beautify the city and increase property values in the community.
“I love the trees,” local resident Sandra Gonzales-Escareno wrote on the San Dimas Buzz Facebook post. “It makes the down town look like the welcoming All American town.”
Some residents see the newly bare landscape, due to tree removal for Gold Line construction and in other parts of the city, as a significant loss.
“It’s just sad because you see the beauty of the trees. They enhance everything in our community,” said Cyndia Williams, a San Dimas business owner who has lived in the city for more than 20 years. “Unfortunately we have no control. The city didn’t want to take them down, they didn’t want to get rid of them. It’s forced upon you, and it’s kind of hard to swallow.”
Skinner said she would like the replacement trees to be similar to the trees that were removed.
“I think it’s important that when they replace those trees they don’t put little seedlings there. They took out very mature trees that provided a lot to our environment. I want to see them put back adult trees,” she said.
The future looks green (and growing) for San Dimas
While there are tangible benefits of having trees, Councilmember Ebiner said people just really love trees.
“It all comes down to a quality of life,” he said. “It’s about what makes a city a pleasant and attractive place to live in, have a business in and to visit.”
San Dimas is currently a Silver Tree City per the National Arbor Day Foundation’s parameters. The city expects to become a Gold City in 2026 and Platinum City 2031.
That shows “the city is committed to keeping its trees beautiful and keeping the urban forest growing,” Ebiner said. “My goal is a tree canopy on every city street and every residential street. I will continue to aim for that dream for San Dimas.”
Disclaimer: Isabel Ebiner, managing editor for the San Dimas Community Post and daughter-in-law of San Dimas City Councilmember John Ebiner, helped with editing this story.
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