A task force of local tree-huggers are in the midst of negotiations with a local property owner over whether to knock out six 20-year-old cork oaks and replace them with a more “tropical” tree arrangement.

The A.S. Environmental Affairs Board recently joined forces with local environmental group Goleta Valley Beautiful in an attempt to stop the owners of the Tropicana Gardens residence hall from removing the oaks as part of a larger development plan for the dormitory. Coordinators for the project had intended to replace the arbors by placing several young palm trees near the oaks’ original 1987 planting site, but Tropicana architect Roderick Britton said that widespread community opposition to the plan has now convinced the owner to agree to negotiations.

Britton said planners will begin discussing the issue at a private meeting tomorrow.

“It’s all under discussion now and everything is back on the table,” Britton said. “We will know what is happening on Thursday.”

According to EAB member Nina Salvador, community members want to preserve the oak trees because the benefits the trees already provide to the environment as part of Santa Barbara’s existing ecosystems will far outweigh any potential advantages that uprooting the trees and planting new palms might provide.

“Cork trees are pretty cool in their own right; the cork oak located in front of Davidson Library is showcased for introductory biology classes, for instance, and has a very neat array of butterflies and caterpillars that live there,” Salvador said.

Britton said the owner’s plan to place palm trees around the new parking lot was primarily a decision about aesthetics.

“We were trying to match the landscaping with that of the existing parking lot on the other side – which is palms and things like that,” Britton said.

Goleta Valley Beautiful President Ken Knight recently issued a proposal to Tropicana Gardens’ owner offering to donate 20 coast live oak trees to the Tropicana Gardens properties in exchange for the owner’s agreement not to uproot the existing arbors and replace them with the proposed palms.

“Planting large street trees on private property within 10 feet of the public right of way will allow a significant increase in the number of trees that will ultimately provide the same benefit of public trees,” Knight said.

In addition, Salvador said that the EAB has formed a task force that will work to convince Tropicana’s owner to call off the proposed plans for the oaks, and counter any subsequent proposal from the property’s officials to uproot the trees in the future. The group will also attempt to prevent owners from following through on the construction plans by addressing the county government about the issue, she said.

“The mission of the task force is to gather information on the oak tree removal so as to approach the county to question the morality and legality of such removal,” Salvador said.

However, Salvador said she and other members of the task force hope to avoid a legal battle.

“We hope we can convince the owners of the lot to leave the oak trees in place and accept Ken Knight’s offer of native coastal oaks for landscaping instead,” Salvador said.

Salvador said that if EAB and GVB fail in their attempts to prevent the trees’ removal, the task force will then work to persuade Tropicana Gardens’ owner to take subsequent measures that may help counteract the effects of losing the oaks.

“If this fails, we will urge the [apartment owners] to take environmental and moral responsibility for their destructive actions by planting six more oak trees in either Isla Vista or Goleta Valley,” she said.