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|(Updated May 12, 8:40 p.m. with contract now accessible on city website; initial report May 11, 2020 initial) -- A baby bird that fell to its death last week from an Ocean Blvd. Peninsula palm tree may or may not have been one of the neighborhood's beloved Great Blue Herons. LBREPORT.com has learned that on close examination of a neighborhood resident's photo, a number of educated types believe it may indeed have been a heron, but it may have been a crow, or a cormorant or something else. But the bird's DNA isn't the issue. The baby fell from its parents' nest at some point shortly after a long-time City-contracted tree trimming crew went through the area. Preventing or minimizing the possibility of whatever happened from happening again should be the focus of attention now.
The following matters haven't been reported elsewhere although they are public record. In our view, they're very pertinent to what just happened, what has happened in the past and, if not appropriately dealt with now, will likely happen in the future. .
1. On February 18, 2020, someone in LB City Hall put a seven month contract extension for the long-time LB-contracted tree trimming firm on the City Council's "consent calendar." It's a list of multiple agenda items, usually but not always routine, that aren't expected to receive individual Council discussion (regardless of whether the public comments on any of them individually) unless a Councilmember chooses to pull them for discussion and a separately recorded vote.
2. The proposed contract extension was accompanied by a publicly agendized explanatory memo, signed by Public Works Director Craig Beck, explaining the basis for the management-sought Council action. It stated in pertinent part:
City Council approval is requested to authorize the City Manager, to amend Contract No. 34265 with West Coast Arborists, Inc., for as-needed tree trimming services, to extend the term through September 30, 2020 and increase the contract authority by $500,000, for a revised total amount not to exceed $7,940,000.
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3. No Council incumbent sought to discuss the half million dollar contract extension. On a motion by Councilman Uranga, seconded by Councilwoman Mungo, the Council approved all of the consent calendar items 7-0 (with Councilmembers Price and Richardson absent.)
4. Almost exactly four years ago, the underlying contract came to the May 10, 2016 City Council meeting for approval. An accompanying memo to the Mayor/Council that can be viewed here. The memo from Public Works Director Beck stated in pertinent part:
...The contract will provide for annual grid trimming, stump grinding, and as-needed emergency response tree services.
At the May 10 Council meeting, a representative of competitor Great Scott Tree Service spoke. He indicated they'd submitted a big roughly half as big as West Coast Arborists. Veteran LB wildlife protection advocate (and well educated fan of wild birds) Ann Cantrell spoke. She indicated that a few years earlier, LB's Dept of Parks and Rec specified that no unnecessary tree trimming take place in parks during breeding season. Ms. Cantrell constructive suggested applying that standard to tree trimming along LB streets (as in the proposed contract.) ::
[Ms. Cantrell]...Occasionally there are trees that have to be trimmed because of danger to the public but otherwise from between the last of August till the last of January is the time that trees can be trimmed because this isn't breeding season for the birds. I would think that this would be a wonderful thing for the City to do also. When you City workers trimming the trees, the argument was we have to keep them busy all year long, that's why we have to trim during breeding season, but if you're contracting out you could put this in the contract that they only trim during certain times of the year. The City of Los Angeles does this so it is possible...to do this and I would urge you to consider when you the next time that you have a contract come up that you include this in the contract. Thank you.
Prior to public input, Councilman Austin moved, and Councilwoman Mungo seconded, approval of the contract. Councilman Austin commended that the contract addressed tree trimming needs residents wanted and needed. Councilwoman Mungo asked about a backlog of stump removal in parks (although management's agendizing memo explicitly noted Public Works doesn't handle stump removal in parks) and Public Works Director Beck said the contract [that Mungo had just seconded approval of] didn't involve parks. Councilman Supernaw was the only Councilmember to mention the issue of birds. He said one of the things "we could look at in a future contract if it comes up again in less than two years" is "we have times of the year when because of dangerous situations we need to do trimming. I'd like to see the staff for the contract be trained and certified in like nest identification those types of things because in these emergency situations you have to go up there and move quickly," a suggestion that at least mentioned birds but stopped short of supporting what Ms. Cantrell advocated.
On a motion by Austin, seconded by Mungo, the Council approved the contract 9-0 (with Suja Lowenthal then the-2nd dist. rep.)
5. Amendments to contract (increasing its total cost) came and went (the most recent as the "consent calendar" item) with no discussion of tree trimming as it might affect bird wildlife.
