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Council Candidates Talk Trees at Forum:

Santa Monica’s City Council race got off to a colorful start with a forum on urban forestry issues presented by Treesavers at Ken Edwards Center, August 14.

Former Mayor Mike Feinstein read off questions prepared by Treesavers to the eight candidates present. Four attending candidates, Jerry Peace Activist Rubin, Susan J. Hartley, Linda Piera-Avila, and Herb Silverstein were members of Treesavers, but were not involved in the formulation of the questions.

Also participating were Ted Winterer, Linda Armstrong, Jon Louis Mann, and incumbent Ken Genser. The remaining incumbents, Richard Bloom, Herb Katz, and Bobby Shriver, had other commitments.

The first of three questions given to candidates in advance was “What does ‘urban forest’ mean to you in the context of Santa Monica?” This elicited fairly similar replies from each candidate, since everyone seemed to agree that trees are wonderful. Genser said that the urban forest “makes up the soul of the city.” Winterer, a member of the Recreation and Parks Commission, said that trees are “a connection to our original habitat.” Hartley said Santa Monica’s urban forest “is deficient and it’s under attack.”

Each candidate was then asked if he or she would have supported the removal of the ficus trees on 2nd and 4th Streets had they been on the Council. Seven out of eight candidates declared that they would have voted against removal of the trees. Genser, who as a Council member did vote on the issue, was asked why he voted as he did and he replied: “I voted for this unapologetically. I think what we did is environmentally superior.” Genser also said that his vote was based on his having done research “in depth” on the viability of the ficuses.

Question Three concerned City criteria for removal of trees, policy for regeneration of trees in neighborhoods, and whether or not candidates supported establishing a Tree Commission.

“A Tree Commission would be helpful but not if it’s dominated by the City,” said Silverstein. “We need independent people.”

Winterer thought it would be good to have citizens educated to be able to identify tree problems themselves. Rubin, an outspoken advocate for a Tree Commission, said, “We need an enhanced tree planting – not relocation – policy.” Linda Armstrong said she was all for a Commission as long as there was “public input.”

The candidates then answered questions submitted by members of the audience. Asked how they developed “compassion” for trees, candidates spoke of their backgrounds. Linda Piera-Avila confessed that a childhood “trauma” was cured by exposure to trees. Rubin said that involvement with Treesavers has increased his appreciation for trees and made him a more compassionate person. Genser could not cite a particular event in his life: “You feel something in your heart or you don’t.”

Also discussed were issues about tree-trimming (“Keep it to an absolute minimum,” said Armstrong; “I think we need to consult experts,” said Genser), what kind of trees to plant in the future, and whether or not the removal of the 2nd and 4th Street ficuses had been done with unspoken motives behind it. Genser, who had to leave, fielded this question first, saying that there had been a “great misunderstanding” about the need to remove trees that were “structurally deficient.” Other candidates spoke out strongly on this. Hartley said the removal was motivated by “greed,” and Mann declared that the whole City Council, except for Kevin McKeown, who had not voted for the City plan, should be recalled.

The candidates tree issues forum will be posted soon on YouTube. Feinstein said that candidates who were unable to attend will be able to tape their answers and these will be added to the video.

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