City Loggers Attack…Again

As everybody knows by now, a great many residents are opposed to City Hall’s plan to remove about 50 healthy ficus and palm trees from Second and Fourth Streets in downtown Santa Monica as part of an $8.2 million downtown “beautification” plan.

Some of the opponents recently staged a protest, posting “Save This Tree” placards on the targeted trees, and they have vowed to chain themselves to the trees on the appointed day to prevent their removal.

In the beginning, it was said that merchants on those streets wanted the trees removed as they prevented people driving by from seeing their signs and window displays and/or they were angry at the City for lavishing time and money on the Third Street Promenade while ignoring the adjacent streets. But the merchants denied the claims. Vigorously.

The City then alleged that the ficus trees are too dense and dark (i.e., too healthy) and cast solid shadows, rather than “dappled shade.” It also claimed that if changed its plans, it would lose the big MTA grant, thus making the MTA sound as dopey as the City.

Needless to say, those witless rationales merely stiffened the plan opponents’ resolve.

Now,the City, which only last week described itself as an “internationally recognized and award-winning sustainability leader,” has posted a a story on the home page of its website in an apparent response to its critics.

Herewith, the City’s story. . .
2nd and 4th Streets
Pedestrian and Streetscape Improvements Project
covers the eight blocks between Wilshire Blvd. and Colorado Ave., and includes tree removal and installation (2 new trees for each 1 removed), pedestrian enhancements, accessibility improvements and repair of damaged sidewalks and curbs. Council approved the project design, including removal of some trees in October 2005. .

Santa Monica’s community forest is comprised of 32,771 trees located in public areas throughout the community. Forest management includes tree planting, inspection, trimming and removal, and community education to encourage public stewardship of public and private trees in Santa Monica. Open Space Management staff review and field check construction plans for street tree code requirements, review landscape and irrigation plans for city projects and inspect those projects during construction.

The community forest – providing the benefits of shade in the summer, sanctuary for urban wildlife, reductions in air and water pollution and increased property values — is central to achieving the objectives of the Sustainable City Program.

It then lists all the documents it believes are relevant: Community Forest Management Plan; Tree removal notices; Tree Protection Guidelines; Eucalyptus Assessment Report; Eucalyptus Assessment Report – Supplemental Information; Date Palm Replacements in Palisades Park; 2nd & 4th Streets Pedestrian and Streetscape Improvements Project; Tree Removal and Replacement Fact Sheet (September 2007); August 14, 2007 Council Staff Report for Award of Contract October 10, 2005 Council Staff Report for Approval of Design Concept.

The most notable things about this document are, first, that it makes a wholly reasonable and cogent argument for NOT removing the trees, second, that it demonstrates, again, that there’s a real disconnect between what the City’s says it’s doing and what it’s actually doing, third, that it singles out the Open Space Management Department as the designated culprit, though it is a minor player in the tree game and didn’t even exist when this plan was devised, and, fourth, that it suggests that the Council’s 2005 approval of the plan was the last, and only significant word.

The term “community forest” is a misnomer. The City’s trees do not comprise a “forest,” and the “community” clearly has no say in its care and treatment. Indeed, in some quarters, the City’s arborist is referred to as the “City logger.”

The battle over the downtown trees is only the latest in a series of resident-City Hall conflicts. Some years ago, City staff not only defied residents’ wishes, but ignored an order from the Parks and Rec Commission and cut down 11 healthy Eucalyptus trees in Reed Park. including one very rare tree, which had a replacement value of $450.000. Later, it removed more trees from the park. Then there was the eforeststation” of Pico that did nothing to “improve” that grand boulevard. And, most recently, over the protests of residents, it cut down a whole lot of healthy Eucalyptus trees because their branches “might” fall off.

Another round of “improvements” is now scheduled for Reed Park. Watch out!

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