Fruit from female fern pine
Four and a half years after Coronado resident Paul Richardson asked the city if he could remove the five fern pine trees in front of his house — the droppings from which tangled up his wheelchair — his request was recently granted.
"I think the only reason they finally gave in is that I'm in a wheelchair and the Americans with Disabilities Act says ground surfaces have to be clear," he said. "It's a bad tree for sidewalks because the female tree drops golf-ball-size fruit on the sidewalks."
Before he could get the trees removed — his first application to the city's Street Tree Committee was in late 2011 — Richardson had to wait several years to see if the city's attempts at “birth control” for the female trees would work. It took numerous trips to the city council and the tree committee to challenge and appeal, according to city documents.
Coronado cares about its trees. Led by longtime resident Shannon Player, the city began focusing on trees in the early 1990s, with Player planting — personally and with supporters — more than 500 trees around the island. Dozens of trees have been named “Heritage Trees” over the years, and owners trying to have trees taken out of the public right-of-way have often seen the tree committee decide their formal application didn't meet the city's criteria, according to city records.
Player has donated a lot of time and trees to the effort of creating and preserving the green of the city — she even led the creation of a citywide tree inventory. She could not be reached for comment for this story.
Rumors abound of neighbors who — knowing how hard it could be to get permission to remove them — poisoned unwanted trees. But Richardson isn't that kind of citizen. He went through the process, starting with a trip to the tree committee, where his application was rejected.
Richardson said Player told him she had personally planted the podocarpus fern-pine trees he wanted removed. The tree committee denied his application in December 2011, so Richardson paid a $500 appeal fee and took it to the city council in 2012.
In March 2012, city staff told the council about a new treatment for female fern pines that would leave them fruitless, potentially ending the mess of obstacles along both sides of Richardson's home. The city denied Richardson's request and began spraying the trees that year. It worked "modestly" for a couple of years, Richardson said, but then the trees began fruiting and dropping the one-inch-diameter rollers all over the sidewalk again.
"You can't tell if you have a male or female tree until they mature," Richardson said. "It turned out four out of five of mine are female."
Throughout the ordeal, Richardson had offered to pay for the removal and replacement trees, which also have to be approved by the tree committee.
Finally, in February 2016, Richardson reapplied for the removal of the five trees. This time, he said, he had full council support — including that of mayor Casey Tanaka and people at the hearing for other matters.
"It was reasonably straightforward," Richardson said. "The mayor said these trees have to go." Tanaka said he was grateful that Richardson gave the city a chance to save the trees before asking again to have the trees removed.
"Mr. Richardson had requested the removal of these trees roughly three years ago and he has been patient with the City," Tanaka said.
City crews cut the trees down a few weeks ago and returned to grind the stumps, Richardson said. "We're looking at replacement trees and if it all goes well, we should be able to plant them as soon as the weather is right."