While the Third Street Promenade and the downtown area bustled with typical Friday night fervor, a group of local activists walked up and down 2nd street to perform memorial rites for some lost friends – the ficus trees that were removed by the City on May 16.
Jerry Rubin and Susan Hartley of Treesavers led the mourners, who carried signs with photographs of the felled trees. Each mourner had a number corresponding to the site of a particular tree. As the group came to each site, a flower was laid on the sawdust and the person with the designated number gave a brief eulogy for the tree.
It was more a solemn ceremony than a demonstration, although Rubin told the participants that they must be vigilant to protect the seven ficuses on 4th Street that the City has scheduled for relocation. He also reminded everyone to attend the City Council meeting on June 24, when the issue of a Tree Commission will be on the Council’s agenda.
“The City probably doesn’t want it,” Rubin observed. He said that City Manager Lamont Ewell has refused to have any more meetings with Treesavers. But the idea of a Tree Commission has been endorsed by a number of individuals and organizations including Joel Reynolds of the NRDC.
The group of mourners received cursory looks of curiosity from the families and young couples out for the evening on the Promenade. A few people stopped to ask what the action was about. When told, some people said they felt it was too bad that the trees had been cut down, while others simply shrugged and walked on.
Sitting at a sidewalk café, John and Ellen Reese of Venice were among those who wondered what the Treesavers were doing. Told the history of the trees and their removal, John Reese remarked: “I think it is not the right thing to do, if the trees were there for that long.”
“It seems like it’s part of the City’s history,” added Ellen. “It seems like a shame.”
As the mourners moved down 2nd Street, they encountered fewer people. At a tourist bus stop, tourists took photos of the people with their tree signs. After that, the street seemed mostly devoid of onlookers except for people passing through on their way to restaurants and theatres.
On one occasion, a man shouted from a passing car, “They planted more trees than they cut down!”
“Not true!” members of Treesavers shouted back.
Members of the group grumbled about the City’s plan to replace the felled trees with gingkos, which take many more years to develop large shade-providing canopies. On the street in front of one of the felled tree sites, the word “gingo” was written in chalk, a possible indicator of where a gingko would be planted.
One site had been the home of a tree nicknamed “Bertha.” Sally Silverstein, who, with her husband Herb, has been collecting signatures for saving the trees, remarked that “Bertha was my friend. She was a little bit younger than I am. I watched her grow up.”
The youngest Treesaver, who stood at each site and placed a blue and yellow iris on the debris, was Jolie Wolff, age 8. Jolie had organized some of her school friends to campaign for the preservation of the trees.
She stopped to place a flower on the site in front of the Hotel Carmel, where the staff had already planted some flowers to commemorate the lost trees.
“Even if some of them were cut down,” said Jolie, “Be grateful that some of them were not.”