It appears that the 54 mature ficus trees on Second and Fourth Streets in Santa Monica slated for removal by the city for a streetscape improvement project won’t be going anywhere — at least not until the end of the year.
About two months ago, the Santa Monica City Council approved an $8.2 million Second and Fourth Streets Pedestrian and Streetscape Improvements Project that called for the removal of 54 ficus trees. Councilman Kevin McKeown was the sole vote against the project.
Of these 54 ficus trees, 23 were identified as “diseased” by the city and were scheduled to be converted to compost.
The other 31 — along with 21 palm trees — were to be replanted elsewhere in the city.
Two ginkgo biloba trees were to be planted in every removed ficus tree’s place.
Activist Jerry Rubin and the Santa Monica Treesavers group have successfully filed two landmark designation applications — one for the ficus trees located on Second Street and one for those on Fourth Street (between Colorado Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard), in the hope that the Landmarks Commission will declare the trees a city landmark.
The Landmarks Commission has the responsibility to protect “improvements and areas which represent the city’s cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history; [and] safeguard the city’s historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage.”
Earlier this month, Treesavers submitted a landmark designation application to declare the 140 ficus trees located on Second and Fourth Street between Colorado Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard a city landmark, but the city did not accept the application, Rubin said.
The original application was “deemed to be lodged but not filed with the city subject to the determination whether multiple applications are required under the Landmarks ordinance and other issues of landmark law interpretation,” said the city attorney’s office.
The Treesavers had to file two separate applications — one for the ficus trees on Second Street and one for the ficus trees on Fourth Street.
As of Tuesday, October 16th, both applications had been accepted.
“It was money well spent,” said Rubin, who says he shelled out $724.84 of his own money for each application.
The trees will probably be considered for landmark status at the Landmarks Commission meeting Monday, December 10th.
“I think that not only concrete and steel buildings add enhancement to the downtown area, but so do these wonderful trees,” says Rubin.
And Rubin and Treesavers think the ficus trees are worthy of landmark status for many reasons.
“The ficus trees mitigate problems with excess storm water runoff, heat island effect, air pollution, particulates, traffic noise and wind, as well as provide habitat for local and migratory birds and other wildlife,” they wrote in the Landmarks Commission Designation Application.
Treesavers member and attorney Susan Hartley says, “I expect the Landmarks Commission will treat this like any other application and act fairly with regard to it.”
TREESAVERS FAST — On Saturday, October 20th, more than 20 people gathered at Second Street and Broadway — in front of one of the threatened trees at Hotel Carmel — to begin a weeklong Treesavers fast.
“We want to make this clear that it’s not a hunger strike,” says Rubin, who is living on juice, broth and herbal tea for the week. “This is a way of people showing their love and dedication to saving these trees and the sacrifice they’re making — even if they’re fasting for one day.
“It’s unacceptable to relocate these trees. It’s unnecessary and un-Santa Monica.”
Currently, there is a temporary restraining order banning the city from removing ficus trees that are of no danger to the public.
During this time, the city is prohibited “from removing or causing to be removed any and all ficus trees [excepting those trees that may be a danger to the public] on Second Street and Fourth Street in the City of Santa Monica as called for in its ‘Pedestrian and Streetscape Improvement Project’ or otherwise until further order of this court,” wrote Superior Court Judge John Shook.
The temporary restraining order lasts until Friday, October 26th, when there will be a hearing in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
“At that hearing, the judge will determine whether to extend the temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction pending trial or to dissolve it” and let the trees be removed, says attorney Tom Nitti, who has volunteered his services to the Santa Monica Treesavers group.
To obtain the restraining order, “We argued that the city did not follow the proper procedures under the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA],” said Nitti, who is based in Santa Monica. “The city should have gone through an environmental review process for the trees. The judge felt that it would be appropriate to have a further hearing on our allegations, and in the meantime, he ordered that the trees [that are not dangerous] not be removed.”
The City of Santa Monica is fully cooperating.
“We were given the authority to remove dangerous trees,” said Kate Vernez, assistant to the city manager for community relations. “In the abundance of caution, we are not removing any trees and we’re honoring the direction of the court and will appear before the judge and make our case in court on October 26th.”
The fast was intentionally scheduled to begin one week before the court date.
People of all ages, including high school students, are participating in the fast — “Some for one day, some for two days, some for three or four days,” says Rubin. “Again, it’s not a hunger strike. It’s a way of showing our commitment to the trees.”