6. The 2016 tree trimming contract and its procurement representations can be viewed on a City web page at this link. A copy of the contract when proposed wasn't attached to the agendized item for Council or public review before the Council voted to approve it. That's consistent with a non-transparent practice that LB Councils have allowed for at least two decades (that a number of other cities don't allow.) LB Councils allow city management to avoid showing the Council and LB taxpayers exactly what proposed contracts say and don't way. Instead, LB's Councils have allowed city management to submit a memo summarizing/describing the the city's main terms and the full contract doesn't become visible until after the Council votes on it and it's binding on taxpayers. [In our opinion, the Council can and should change this unbusinesslike practice, a separate issue.] .
7. The contract's procurement provisions included requiring the bidder to [paraphrased here] represent that it would (a) comply with applicable state and federal laws; and (b) indemnity the City for fines, penalties or similar costs resulting from its actions. As a practical matter, that lets City Hall staff shrug if the Coastal Commission or CA Wildlife agencies impose fines for disrupting nesting birds; the contractor will presumably pay them. It does admittedly give the contractor a financial incentive not to risk those fines or penalties in the first place while also giving them an incentive to assert various defenses if others allege their actions transgressed those rules. ..
8. We didn't spot any provisions in the 2016 contract or its amendments that included what Ms. Cantrell constructively recommended: specifying that absent emergencies, tree trimming shouldn't occur in the months when birds breed and nest.
9. A company official, who is an ISA certified arborist, has told LBNREPORT.com that the company's policy is check for nests before starting to trim; if the trimming crew spots a nest, they're not supposed to trim the tree; if the crew discovers a nest while it's trimming, it's supposed to stop trimming and move to another tree. Arborists specialize is trees. Ornithologists and biologists specialize in birds. Tree trimming field crews wielding chain saws probably aren't arborists or ornithologists. As it stands, the current contract is inherently less protective of nesting birds than avoiding trimming entirely (absent emergencies) during ornithologist specified nesting season as Ms. Cantrell recommended.
10. "Project Special Privisions" (Bid, p. 46, parapgraph E) states under the heading "Wildlife Protection": "Prior to the commencement of any work in the vicinity of any tree, each tree shall be visually surveyed, from all sides, for the sole purpose of detecting the presence of bird nests or wildlife of any type. If a nest is found and determined to be active, there shall be no work of any type in the tree in which the nest is found without the written permission of the Program Manager or Designee. At no time shall any nest or wildlife be removed form the location. In the event that wildlife is accidentally displaced and needs assistance, the Contractor shall notify the City's Animal Care Service as identified in the Contractor's submittal requored herein regarding "Protection of Wildlife", shall be contacted for assistance." [P. 37 of the document, paragraph 2, states that the Contractor "is required to have a Program Manager available by telephone on a 24-hour basis who is assigned to provide direct and prompt attention to requests from the City for emergency and after-hours tree service requests."]
[We're unaware of any provision in the bid or conrtact or other procedures enabling residents to easily communicate to the tree trimming firm or the City via email or telephone regarding the presence of bird nests in trees slated for trimming, and whom to contact immediately if such trimming takes place.)
11. After-the-fact investigations by city staff and/or the tree trimming firm and/or by other state agencies that focus on this specific incident won't address weaknesses in the current system that resulted in the outcome now and invite similar outcomes in the future. An investigation alone will invite it to happen again.
12. Fortunately, city management has indicated (in its Feb. 2020 agendizing memo) that it's undertaking a new contract procurement process. That offers s perfect timely opportunity to take the actions that could avoid similar incidents in the future.
Ms. Cantrell testified in May 2016 that other jurisdictions, including Los Angeles, explicitly avoid tree trimming during nesting months. We plan to look into that further (and so should city staff) because if L.A. can do it, Long Beach should be able to at least as well if not better..
A proposed remedy: City staff should specify in its upcoming contract procurement process and in the resulting contract that absent exigent circumstances, tree trimming shouldn't ordinarily occur during nesting months. We believe doing so would do much to prevent incidents like this in the future. If city staff believes that practice would be unwise or infeasible, it owes LB taxpayers -- and LB's elected policy-setting City Councilmembers -- a respectful written explanation for its reasoning. This should take place before the new procurement process goes any further.
Incumbent Councilmembers have effectively shrugged this issue for the past four years. Residents shouldn't settle for just an investigation into what happened. Savvy residents focus on ensuring their City puts provisions in its upcoming tree trimming contract -- including the Cantrell provision -- that can prevent future incidents like it from happening again.
City staff should do this, but one way or the other, the new tree trimming contract will ultimately come to the City Council for voted approval. Councilmembers' actions (not just lip service) are the sort of thing that in our view LB elections should be about.
Protecting nature's beautiful creatures matters. Elections matter. Connect the two.
May 12, 8:15 p.m. City has restored access to its "Contacts Online" webpages, and contract and bid materials are now visible (that were previously unavailable as the City was migrating to a new webspage.) Link to contract and bid documents wdded to the article with updated text.
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