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Santa Monica Redefined as Arboretum  

By Jason Islas
Special to the Lookout

May 19, 2011 -- A plan to make Santa Monica the first city-wide arboretum in the world, adding up to 10,000 new trees to the city in the process, drew residents to the first public discussion of the novel concept at Virginia Park Tuesday night.

“An arboretum is traditionally a teaching institution” full of a wide variety of trees from all over the world, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Richard McKinnon told the Lookout.

This plan would give Santa Monica “the opportunity to redefine 'arboretum,'” said Dryden Helgoe, principal designer with Dryden Helgoe Landscape Design. Such a project was right in line with Santa Monica's tradition of leadership in environmental issues, she added.

Though the project is in the very preliminary stages and would require much more public input, the rough outline contains three major elements, McKinnon explained.

First, there would be a central location that would serve as the hub for the arboretum. McKinnon suggested several locations, such as Reed Park or Cloverfield Park, but added that ultimately, the location would a community decision.

The hub could be densely planted with trees and be an educational center.

The second part of the plan would mean filling out public spaces around the city with a variety of trees from around the world, with an emphasis on drought-resistant trees.

Santa Monica is a Mediterranean climate, said City Forrester Walt Warriner, and “many trees are adaptable to this climate.

Warriner added that this project could lead to Santa Monica creating its own nursery and species bank, helping preserve the diversity of trees in Southern California.

The third part of the plan, McKinnon said, would be to line Interstate 10 with trees. Though, he added, this would require cooperation with CalTrans, which can sometimes take a while.

Such a project could be iconic, McKinnon said. “Instead of having the ugliness of the 10 freeway, you'd have the beauty of our new trees.”

David Brown, executive director of Descano Gardens called the city-wide arboretum “a very, very romantic idea.”

His colleague, Brian Sullivan, director of horticulture & garden operations at Descano Gardens, added that he felt a city-wide arboretum would foster a stronger connection to nature by bringing the natural site to the people, rather than being a remote place people have to drive to.

Overall, the reaction from the crowd was positive.

But several people said that though they are enthusiastic about the idea, they would not want sports facilities, especially fields, to be disrupted by plans for the arboretum.

McKinnon emphasized that the location of the hub has not been decided and would be up to the community, but that there were plenty of places to put it.

Another person who wanted the focus of the arboretum to be local said, “We don't need to get stuff from the rest of the world.”

“How would this be payed for?” was another question.

Since the project is so preliminary, funding sources haven't yet been secured, but one audience member noted that trees actually enhance property values and, since they offset carbon emissions, perhaps the City could earn carbon credits for all the trees.


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