The fight to save the ficus trees on 2nd and 4th Streets continues, as the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission voted to give the Treesaver activists another month to present their findings for landmark designation for the 153 trees.
The December 10 meeting, at which the Commission was due to make a decision on the trees’ designation, was attended by a large group of tree supporters. They contended that they had not been given enough time for researching facts that would support designation in accordance with landmark guidelines.
Jerry Rubin, the applicant for designating the trees, told the Commission: “We are not a professional organization like PCR (the consultant who prepared the City staff report). We need the time to work.” He pointed out that the upcoming holidays make it difficult for the Treesavers to contact people and get access to records.
Assistant City Manager Gordon Anderson reiterated the City’s position that the delay caused by the continued designation process would be costly to the City. He said that the scheduled removal of a number of the trees must proceed in January 2008, in order for the City to fulfill a federally funded project for downtown renewal, and for honoring contractual obligations.
While admitting that the City’s determination to proceed with its plan for tree relocation and removal “does land squarely on economic reasons,” Anderson added that “the City staff, as well as this entire community, loves trees,” and that the plan includes the planting of new trees as well as the relocation of some of the ficus trees to other parts of the downtown area.
The Commission agreed to hear public testimony before voting on a continuance, although several Commissioners said they were ready to discuss the issue.
For the next hour, speakers pleaded for a continuance, several of them mentioning tentative findings that in the early 1960s, a group of women had successfully persuaded the Chamber of Commerce to undertake a “beautification” project which included the planting of the downtown area ficus trees.
Chris Payne, director of Who Killed The Electric Car, told the Commission, “I support a continuance. Information is the hallmark of democracy.”
In the face of so many requests for postponement, the Commission had to reconsider immediate discussion. Commissioner Margaret Bach said, “I am feeling less and less convinced that I have the information to make an informed decision.” Other Commissioners agreed, and the item was continued to the January 14 meeting.
Several speakers also requested continuance on another controversial item, a Certificate of Appropriateness (C of A) for a planned single-family residence on the site of a contributing structure to the Third Street Historic District at 2642 2nd Street.
The Commission had requested modifications to the proposed design of the new building, to keep it in accordance with the style guidelines for the Third Street District. The applicant had made these changes, which included modifications to the skylight, removal of a projecting stair tower, and inclusion of features reflecting the style of other buildings in the District.
But some District residents remained dissatisfied with the changes and charged that the 2nd Street project, along with the proposed project at 2617 3rd Street (which is continued to January 14), is violating Historic District guidelines.
The Commissioners decided that the projects on 2nd Street and 3rd Street have different design issues and must be considered separately. With the exception of Ruth Shari, who expressed concern about projects that “do not seem to meet the approval of those who live in the District,” the Commission voted to approve the C of A for 2642 2nd Street.