In my own backyard there are certain trees that have been cut. Some just don’t make it or have to be removed to allow a replacement fruit tree. As much as it pained me, I even removed a healthy Silver Dollar Gum Eucalyptus once, though this is the first time I have admitted to it. I did it when I heard they are firebombs. My father hates my juniper tree out in front of the house. He calls it the Ugly Tree. I see all the weather of the past 50 years in the windswept branches of that fine-smelling juniper. I did trim the insides to give my kid a good climbing tree. My father also hates ficuses, says they ruin sidewalks and all of them should be eliminated wherever they are found. He speaks fondly of how the City of Commerce went on a ficus eradication program, replacing them with ornamental plum trees. Apparently City Councilman Bob Holbrook feels the same way, as he has been overheard to say that the ficus trees will have to be removed eventually, we have the money now, so let’s just do it. And lest we forget Mayor Richard Bloom, who says the issue has been “decided.”
Though the idea of removing downtown’s ficus trees may have come from area merchants trying to figure out a way to enhance 2nd and 4th Streets, it has become a hot-button issue, polarizing people in the community. Jerry Rubin, one of the leaders of Treesavers, tells me the original plan was to remove all the trees; however, it was then determined that half would be okay to start, and then the others could be removed later. The district improvement plan then went to the city seeking money, and with it a plan to remove the trees. City residents did give input, but the trees were not the focus and were probably overlooked.
Once the cutting plan became known, the city came up with lots of unrelated “reasons” for cutting the trees. They were diseased. Nope, it turns out there is plenty of life left in these trees. They buckle the streets. Not that I can see, and nothing a little deep watering wouldn’t cure. So the excuses stopped, and now it is just the city determined to move forward because an approved plan is an approved plan after all. But I have yet to hear a plan that holds up to the values the city claims to hold. And once again we have a wedge being driven between what City Hall wants and what residents have expressed as their values.
How can we be this hypocritical about our basic value systems and cut a beautiful existing canopy “because we have the money?” Especially on a street like 4th that is so heavily congested and appears to clean itself immediately with those beautiful overhanging ficuses. With a lot of hard work, the Bayside District has become a worldwide destination. By most accounts, it is well managed, and a plan to enhance 2nd and 4th Streets would be welcomed. I admit to not having examined the plan in detail, but I know if it was me, I would start with the trees and improve the areas around them. The trees would be my centerpieces. We hope those that work in the area and want the trees removed might rethink that plan and help come up with ideas that will benefit them, residents, and the continual stream of guests to our city.
This would not be the first time development issues have trumped environmental concerns. Ask those that opposed Playa Vista. But here in Santa Monica we are supposed to be enlightened. We pride ourselves on sustainability and environmental consciousness. Our Toyota dealership is the largest supplier of hybrid vehicles. The National Resource Defense Council placed its headquarters in our downtown, with its special efficiency and environmental-friendly building designed into it. We even have a community forester. And what about all this talk about global warming and cutting carbon emissions? One way to deal with carbon emissions is to keep our existing green belts and even add to them.
The cutting of these trees will be no small matter. And what will be left will be a very sorry sight. There will be protests and the city will be under a major spotlight. The news reports around the region, where the City of Los Angeles is on a major One Million Tree planting program, will not paint this city in a good light. Other environmental organizations have promised to picket the city streets. The city will receive a black eye. It is a bad move. It is bad for the environment, it is bad for business, and it is bad for our conscience.
* * * *
Santa Monica staff has prepared a report for the City Council in regards to how to regulate medical marijuana farmacies. The report is designed to provide guidance to the Council, as if this group of conservative Neanderthals will ever take up the issue. There is NO sign this Council will do the right thing and every sign that they will continue to force Santa Monica residents to either buy their medical marijuana through local drug dealers or go out of town for it. Their main argument is that they are concerned about the element it will bring to town; people who are just plain stressed out about life in our modern urban society and need something natural to help them relax instead of prescription Valium, Zanex, or Prozac. And people like cancer patients, who need pain relief, or glaucoma patients who would like to keep their eyesight. Where is the compassion of this City Council for these people?
Instead, the city fathers will ask those people to deal with underground dealers that may also be pushing heavier drugs – that IS the wrong element. And the city can even benefit through taxation, as legal farmacies pay a variety of normal business taxes. Many even join the local chamber of commerce. Richard Bloom and Bob Holbrook are the main stick-in-the-muds on this issue; the latter should recuse himself because his work in mainstream pharmacies that stand to be hurt by this competition puts him in a conflict of interest position. Mayor Bloom stands steadfast against it despite the overwhelming voting support for medical marijuana in Santa Monica. Who knows what gets into people that makes them use their public office against the public will.
* * * *
This week’s presidential debates once again missed some of the main issues facing the country. Has anyone asked a candidate if they favor regulating bankcard usury fees and overcharges? Anyone been asked if they would favor having the Federal Reserve lower interest rates? How about raising fuel economy standards to at least the level of the Chinese? How about a frank discussion of NAFTA and the WTO and how they have affected workers around the world?
I did like the measured, reasoned responses of Hillary Clinton. She understands how unworkable a “Yes” or “No” answer sometimes is. By direct experience through her husband’s years in the White House, she understands the complications of foreign affairs and the need for the U.S. to be engaged, but not warlike.
John Edwards made a good proposal about expanding our nursing schools and providing scholarships where the recipients are required to work in areas of great need. I would go further and expand the physicians assistant programs, and even doctor programs, with a new health care thrust with the focus on community health clinics that include dental and eyesight.
Senators Dodd and Biden were forceful and engaging speakers; I am surprised they do not receive more support. Senator Obama, who is engaging in one-on-one’s with Leno and Oprah and Jon Stewart, does not fare well in these types of forums.
They did ask about giving undocumented foreign workers New York driver’s licenses, but the specter of giving “illegal aliens” – a most awful phrase -– this provision drowned any real debate on the subject. The fact of the matter is there are several million people in New York, California, and elsewhere driving on our roads without being instructed and tested on the rules. If the car of one of these people hits you, there is no proof of ID, no insurance, etc. I respect those in government who want to rise above the shrill and do something practical about this, such as New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.
There is a whole lot more talking left to do before we get to vote, though fortunately early next year there will be a flurry of early primaries, including California, and we will be getting a clear picture of who the voters like.
Being conceived in Chicago where my family is from, I must admit to a current favoritism toward the gal from Illinois.