Q&A: Environmental Impact Report for the Los Angeles Citywide Sidewalk Repair Program

1. What does the Sidewalk Repair Environmental Impact Report (EIR) do?

If certified, the report locks in for decades an outdated approach to sidewalk reconstructions and gives the Bureau of Engineering (BOE) broad authority to “streamline” the removal of an estimated 12,860 street trees for sidewalk improvements (repair, reconstruction, widening, curbs and curb-ramps), anywhere in the city, any time over the next 30 years without future review or input from residents. Under the report’s program, entire streets can be cleared of their mature trees without additional analysis of the alternatives, local health and environmental effects, and without any option for affected communities to have a say in what happens to the trees in front of their houses. In short, the program is intended to give advance approval for tree removals on short notice for unknown future sidewalk improvements, anywhere in the city.

2. Why Is BOE pursuing a Sidewalk Repair EIR?

The City of Los Angeles (City) says they are preparing the report to evaluate the potential environmental effects of the proposed Sidewalk Repair Program to address the manner in which sidewalk repair and reconstruction projects are undertaken pursuant to the City’s obligations under the Willits Settlement Agreement with the primary goal of “streamlining the Settlement implementation process”.

3. Where can the city remove street trees under this program?

  • In commercial areas
  • In residential neighborhoods

4. Are there any environmental impacts?

The report claims that the program will result in a “net neutral street tree canopy” (equal the canopy in 2017) by year 30.  But from year 1 to 29 the city will have less canopy than it had in 2017, which the report ignores.  The report ignores or fails to evaluate numerous health and environmental risks of tree removals:

  • Impacts of the loss of tree canopy cover on the urban heat island and neighborhood temperatures.
  • Impacts of the loss of trees on carbon sequestration and storage, storm-water capture, air-purification.
  • Impacts of the loss of habitat (trees) for wildlife.

Numerous green infrastructure solutions employed by other cities to improve the environment and tree health are dismissed or “rejected” and treated as not viable, by the report.

5. How much is this program costing?

Under the program, the City plans to spend approximately $1.3 billion.

6. Is it necessary to cut down trees to repair and reconstruct sidewalks?

Solutions to retain mature trees exist for sidewalk repair and reconstruction that the report fails to consider such as “tree bulb outs”. Yet, the report includes a root pruning approach for retaining trees that would disqualify most of the mature street trees in the city under the International Society of Arboriculture’s best management practices.

7. Is the City going to plant new trees to replace the mature trees that are cut down?

The program has a plan to plant 15 gallon sized trees within one year for every tree cut down. However, after three years the newly planted trees will no longer be “tended to” or watered or replaced when they fail (die), and the report underestimates the number of years it takes for the planted trees to mature –  In the world of trees, the oldest members do the most to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and to store it as carbon in their wood.  Affected residents will have no say in the selection of the young tree that will be planted in their community or in front of their house, and the program allows large long-lived trees like Liquidambars and Coast Live Oaks to be replaced with medium or small trees like African fern pines or Crape myrtles, which have shorter life-spans and deliver far fewer benefits, called Ecosystem Services.

8. Is this program legal?

Elements of the program may violate California’s environmental laws.

9. Didn’t anyone try to stop this ill-conceived program?

Yes. City council and decision makers were urged to support a more environmentally sensitive approach for sidewalk improvements to protect human health, and to include residents in the decision-making process of what happens in their neighborhood when considering the community of trees on their streets.

10. What can you do?

  1. Call your city council office, and the Mayor and urge them to shift their outdated practices to a modern, ecologically-centered approach that uses sustainable methods and aligns with the public’s growing demand for a healthy leafy green city.
  2. Attend “scoping meetings” for the EIR to make your opinions heard.
  3. Submit a written comment about the program.
  4. Protect your community and the environment by sharing this Q&A sheet with your friends and neighbors.

 

View public meeting information, where to submit written comments, and Draft EIR here: https://sidewalks.lacity.org/environmental-impact-report