The decision to approve or disapprove the Landmark Designation application for the mature ficus trees in downtown Santa Monica has been tabled by the Landmarks Commission until December.
The 140 or so ficus trees along Second and Fourth Streets between Wilshire Boulevard and Colorado Avenue were originally scheduled to be considered for landmark status at the Landmarks Commission meeting Monday, November 12th.
But activist Jerry Rubin and the Santa Monica Treesavers group — the landmark designation applicants — asked the commission to table the item until the February meeting so they have adequate time to prepare their report for this landmark case.
The commission didn’t grant that request, but instead delayed considering the application until the December 10th meeting.
Rubin and Treesavers were disappointed.
When Rubin found out at the end of October that the item was scheduled for the November 12th meeting, he asked for an extension because “Treesavers should have adequate time — and the Landmarks Commission should, too — to thoroughly evaluate this unprecedented landmark case,” he said. “We want to research and come up with the best arguments we possibly can as to why these ficus trees should be landmarked under the criteria that the Landmarks Commission has set. That’s going to take extensive research.”
Last month, Rubin and Treesavers filed two landmark designation applications — one for the ficus trees on Second Street and one for those on Fourth Street (between Colorado Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard) — in the hope that the Landmarks Commission would declare the trees city landmarks.
This came after the Santa Monica City Council approved an $8.2 million Second and Fourth Streets Pedestrian and Streetscape Improvements project in August, which, among other things, called for the removal of 54 ficus trees and 21 palm trees. Councilman Kevin McKeown cast the sole vote against the project.
Of the 54 ficus trees, 23 were identified as “diseased” by the city and were to be converted to compost and the other 31 — along with the 21 palm trees — were to be removed and replanted elsewhere in the city.
In each of their spots, two gingko biloba trees were to be planted.
But many were opposed to the tree removal portion of the streetscape improvement project.
Activists immediately banded together and formed Santa Monica Treesavers — to rally against the city’s plan to remove and relocate or convert to compost the 54 mature ficus trees.
Some people were shocked, many outraged.
“I think this is a very poor decision and if Santa Monica wants to be talking removing mature trees in 2007 in the midst of global warming and all the reasons we need to stop removing trees, then how are we supposed to expect to combat these problems in other places?” questioned Chris Paine, who has been very involved in the tree-saving efforts and is the director and writer of Who Killed the Electric Car? “Santa Monica is trying to be a green city, so it should protect and manage its existing trees and not be destroying them in the name of street improvement.
“I’m sorry it has gotten to this phase. If they end up chopping down these trees, I think it’s going to be embarrassing and a sad day for the city.”
Rubin is concerned that one more month is not enough time for Treesavers to prepare an adequate report to make their case to the Landmarks Commission — especially with the holidays around the corner.
“We’re going to try our best,” Rubin said. “But if our report is not complete and we need more time to research, we’re going to have to ask for another extension and I don’t think it would be fair if we were denied it.”
The Santa Monica Conservancy, which has taken a neutral position on the issue, is helping Treesavers put together the report, Rubin said.
Treesavers members think the ficus trees are worthy of landmark status for many reasons, for example, because they “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.”
Rubin says one thing is obvious: “The city wants to get to work without Treesavers’ interference to do what they had planned to do — relocate trees and get rid of trees.
“But there’s too many tree-loving people that have come together that are not going to give up on this issue. We’re going to do everything possible legally and politically to save these trees.”