While the three-week restraining order and the new landmark filing keep the ficus trees on 2nd and 4th Streets from being removed, the battle to save them continues, and so does the public debate on the fate of the trees. The Mirror asked a number of civic leaders and representatives from local organizations for their views on the tree issue.
City Councilmember Kevin McKeown: “My position has been consistent and is on record from the minutes of the Council meeting of August 14, when the contract was approved 6-1: ‘Councilmember McKeown stated, for the record, that he voted in opposition because he believes the removal of healthy mature shade trees is an unwise use of public funds and runs counter to the City’s environmental commitment to preserving and augmenting the City’s urban forest.’
“Please note that I was focused on the healthy trees, and tried very hard not to have to vote against the other parts of the much larger downtown improvement plan. Before the final vote, I had tried this amendment: ‘Motion by Councilmember McKeown, to approve recommendation, amended to eliminate the removal of healthy trees.’ The motion failed for lack of a second.”
City Councilmember Ken Genser: “I can understand people saying that they like the current aesthetic. I don’t understand the claim that this is not environmental because that’s not what’s on the table here. If you think some of the trees are not in infirm condition, then tell me and I’ll make sure that these will be saved. I haven’t seen anybody produce anything that proves this [project] is hurting the environment.”
Other members of the City Council were contacted but did not reply to the Mirror’s request for statements.
City Manager Lamont Ewell: “The City will honor the Court’s direction regarding removing ficus trees and will present its case on Friday, October 26. We will continue efforts to save any trees that have no likelihood of survival in relocation and must also be guided by the expert advice of our arborist on the 23 trees that have suffered internal decay or are structurally unsound.”
Craig Perkins, Director of Environmental and Public Works: “We’re approaching this from the public works standpoint. We’re implementing a contract approved by the Council. It is important to keep in mind that this was a long process, leading to the City Council’s voting on the final design. We have much more community process than other communities. It’s not fair of anybody to say that they were unaware of the project. Maybe people forgot what was approved in 2005. This is more about disagreement with the design.”
Joel Reynolds, Director, NRDC (National Resources Defense Council): “There are two categories of trees. One that would be referred to as diseased trees or trees that are structurally unstable. The other category seems to involve the removal of healthy trees. Our view of it is that before that kind of tree removal is undertaken there needs to be a thorough analysis of the range of impacts associated with that, and that would include the benefits of leaving the trees where they are compared with the benefits of moving them and replacing them in some fashion, whether it’s the 2-to-1 ratio proposed by the City or some other measure. I think one of the problems the NRDC has with this is the fact that trees provide a lot of benefits to the City and to the people who live here that are often not considered in the emotional debate about trees. That’s one of the reasons why an analysis is required.
“Some of the benefits provided by these ficus trees, which are now 30 or 40 years old, include air filtration, carbon dioxide sequestration, bird habitat, historic community cultural connections, pollution filtration, and canopy. These are all important in their own ways, and I think it’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re giving up a lot when you take down a tree that has grown and developed over a 40-50 year period.”