Rally to Save Downtown Trees
By Anita Varghese
September 24 -- A group
of environmental activists, calling
themselves the Treesavers, gathered
in Downtown Santa Monica Sunday afternoon
to protest the City’s plans
to compost or relocate 75 mature ficus
and palm trees.
Longtime political activist and Alliance
for Survival founder Jerry Rubin organized
more than 30 environmentalists to
post green-colored “Save These
Trees” notices on scores of
threatened trees that line Second
and Fourth streets between Wilshire
Boulevard and Colorado Avenue.
“The overwhelming majority
of people in Santa Monica want these
trees to be saved,” Rubin said.
“We have to do everything we
can to convince the City Council to
reconsider its August decision.”
|Left to right:
Jerry Rubin, his wife Marissa
Rubin and Santa Monica Airport
commissioner Susan Hartley.
In August, the City Council voted
to direct nearly $8.2 million in municipal
and grant funds toward the Second
and Fourth Streets Pedestrian and
Streetscape Improvement Project, which
is the third phase of the Downtown
Urban Design Plan.
The improvement project covers eight
Downtown blocks and includes installing
139 new Ginkgo trees, removing 54
existing ficus trees, adding decorative
up-lighting to the remaining ficus
trees and repairing sidewalks or curbs
damaged by the trees.
The project also calls for enlarging
tree wells, installing new pedestrian
lighting to illuminate sidewalk areas,
enhancing six mid-block crosswalks
and adding accessibility improvements
for the handicapped.
Of more than 180 street trees in
the project area, 106 trees will remain.
Thirty-one ficus trees and 21 palm
trees will be removed and replanted
elsewhere in the city.
Twenty-three ficus have been identified
by City forester Walt Warriner and
his staff as “diseased beyond
their useful life or unable to survive
a transplant” and will be removed
and converted into compost.
Rubin believes the City’s findings
about diseased trees are inaccurate.
“They are almost all healthy
and, at more than 40 years old, an
integral part of the beautiful tree
canopy in Downtown Santa Monica,”
He also took issue with the City’s
composting plan. Rubin said he and
other Treesavers talked to foresters
in other cities who think composting
diseased trees is an unacceptable
Council member Kevin McKeown was
the lone vote in opposition to the
improvement project and introduced
a motion that ultimately failed in
an effort to prevent the removal of
healthy Downtown trees.
“I am opposed, on principle,
to using public funds to remove existing,
healthy and mature shade trees,”
McKeown said at the August 14 Council
City officials said they would begin
the project in the fall and posted
impending removal notices on the trees
and on the City’s Web site Friday.
Treesavers held the rally on Sunday,
because the day marked the Autumn
Equinox, officially the first day
Notices posted by the City stated
“the criteria for removal included
but were not limited to internal decay,
extensive root pruning, poor canopy
structure, damaged canopies from oversized
vehicles, design factors and too large
Members of Treesavers believe the
City notices imply that the likelihood
of most trees being eligible for relocation
is slim and the trees would more likely
be slated for composting.
Rubin hopes City officials will reconsider
their plans, despite the fact that
the improvement project’s final
design was submitted to the California
Department of Transportation and cannot
be modified without the City forfeiting
a $1.8 million federal transportation
Representatives of Treesavers will
meet with City Manager Lamont Ewell
on Wednesday. The group will hold
its next public meeting Thursday at
7 p.m. at the Santa Monica Place Third
Floor Community Room.