Another chapter is looming in the ongoing struggle to save the ficus trees on 2nd and 4th Streets in downtown Santa Monica.
Tom Nitti, attorney for Treesavers, gave an update at a Treesavers meeting last week. Nitti was successful in getting a temporary restraining order that will prevent the City from removing 23 trees that were cited as damaged or diseased. Nitti noted that emergency stays of action such as the one he obtained for the trees are rarely given. “You have to show an urgency. You have to get their interest.” In this case, the Court of Appeal understood this urgency and granted the stay, but invited the City to submit a brief to the Court if the City felt “prejudiced.”
Nitti and City authorities have exchanged a number of letters on the issue. The City’s brief was due March 21, with Nitti having a week to respond. The Court of Appeal, Nitti said, has the option of ruling in favor of the City (which will mean that the City can proceed with its plan to remove and destroy or relocate the cited trees) or they can send the case to a trial court, in which case the temporary restraining order remains in effect.
Nitti quoted from a letter he received from the City’s Assistant City Attorney on March11 that said “the City has identified 23 ficus trees within this zone as posing a danger to the public,” and that these trees had to be removed “without delay.” In his reply, Nitti said that Treesavers had requested that only individual trees, if deemed dangerous, would be evaluated individually and then considered for removal. He questioned how the City could claim that the 23 trees were a “danger” when earlier staff reports said that the trees were merely “diseased” or “beyond their useful life.” Nitti also pointed out that “[t]he City’s consulting arborist, Cy Carlberg, in her report to the City of January 5, 2008, identified only three trees as having high failure potential.”
Nitti’s March 11 letter to the Santa Monica City Council and the City Attorney offered the following proposal: that Treesavers will terminate its litigation with the City in return for the City agreeing to protect the trees (i.e.: modify the streetscape so as to leave the existing trees in place).
While the legal process continues to unfold, Jerry Rubin (pictured at left) and other activists have been engaging in additional actions. Rubin has asked in writing that the City Council place on its agenda a presentation to the Council of the scroll on which pro-tree messages and artwork have been written and drawn. Rubin has also requested that a Treesavers report be given at a meeting of the Bayside District.
And on March 22, a “Tree-In” was held at the northwest corner of 4th and Broadway in the downtown area.
Despite the bustle of pre-Easter holiday shoppers, a group of Treesavers stood in front of trees and collected signatures from passersby.
Treesaver Susan Hartley pointed out which trees on 4th Street are actually the ones cited as “dangerous” and in need of removal. According to City maps, and markings in the form of white X’s and orange dots on the sides of the trees, these include two trees on 4th near Broadway, five trees on 4th in front of the parking structure for Santa Monica Place, and 14 trees in a three-block area of 2nd Street, now nicknamed “Death Row” by some Treesavers.
“On a hot day like today,” said Hartley, “imagine how it would be to walk here without the shade of these trees.”