Tree update highlights Public Works

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(Photo courtesy City of Oxnard)

Oxnard– The City Council received a tree maintenance update during its Tuesday, September 12 meeting.

THE City’s Annual Operating Budget for the park’s urban forestry sub-division was approximately $1.25 million in fiscal year 2021-22, $1.5 million in fiscal year 2022-23, and $1.3 million in fiscal year 2023-24.

When Measure E passed, Parks Manager Kevin Thompson said funding was identified to deal with the long-deferred maintenance in the City’s urban forest, which included putting together a grid pruning plan, having contractors assess hazardous trees throughout the City, and consultants looking at existing programs and making recommendations.

“The Special District Division of the Public Works Department is responsible for 51 assessment districts containing 17 parks and the landscape and tree maintenance for each district,” Thompson said. “There are over 15,000 trees that are managed by the Special Districts.”

He said each district is funded annually through property assessments, including landscape and tree maintenance.

“Some districts are underfunded or partially funded and have been able to perform routine landscape maintenance, and many trees have been impacted by the deferred maintenance,” he said. “As more resources and staff are available to focus on the City’s urban forest, the more accurate the data becomes.”

Thompson said the most recent citywide tree inventory under the City’s care was completed about 15 years ago and showed approximately 48,000 trees. No significant updates have been made.

“In that time, we’ve had significant drought and disease happening throughout our trees, and the data does not reflect accurately what is occurring in the City,” he said.

Thompson said the total number of trees under the city’s responsibility has been reported at approximately 48,000, and a more accurate tree count means more data.

This report uses the most current information with respect to the tree count,” he said.

The Parks Division developed and implemented a five-year grid pruning plan starting in fiscal year 2021-22, he said, and at that time, the arterial street trees throughout the city were identified to be trimmed.

“About 6,600 of them were trimmed,” he said. “There were about 5,000 trees trimmed the second year, and these trees are residential trees, secondary street trees, and park trees. They aren’t identified at specific locations, such as we have with the arterial streets.”

He said they are working from the city’s east side, going towards the west.

“In our current year, we anticipate trimming about 7,000 trees,” he said. “In upcoming years, years four and five, we’ll continue to work from east to west, completing the remainder of those trees.”

He said in 2021, the city brought in a consultant called Dudek, who reviewed its existing tree program and determined staffing and funding levels are below what’s needed to manage the tree inventory, which needs updating.

“The city’s urban forest is not prepared for climate change, and the landscape standard must be updated,” Thompson said. “The city would benefit from an urban forest management plan. Since this review was done in 2021, the staff has started to identify and try to remedy some of these issues.”

He said the City of Oxnard has applied for a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) grant to help fund a new tress inventory for the city for the special fund and Special Districts.

“We’ve also been working on updating the city’s landscape standards,” he said. “Public Works Director Steve Howlett has been spearheading that effort,” Thompson said. “The landscape standard goes hand-in-hand with updating the plant pallets. The tree species specifically to make the urban forest more resilient for the upcoming climate change that we’re expecting.”

He said the goal is to have an urban forest management plan for the City of Oxnard.

“We also had a consulting service take a look at our Blue Gum Eucalyptus throughout the city, and we wanted them to do a hazard assessment for these trees,” he said. “Many of these large eucalyptus trees have come down on many locations in the city, sometimes falling on houses or vehicles and people.”

He said each tree was reviewed and given a priority number based on the likelihood of the individual trees causing damage by falling, the entire tree failing or dropping large limbs.

“The assessment levels were from immediate or zero, up to four, which is a low likelihood and being able to keep those in relatively good condition,” he said. “This was key in being able to put a plan together with the funds we had available to address these hazardous trees. In 2021-22, we removed 89 of these identified trees that were priority zero, in immediate need of removal, and priority one.”

He said it was limited by the available funding they had on hand, and it was a multi-year project to address the ongoing project.

Thompson said they also trimmed trees at Cardi Park and College Park in 2021.

“We continued this work in fiscal year 2022-23, and we removed 101 of these Blue Gums that were priority one and two,” he said. “They were at Fifth Street and Gum Tree Alley and also on the median just South of Wolley Road and just north of College Park.

In 2022-23, he said they trimmed 285 of the priority one, two, and three Blue Gums at the same locations.

“While all that was going on, we had additional work going on through the general fund to maintain trees,” he said. “We had contract crews in fiscal year 2021-22, and they completed 898 tree trims and 19 dead and hazardous tree removals. These are varying species that are not eucalyptus trees.”

He said in 2022-23, the contract crew completed 606 tree trims and removed 78 dead and hazardous trees.

“Our city tree crew has been hard at work as well,” Thompson said. “From July 2021 until the present, the 3-4 person crew has completed over 640 generated 311 work requests and over 1,600 non-311 work requests. That averages about 90 assignments per month completed by our 3-4. person crew.”

He added the city’s arborist assesses 20 trees per month.

“For Special Districts, during the preparation of the Special District’s budget for fiscal year 2023-24, the property owners within the district expressed their strong desire to include grid pruning and tree maintenance within their neighborhood,” he said. “Staff worked with contractors to develop a schedule of services for the grid pruning of an estimated 12,000 trees in fiscal year 2023-24. The estimated cost for this grid pruning is approximately $745,000 with each district responsible for funding their trees through their individual district assessments and available fund balances.”

He said the quality control for tree services with the Special Districts falls under the project managers and the inspectors assigned to the specific districts.

Committee Member Mayor John Zaragoza said the Public Works Department is doing a good job, and the report is a good chronology of the city’s many trees.

“It’s impressive that our urban forest has 48,000 trees,” he said. Thompson said Oxnard had more trees when the original count was done 15 years ago, and there has been significant mortality.

“Based on our current estimates, we’re at about 48,000 trees,” he said.

Chairman Bert Perello asked for the report to identify neighborhoods where tree maintenance is taken care of.

“So neighborhoods will know and continue clamoring to the elected officials, when are you going to get to my neighborhood; we can tell them there is a priority list,” he said. “There are two contracts, one for emergency services and one for standard tree maintenance, and we are knocking out specific areas.”

He said the city will not back away from the trees challenge.

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