Gary Cooper says the recently trimmed trees along Grandview Drive West are ugly.
And as University Place’s director of public works, parks and recreation, he’s been getting complaints.
But he also says this was the best way to handle a growing problem.
In January and February, city crews trimmed about 130 maples along the street that leads to Chambers Bay. The results were less than aesthetically pleasing.
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“We’re not proud of the way they look,” Cooper said.
But there’s a reason why the pruning left the trees looking like saguaro cactus, with three or four arms in the air and little else.
A NEW CITY
The trees — columnar Armstrong maples — were planted in 1996 along with the installation of curbs and gutters along Grandview. It was one of the first civic projects for the newly incorporated city.
“The big goal was to slow speeds down,” Cooper said.
Streets that appear narrow tend to slow drivers down. Curbs and trees can help to achieve that effect.
The idea worked. Speeds that averaged 47 miles per hour before the installation dropped to under 35 mph, Cooper said.
“The trees were planted for a purpose and they served that purpose,” he said.
The trees were expected to last 15 years before they would need to be removed because they would grow too big. Cooper is unsure why the trees were planted with a planned obsolescence.
Without the limbs being trimmed, the maples will grow into power lines. Almost all of the trees trimmed earlier this year were growing near the lines.
Adding to concerns are the spreading trunks at the base of the trees. The trees — growing in a planting strip only 2 feet wide — are overflowing curbs and their roots are raising sidewalks along Grandview.
Faced with having to remove the trees, the city decided to grant them a stay of execution by pruning them.
“We said, ‘Hey, let’s do an experiment and see what happens,’” Cooper said. “Maybe they’ll bush out.”
About 30 trees along the east side of Grandview between University Place Primary School and 35th Street West were cut to about 12 feet tall. Another roughly 100 trees were similarly cut on the west side of the street from 36th Street to Palisades Place.
Cooper will know the results by summer. Until then, some — including Cooper —will be unhappy with the way the trees look.
“I think they look terrible, I agree,” he said.
Still, he thinks it was worth a try.
“Once they’re cut down we can’t do anything,” he said.
A local arborist is taking issue with the city’s trimming by a thousand cuts.
“There’s no way anybody in the profession would justify this kind of work,” said Mark Mead.
Mead, a Tacoma resident, is a former forester for the city of Seattle. He’s also been a forester for public utilities, including Puget Sound Energy and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in California.
He doesn’t accept Cooper’s explanations.
“That’s exceptionally poor planning on their part, to say these trees have to come out,” Mead said.
Columnar maples, which top out at 40 to 50 feet, were a good choice for the road, he said.
Earlier trimming by Tacoma Public Utilities left a crown and was appropriate, Mead said. The recent trimming is not.
“The only purpose to do this kind of work is to remove the trees in a short period of time,” he said.
Sooner or later the trees will come out if the city follows current plans. That will include most of the uncut maples along Grandview because they are destroying curbs and sidewalks, Cooper said.
That raises the question of what will replace them.
“The real question is, are they committed to replacing those trees at that site,” Mead said. His fear is that Grandview will become a treeless road.
His fears are not without merit.
Cooper said the high costs of root removal, new irrigation and the disruption to power lines could make prepping the sites and planting new trees prohibitively expensive.
What eventually will replace them, whether it’s grass, shrubs, new trees “or a combination of all of those,” is up to the City Council, he said.
University Place enjoys a Tree City USA status with the Arbor Day Foundation, one of 88 cities in Washington to do so. It denotes communities that have made a commitment to their urban tree canopy.
But the city has no arborists like Tacoma, nor does it have a citizen advisory committee on tree selections like the city of DuPont.
Two staff members of the Univesity Place’s public works department have been trained in tree-health issues, Cooper said.
Tacoma Public Utilities trims the trees near its lines on Grandview every two years. The most recent trimming was in October, said Mike Snider, an arborist with the utility.
“We don’t trim anything like that,” Snider said of UP’s trimming. “Trees are pretty touchy with people. We try to trim like it’s in our yard.”
The utility follows pruning standards set down by the Tree Care Industry Association. Topping —reducing a tree’s size by essentially cutting off its top branches — is unacceptable and can hurt trees, the association advises.
TPU has seven arborists on staff.
“They have to go through constant training,” Snider said. “They just don’t sit on their hands.”
Because almost all of the trees cut on Grandview were near power lines, the utility has been taking heat from the public.
“All the phone calls started coming to us because they associate it with us,” Snider said.
Cooper said his crews cut branches to keep them 10 feet away from lines. Snider said TPU cuts trees to1 foot from the communication lines, the bulky cable lowest to the ground. It’s about 3 feet below the neutral power line.
Cooper hope the trees will last another four years. Money for their removal and whatever replaces them won’t be available until the 2019-20 budget. Decisions for that will be made in July 2018.
“They have to ultimately come out,” Cooper said of the trees. “I would just like a good game plan before they come out.”