The City of La Mesa has cut down all the shade trees along its commercial mainstreet. This occurred as construction began on the La Mesa Downtown Streetscape “enhancement” project. Some of these trees were tattered, unhealthy, or buckling the sidewalks. However, the city removed nearly all the trees, problematic or not. Rather than replacing these trees with environmentally and pedestrian friendly shade trees (e.g. native varieties like Western Sycamores, Live Oak, or Black Oak), the replacements tree choice is being guided primarily by maintenance concerns, leaving a limited selection of relatively small non-native and non-shade trees. Additionally, the Streetscape Masterplan shows an abundance of the grossly overused fan palm, sparing only La Mesa Boulevard between Acacia and 4th, and a few other blocks.
During the streetscape public workshops, there were several negative community comments, and no positive comments, regarding the inclusion of palm trees in the project. Community members expressed the desire for more shade trees, even detailing that such trees should be mature large canopy trees – even if that meant fewer trees overall. Nevertheless, the city appears to bent on a path to install great numbers of ornamental trees and palm trees.
Fan palms provide minimal climate change mitigation and minimal pedestrian benefit: They provide almost no shade. Other California communities are abandoning the use of palm trees as a landscaping mainstay. Palms are now often associated with the faux tropical landscaping of suburban shopping centers and commercial areas of the 70s and 80s. See e.g., Piety and Perversity: The Palms of Los Angeles and Are Trees to Blame for the Lack of Shade in Southern California?
As for the locations where non-palm trees will be installed, sources say no final decision has been made as to the selection of tree type. There is cause for concern that the choice may be dictated more by convenience (i.e., safe roots, no dropping berries or leaves, no deciduous trees) than benefit. An over-emphasis on selecting benign easy-maintenance trees invariably results in undersized, unchanging, and often ragged looking trees. In contrast, for example, deciduous trees renew their leaves and thus tend to look fresher and cleaner; provide shade when needed most (summer); allow the sun’s rays to pass through in the winter; and change their look with the seasons. Also, native tree species should be given priority as having the most environmental benefit and having historical and geographical context.
Great trees may require a little more work – that’s the way life works: you get what you put into it. For the beauty and benefit provided by great trees and great canopies, look at cities like Sacramento, Portland, parts of L.A. County, and even Fern St. in San Diego (in photo at bottom).