Believe it or not, there are more than 500 trees within the San Elijo Hills Town Center. Planted in cutouts in the wide sidewalks that encircle the Town Center, the trees provide a canopy of color and shade for our community. They are a defining feature of San Elijo Hills. They are also something else: very strong. It turns out that the roots of the trees are so strong that they are lifting the sidewalks creating a serious safety issue and an expensive maintenance challenge. So, the City of San Marcos and the San Elijo Hills Community Association are working together on a long-term plan to replace the trees that are causing damage. The goal is to maintain the beauty and aesthetics of the foliage in the Town Center, but also to alleviate what has become an expensive and serious safety issue.
The trees planted within the cutout of the sidewalks of the Town Center are Liquidambar. Liquidambars have proven to not be an ideal tree near sidewalks because of the very aggressive nature of the root system, which can greatly damage and cause adjacent hardscape to uplift. The rocky nature of the San Elijo Hills soils makes matters worse because it is difficult for the roots to penetrate, which pushes them to the surface, causing more and faster damage. San Elijo Hills was developed prior to newer technologies, such as bio-barriers around the tree planting areas, which help promote root growth further into the soil and prevent them from pushing to the surface.
When you walk through the Town Center you can see the areas of sidewalk where the roots are pushing upward and causing the sidewalk panels to lift and separate. This separation causes a tripping hazard that needs to be addressed for safety and liability reasons. You will notice areas where the City has grinded the edges of the sidewalks to smooth the bumps or made “wedge” type patches between sidewalk concrete panels, to try to mitigate the hazard. In about 30 areas within the Town Center, the roots have caused uplifts beyond the point where the sidewalks can be repaired with grinding or patching.
In order to address this issue, the City and the Community Association are working together on a gradual replacement of the trees that are causing the most damage. The replacement process, which will start later this year, will occur over a long period of time to minimize the impact on the ambience and character of the Town Center. The 30 areas that have the worst damage will be in the first phase, and then trees will be replaced annually as needed.
You will start to see crews taking down the offending trees, repairing the sidewalks and replacing the trees with a new, more sidewalk friendly species. The good news is that the new species, a combination of Chinese Pistache and Crape Myrtle, are just as beautiful as the existing trees. So while there may be some visual disruption in the areas where the trees are being replaced, this will only be temporary. As the new trees become established, they will add their own canopy of color and shade to the character of the community.
Many of us have planted strong roots in San Marcos and in the San Elijo Hills community. Once in awhile, you just have to take care of the ones that are lifting sidewalks.