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Upset residents dub city tree project 'failure to communicate'

About 10 percent of affected residents called the city to complain, ask questions about contractors showing up unannounced to plant trees.

August 04, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com
  • Two workers work on planting a tree in a person’s lawn along Maple Avenue at Bernard Street on Thursday.
Two workers work on planting a tree in a person’s… (Kevin Chang, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — In a surprise for many Westside residents during the last two weeks, contractors hired by the city were showing up at their homes in the morning, digging up the edges of their lawns and planting trees — without notifying them ahead of time.

Pete and Aline Brower, who live on Bernard Street, were surprised to wake up to crews digging up the grass next to their yard last week.

"If they had notified, it would've stopped some of the confusion," Pete Brower said. "It seemed sort of random, but I don't see it as a problem. Putting vegetation anywhere is a positive in my eyes."

Residents like the Browers are calling the project a "failure to communicate" because many were not notified about the work beforehand.

"We've never done a project like this, a wholesale planting of neighborhoods," said Bruce Hartley, Costa Mesa's maintenance services manager. "It's 654 people, so it was a little bit more of a challenge and, after the fact, well, we should've figured out a way to notify."

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Using $100,000 in federal grants to improve medium- to lower-income neighborhoods, the city hired STL Landscaping to plant the trees. Workers showed up unannounced to hundreds of homes and planted the trees on the edge of the lawn, which is technically public property.

The public easement goes about 10 feet onto the property from the curb, Hartley said. Usually, there's a sidewalk separating the homeowner's land from the city's, but in some cases it looks like one big lawn.

Costa Mesa city officials have made a big push this year to increase transparency to the public, but apparently there was no dialogue in this project leading up to the launch.

About 10% of residents were calling the city with questions or complaints, Hartley said, so the Public Services Department notified the remaining 100 or so scheduled to receive them what was in store.

"It's not as confrontational; people seem more willing," Hartley said. "When the trees show up in your front yard, and you didn't ask for it, it's a different story."

The city is working to accommodate residents who want the trees removed. Circles of dirt and browned grass can be seen where crews returned and removed the trees.

Costa Mesa has about 8,000 properties listed as vacant of trees — they don't go door to door to verify if the residents have planted their own — so there's no shortage of places to put in trees that residents don't want. There are about 22,000 city trees planted in the city, Hartley said.

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