With green ribbons and green “Save These Trees” signs, a group of activists gathered on Sunday, September 23, the Autumnal Equinox, to save the ficus trees that line 2nd and 4th Streets in the downtown area.
The activists attached the signs to the trees on both streets to alert people to the City’s plan to uproot the trees as part of a $7.6 million downtown renewal plan. $600,000 has been allocated for the removal/relocation of the trees, with other varieties of trees, such as ginkgos, to be planted in their stead.
The trees that cannot be relocated are to be composted. The decision for the latter trees was made in response to information that the trees were “diseased.”
The Santa Monica City Council approved the plan almost unanimously, with Kevin McKeown the sole dissenter.
At a meeting held last Wednesday at Magicopolis, Susan Hartley of Treesavers reported on her conversation with the City’s urban forester, who, she said, had told her that some of the trees have decay and are “not good specimens,” but are not actually “diseased.”
Many who attended the meeting did not believe the explanation of diseased trees and thought that the City may have some unexplained motive for removing them. It was mentioned that diseased trees should not be used for compost.
Some said they had heard that merchants were concerned that the trees block their signage. However, many merchants on the two streets have joined in the fight to save the trees. “Save These Trees” signs are on display in the windows of Magicopolis, Crossroads Trading Company, Western Union, and Bubar’s Jewelers.
Jerry Rubin, who organized the Wednesday meeting, noted the scheduled removal of the trees is due to begin within the next two months “with time off for the holidays,” and emphasized the urgency of people taking action immediately.
Some ideas that were mentioned included: getting students involved, circulating petitions, doing research on the claims of disease, talking with the urban forester or other forestry experts, involving local celebrities who have offices in downtown Santa Monica (such as Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio), and filing a lawsuit against the City.
Tom Nitti, a local lawyer, said he was preparing to file a pro bono lawsuit, but he added that “the activism you’re doing here will carry the day.”
A few people were in support of the possibility of taking non-violent civil disobedience action. Rubin, no stranger to such actions, spoke of this alternative at the meeting, producing from his satchel a chain that he has used on other occasions. He said he was prepared, if it was necessary, to stop removal of the trees by chaining himself to one of them. But he added, “No one will be thought less of if they don’t chain themselves to a tree.”
No incidents were observed at the Sunday action, as the activists made room for passersby on the sidewalk and proceeded to fan out along the streets, tying the signs on the trunks (it sometimes took two people to successfully attach them).
Gloria Lambden, who participated in the action, told the Mirror, “I truly believe it’s a sin to pull down these trees. I think that moving the ones that are supposed to be in good shape will kill them.”
By Monday, the green signs had been removed from the trees on 2nd and 4th Streets. The Treesaver meetings will continue on a weekly basis. Call 310.399.1000 or go to treesavers.blogspot.com.
Treesaver activists had a meeting with City Manager Lamont Ewell regarding the fate of the trees on September 26, however, information from that meeting was not available at press time.
City Manager P. Lamont Ewell
Mayor Richard Bloom
Mayor Pro Tempore Herb Katz
Councilmember Ken Genser
Councilmember Bob Holbrook
Councilmember Kevin McKeown
Councilmember Pam O’Connor
Councilmember Bobby Shriver