Chops Down Ficus Trees
By Jorge Casuso
May 16 -- Averting a possible showdown in the media spotlight
by giving no warning, the City early Friday morning chopped down
23 ficus trees along 2nd and 4th streets Downtown.
The move came less than two days after an Appeals Court on Wednesday
rejected a case filed by Treesavers in March and lifted a temporary
stay order, paving the way for an $8.2 million streetscape project
that called for removing and relocating 30 of the 157 ficus trees.
“After we received the Court decision in favor of the City,
we moved expeditiously in an attempt to make up for seven months
of lost time,” City Manger Lamont Ewell wrote in an email
to the City Council Friday.
|Sawdust and dirt covering
hole left after ficus tree was removed on 2nd street (Photo
by Frank Gruber)
“This has increased the cost of the project by over $100,000.00
dollars,” Ewell said. “We also felt it important to
carry this work out as early as possible to minimize the impact
to the public and businesses.”
Members of Treesavers -- the grassroots group that staged public
demonstrations, packed the council chambers and took the City to
court six months ago -- rushed to the scene too late to chain themselves
to the trees and put into practice the lessons they had learned
in special civil disobedience classes.
“I thought I’d brush my teeth and rush out with the
chains,” said Jerry Rubin, the group’s leader.
But it was too late. According to urgent, sometimes tearful, calls
from fellow Treesavers, by mid morning the trees were all gone.
“I got a call at 9 a.m. from a Treesaver that was crying,”
Rubin said. “Then I got another message. I got about ten messages.”
Rubin rushed to the scene and hastily organized a noon press conference
that was covered by newspapers and television and radio stations.
He wanted to give the term “stump speech” its original
meaning, but was denied by the City.
“I wanted to stand on a stump for my speech, but the City
didn’t let me,” he said
Rubin managed to take “a little chunk of the tree”
he plans to use as a talking stick during an evening vigil Friday
in front of City Hall.
“I’m sad and somewhat angry that it came to his,”
Rubin said. “There were ample opportunities to have more ample
communication between the City and the community… We’re
not going to give up.”
Rubin said the group will continue to fight the City’s plan
to relocate seven of the ficus trees to other parts of the project
“We’re going to defend the final seven,” he said.
“It shouldn’t come to physically defending them.
“I feel bad that we didn’t save those trees,”
Rubin said. “I can’t help but feel that to a certain
extent. We’re going to redouble our efforts.”
Rubin acknowledged that the original plan of having supporters
-- including grandmothers and kids -- tie themselves to the trees
would likely not have born fruit.
“Even if we chained ourselves, we’d be in jail and
the trees would still be cut down,” Rubin said.
Treesavers will ramp up its efforts to lobby the council to form
a Tree Commission that could help avert the kind of controversy
that surrounded the ficus trees.
Council member Kevin McKeown, who opposed the plan to remove healthy
trees with public money said the City should listen to the residents,
10,000 of whom, according to Rubin, signed a petition to save the
“Anyone visiting our downtown today can see that the massive
public outcry against cutting down our trees was simply ignored,”
McKeown said. “I'm disappointed in the City's action, as I
know many Santa Monicans are."
City officials, who said the 23 trees were structurally unstable,
turned down to settlement offers from the group. One called for
one or two independent arborists to render their opinion before
removing the trees.
The other called for saving 14 of the trees the group says do not
pose an imminent danger to public safety and leaving in place the
seven trees slated for relocation.
The Downtown streets were reopened by 11 p.m., and the City is
revving up to start the delayed streetscape project that calls for
adding 120 new ginko trees, adding decorative up-lighting to the
remaining ficus trees and repairing sidewalks or curbs damaged by
In addition, the project calls for enlarging tree wells, installing
new pedestrian lighting to illuminate sidewalk areas, enhancing
six mid-block crosswalks and adding accessibility improvements for
“The staff members of the City did an excellent job in planning
and executing the work,” Ewell wrote in his email to the council.
“I will keep you updated on our progress.”