A large ficus tree was cut down Thursday morning in downtown San Luis Obispo, after city staff determined it needed to be removed as part of a sidewalk improvement project in progress on one block.
The large tree in front of The Gold Concept at 740 Higuera St. “is in decent health and we diligently tried to save it,” Ron Combs, urban forest supervisor and city arborist, said in an email to city officials and a few local residents.
“The unscheduled removal is due to root pruning that occurred to reset the gas line, electrical and other utility boxes, a sewer line, the sidewalk, tree grates, curb and gutter installations,” Combs wrote.
The tree’s roots are mixed into a myriad of utility and infrastructure obstacles, and unlike the other large ficus trees on the block, this tree did not have many secondary roots below the surface to anchor the tree, Combs said.
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The amount of root material removed prompted two in-house certified tree-risk assessors to call for the tree to be replaced.
“We share your concerns for the loss of this tree but believe the public safety concern had to be addressed,” he wrote.
The project calls for a replacement tree to be installed near where the tree was removed, he said.
Construction started in March on one block of Higuera Street between Garden and Broad streets. The downtown renewal project includes new Mission-style sidewalks, upgraded tree grates, new trash containers and other improvements.
As part of the project, another ficus tree that had a significant amount of decay was removed, as well a carrotwood that had split apart and two nearly dead ornamental avocado trees. In all, six ficus trees will be planted to replace them, each roughly 7 to 10 feet tall, Combs said.
In January, the City Council awarded a $504,450 contract to Brough Construction Inc. for the work. The project budget is $604,000, with a bulk of the funds coming from Measure Y revenue, money from the city’s half-percent sales tax increase.