[UPDATED with Official Denial:] Reporters Keep Pressure on Newport Beach to Release Details on Tree That Killed Haeyoon Miller
UPDATE, NOV. 17, 11:12 A.M.: Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff claims the tree that killed motorist Haeyoon Miller in September showed no sign of disease.
Kiff was reacting to a report that shows many of the 140 blue-gum eucalyptus trees that were removed along city-maintained medians in the wake of the Tustin woman's death were diseased. The official's disclosure also counters the opinions of an arborist who viewed video of the killer tree's removal.
The city response is reportedly contained in an email to the Daily Pilot.
ORIGINAL POST, NOV. 8, 3:01 P.M.: The city of Newport Beach may have hoped interest in the death of motorist Haeyoon Miller by a fallen tree in September would have disappeared with the removal of 100 eucalyptus trees along city-maintained medians in that area (not to mention a likely future settlement--behind closed doors, of course--with the Tustin woman's family).
But community reporters just won't let the story go, even with the refusal by the city to release documents under the cover of pending litigation that has not even been filed. Due to that journalistic doggedness, disturbing revelations about the killer tree keep coming out--to the likely aid of that possible litigation that has Newport Beach officials shaking their leaves.
Miller, a 29-year-old businesswoman who came to the U.S. as a child musical prodigy from South Korea, was pinned in her car by a 60-foot tree that fell as she was waiting at a red light on Irvine Avenue in Costa Mesa on Sept. 16. Under contract, Newport Beach maintains trees in that area that borders both cities.
The city has stonewalled local reporters wanting to know what city arborists knew about the trees in that area (and when they knew it), leading the Newport Beach Independent, Newport Beach-Costa Mesa Daily Pilot and Orange County Register to file public record requests that Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp has rejected by citing client-attorney privilege.
So, the Independent's Eric Longabardi showed the following YouTube video of the tree to Greg Applegate, who is described as one of the state's leading arborists.
In Longabardi's piece, Applegate says the tree that killed Miller showed clear signs of decay, that the decay was "quite extensive" and that "the root plate that came up was much too small and looked decayed."
Applegate's read is such decay is evident when large roots are cut or trees are topped or pruned severely. Unfortunately, such degradation is below ground, leading people to believe they are looking at a healthy tree. Meanwhile, Applegate noticed fungus on another eucalyptus near the one that fell on Miller that is a "clear red flag" of a troubled tree.
The arborist was contradicting statements by City Manager Dave Kiff and city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan, who have said the tree that killed Miller was not diseased.
The Daily Pilot's Mike Reicher, citing some records the city has trickled out, reports Newport Beach's tree-trimming contractor knew some eucalyptus along Irvine Avenue were infested with tortoise beetles, termites and decay, but West Coast Arborists decided "none . . . justify immediate removal."
The contractor recommended annual and bi-annual pruning of these trees "to mitigate hazards or potential failure."
Harp told the Pilot he will discuss with the council in closed session tonight whether more documents sought by reporters can be released.
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