Once again, the 54 ficus trees along Second and Fourth Streets slated for removal as part of Santa Monica’s $8.2 million Pedestrian and Streetscape Improvement Project have been saved — at least temporarily.

Treesavers was granted an emergency stay March 7th by an Appeals Court, preventing the City of Santa Monica from removing any ficus trees that are part of the streetscape improvement project and are of no danger to the public.

Essentially, the Second Appellate District Court reinstated a temporary restraining order from October.

The decision to reinstate the temporary restraining order by a three-judge panel comes only a week after Treesavers failed to get an injunction against the City of Santa Monica to protect 54 ficus trees along Second and Fourth Streets between Colorado Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard slated for removal.

On February 28th, Santa Monica attorney Tom Nitti — who is representing Treesavers pro bono — argued in court that the city did not follow proper procedures under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but the judge sided with the city, saying that the 180-day statute of limitations was exceeded.

But Treesavers is pleased to have obtained an emergency stay, which Nitti notes is “really difficult” to obtain.

“To get an emergency stay is like a one out of 100 shot, so we’re very happy,” Nitti said.

Now, the case is in the Court of Appeals’ hands, Nitti says.

“The city is restrained [from removing the ficus trees] until the Court of Appeals decides it’s ready to make a decision,” Nitti says.

The city is fully cooperating.

“We are following this court order and we expect to prevail,” said city manager Lamont Ewell.

The city has until Friday, March 21st, to respond to an appeal filed by Treesavers on March 6th. Nitti will have seven days after that to reply to the city’s response.

At that point, the court will have the briefs and will probably either hold a hearing, send the case back to trial court or decide in favor of the city, Nitti said.

Members of Treesavers were thrilled when they heard the news that a temporary stay had been granted to the group.

“I am very excited,” said local activist and Treesavers leader Jerry Rubin. “I am tremendously happy. All the Treesavers are extremely happy and grateful. Tom Nitti’s overtime worked to help this crucial endeavor.”

“We’re going to do everything possible legally, politically and diplomatically to save these trees,” Rubin said, speaking of the 54 ficus trees slated for removal on Second and Fourth Streets between Colorado Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.

Twenty-three were initially identified as “diseased” — although they are now being called “structurally unstable” by the city — and are scheduled to be converted to compost. The other 31 are to be removed and replanted elsewhere in the city — some in the project area and others in parks.

In each of their spots, two ginkgo biloba trees are to be planted.

Ninety-nine ficus trees in the project area will remain untouched.

“The facts have not changed and delay is costing the taxpayers,” says Ewell.

He added that, with the planting of two ginkgo bilobas in each removed ficus tree’s spot, “This means that over 200 trees will be in the eight block project area. Two independent arborists and our community forester have agreed this meets with best practices of urban forestry.”

Treesavers disagrees and is hoping for a successful appeal.

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