The Treesavers lawsuit brought against the City of Santa Monica regarding more than 50 mature ficus trees on 2nd and 4th Streets was dismissed on February 28 in Los Angeles Superior Court. The fate of the trees is now up to the City, unless the Treesavers can convince the City to change its plans.
The lawsuit was filed last October when Treesavers attorney Thomas Nitti found that the City had not followed the procedure for filing an Environmental Impact Report on the trees while formulating a plan for refurbishing the downtown area. A temporary restraining order was issued by a Superior Court judge to protect the trees until the date of a hearing on a preliminary injunction to stop removal/destruction of the trees. However, the filing by Treesavers spokesperson Jerry Rubin of an application for landmark designation of the trees caused Nitti to request removal of the restraining order, as the trees were protected under the landmarks process until a judgement was reached.
On February 19, the City Council denied an appeal of the Landmarks Commission’s denial of designation.
At a Treesavers meeting on February 28, Nitti told the group about the court’s decision. What it came down to, he said, was that the judge accepted the City’s argument that Treesavers had filed their lawsuit “too late.”
“My argument was that the 180 days (for filing) ran from when the City Council approved the contract to cut down the trees – back in August 2007, to when we filed in October,” said Nitti. “But the judge and I differ on that particular legal point.”
“We have to make sure the focus of the public eye is on the City,” he concluded. “As it stands right now, the trees are not protected. So it’s up to you to make your voices heard.”
The rest of the meeting revolved around the options left for Treesavers.
One activist, Charles Fredericks, circulated a letter and also spoke to the group about the idea of gathering signatures to put an initiative on the ballot for Santa Monicans to vote on.
Rubin said he had put in calls to Mayor Herb Katz, City Manager Lamont Ewell, and other City officials, asking once more for a meeting to settle the matter amicably, without having to resort to civil disobedience.
“Nobody here wants to get arrested,” remarked Rubin, who has been arrested several times for non-violent civil disobedience actions.
Nevertheless, some members of Treesavers have been in training with activist John Quigley, preparing for possible civil disobedience actions should any of the trees start to be cut down.
Some members of the group are already watching on 2nd and 4th Streets, fearing that the City might take action at any time.
The Santa Monica Police Department sent two officers to the February 28 meeting to talk with the activists about “facilitating” their arrests.
“We understand that civil disobedience happens,” said Sgt. Jay Moroso. ”We’re here to assist you with anything we can legally assist you with.”
He explained the process of being arrested and that, since arrests for sitting in, or chaining oneself to a tree, qualify as misdemeanors, demonstrators who have good ID will probably be released without paying bail.
In the meantime, Rubin has called for a “peaceful sit-in” in the City Hall lobby on Wednesday, March 5 at 4 p.m., in a last-ditch effort to get the City to agree to an “environmentally friendly win-win solution.”
“What the City needs, Treesavers say,” said Rubin, “is dialogue, not destruction.”
For more information, call 310.399.1000 or go to treesavers.blogspot.com.