On Tuesday, October 2, activists marched down 2nd and 4th Streets at sunset to voice their
determination to save the trees. The protest was peaceful (Santa Monica police escorted the marchers) and support was shown by pedestrians and passengers in cars, who honked and cheered.
The struggle to save the ficus trees on 2nd and 4th Streets in downtown Santa Monica continued this week, as activists considered several routes.
Treesaver activists took two meetings with City Manager Lamont Ewell. On September 26, Jerry Rubin, Michele Modglin, Dan Jansensen, and filmmaker Chris Paine (director of Who Killed The Electric Car?) talked with Ewell, who explained the City’s position. Twenty-three mature trees are scheduled to be cut beginning October 8. Some of these trees have been described by City Forester Walt Warriner as being “decayed” and having pruning damage, but others are scheduled for removal due to “design issues,” i.e., future construction will damage the trees.
Ewell, after hearing from the activists, agreed to have the City review the 23 trees to differentiate between those that were genuinely diseased and those that are slated to be destroyed to accommodate the new street design.
On October 1, Rubin, Modglin, Jansensen, Payne, and Susan Hartley again met with Ewell and Warriner. The group was shown a PowerPoint presentation about the trees that are “decayed.” While the group members report they initially felt a case had been made for the destruction of these trees, they later had doubts. Hartley said: “I looked at a lot of these trees…. The problems can be corrected by pruning.” She said that an urban forester she had talked to had told her that “every tree has a structural problem.” But this does not mean that trees have to be destroyed.
At a Treesavers meeting on September 27, attorney Tom Nitti described legal avenues open to save the trees.
Government projects, such as street redevelopment, follow a procedure requiring an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), for which there are certain categorical exemptions. If a project is found to have a significant negative effect on the environment, the City can make a Negative Declaration. A lawsuit filed against the City’s actions has to be filed within 30 days after the action is announced.
The City’s decision to give a contract to the tree-cutters was made in August of 2007. However, Nitti has found no evidence thus far that the City filed either an EIR or a Negative Declaration.
Nitti said that a City staff member had decided that the tree issue fell under a “categorical exemption” regarding the replacement of “existing facilities.” It appears that the staffer used the wrong exemption. Trees do not fall under this category.
Nitti has proposed to file a pro bono lawsuit to halt destruction of the trees, but he said that everything would depend on his ability to find out if the City of Santa Monica had posted notice of a Negative Declaration in Norwalk, which is the regular procedure.
An alternative would be to get the trees designated as City Landmarks, which would protect them from destruction.
On Tuesday, October 2, activists marched down 2nd and 4th Streets at sunset, to voice their determination to save the trees. The protest was peaceful (Santa Monica police escorted the marchers) and support was shown by pedestrians and passengers in cars, who honked and cheered.
Next up: Protesters say they will be out on the morning of October 8 to stop the scheduled destruction of the trees. The next scheduled meeting of Treesavers will be at 7 p.m. on October 10 at Santa Monica Place, first floor, in the former Eddie Bauer store. At press time, the issue of the trees had been added to the agenda of the Planning Commission meeting on October 3, with many protesters promising to show up and speak on the issue.