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Demonstrators Rally to Save Downtown Trees

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

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,” Rubin said.

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 practice.

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 meeting.

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 of fall.

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 for relocation.”

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 grant.

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.

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“We have to do everything we can to convince the City Council to reconsider its August decision.” Jerry Rubin




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