The 881 Alma Real Tree Mystery

By Sue Pascoe

The News has received many inquiries asking if the owner of the Palisadian-Post was responsible for the removal of the two towering pine trees in front of the 881 Alma Real building. Some people wondered, “Did he cut them down so his illegal sign is more visible?”

We spoke to Gilbert Salazar, portfolio manager with Sandstone Properties, Inc., which manages the property, and he said, “It was an unfortunate coincidence that this tree removal coincided with the sign going up.”

Salazar explained that “over the last four years, the pine trees started dying,” and either a bark-beetle infestation or not enough room for the tree roots in the planters may have been the cause of their demise.

The pine trees have been taken out at 881 Alma Real.

He added that the trees also posed increasing difficulties that stemmed from the original landscaping when the building was constructed in 1980.

“The main-line sewers run under the planters,” Salazar said, noting that when there was a sewer problem a few years ago, workers had to go into the shallow planters. “Tree roots were smashed right up to the walls. Workers had to cut through two to three feet of tree roots to get to the sewer.”

The planter, in front of the building that is nearest to the parking garage driveway, is only two feet deep with a concrete base and extends above the “basement” of the building. A portion of the planter in front of the Berkshire Hathway office is also over the footprint of the building.

Salazar said that most likely when the building was completed and the pine saplings planted, not a lot of thought was given to what kind of space mature tree roots would need.

An arborist told Salazar that the pine trees were suffering a “slow, painful death,” and that the planters didn’t have enough dirt to keep healthy mature trees alive.

The arborist pointed out that the ficus in the building’s interior courtyard is also dying for lack of root space and will most likely have to be taken out.

The lesson learned is, “Don’t put trees into a planter,” Salazar said. “You’re basically sentencing them to a slow death.”

He explained that in the case of the interior planter, the building’s landscape architect has discouraged any trees and recommends ferns with a drip system. The pine trees in the outside planters have been replaced with low-root plum trees.

Sandstone, the building’s owner, has also been alerted by Village School that a eucalyptus tree has grown into the wall of the neighboring school. Roots have upended the cement sidewalk at the back of 881 and there are fears that one of the branches could fall onto the kindergarten play yard below.

The Methodist Church on Via de la Paz recently removed trees in front of the sanctuary because of sewer-related issues. After removing cement and replacing the pipes, new landscaping has been planted.

Also, two large pine trees, about 80 ft. tall, will have to be removed at Fire Station 69 on Sunset at Carey. One tree is less than three feet from the station, the other is about six feet removed. Both have outgrown the area and roots have caused problems with the building’s foundation.

The trees were planted in 1967 when the station was completed, and most likely before people realized that planting trees that grow so big would have consequences for the structural integrity of a house/station.

The News contacted noted landscape architect Kelly Comras about planting trees in containers.

“Trees that are planted in shallow planters must be cared for like bonsai,” she wrote in an October 4 email. “For example, most of the trees at the Getty Center museum are planted above concrete storage and parking structures in just four feet of soil. In order to thrive in such conditions, their roots are carefully clipped on a regular basis, they are fed a nutrient-rich cocktail that includes vitamins, and the trees are kept relatively thin on top in order to minimize the ratio of biomass to root structure. It is important to maintain this ratio so that the diminished size of the root ball can both physically and nutritionally support the tree.

“This type of care is, of course, more intensive and more expensive than caring for trees that grow in deeper soil,” Comras said.

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