Restore the Trees, Please

Santa Barbara City Councilmembers made little effort to hide their displeasure with Hal Hurt, the property owner who chopped down trees without a permit, removed one tree after being told not to, and made alterations on what may be a historic wall without proper clearance. Mayor Marty Blum questioned whether the maximum fine-in this case only $250-would deter other property owners from similarly obtaining permits after the fact. The property involved, 601 East Anapamu Street, is the site of five three-story apartment complexes totaling 99 units. When the Villa Flores apartments were built in 1962, City Hall requested that the structures not intrude upon the landscape originally planted by the prior property owner, Dr. August Dormeus, one of Santa Barbara’s pioneering civic horticulturalists. Even then, one of the remaining trees was valued at $9,000.

While the council heard from many neighbors who bemoaned the loss of “leafy urban canopy”-and two tenants who liked the changes-it remained unclear whether Hurt had removed 48, 58, or 100 trees. Site landscape architect Katie Rogers-O’Reilly said plans call for the planting of 67 new trees and 51 new shrubs. She also said many of the removed trees were neither historical nor healthy. City planner Jaime Limon and city historian Jake Jacobus fell on their swords, admitting they missed things they should have caught. But councilmembers were more eager to fix the problem than punish it: They made it clear the new owner should plant more trees that re-create the canopy feeling he destroyed-and soon.

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