Peace activist Jerry Rubin — who is running for Santa Monica City Council in November — was arrested Wednesday, September 3rd, after chaining himself to one of the seven downtown ficus trees set for removal and relocation as part of the city’s controversial Second and Fourth Street Pedestrian and Streetscape Improvement Project.
Twenty-three ficus trees were removed earlier this year by the city in May as part of its $8.2 million improvement project.
Until last week, the city had not worked on the removal of the seven ficus trees along Fourth Street set to be relocated to the new Palisades Garden Walk Park across from City Hall.
“I didn’t want to be arrested,” Rubin said. “I wanted to save the trees.
“I feel the only recourse that I had to save these trees’ lives was to chain myself to the trees in hopes of stopping what they [the city] were doing.”
Rubin arrived at 7 a.m. September 3rd, on Fourth Street, just north of Broadway, after hearing that construction crews would arrive at 8 a.m.
However, he was not arrested until 11:25 a.m., just outside the restricted area of one of the seven ficus trees along Fourth Street set for relocation. At the time of the arrest, he was no longer chained to the ficus tree in front of the Benihana restaurant.
“I was surprised I wasn’t arrested earlier,” he said.
Rubin spent the night in jail and was charged with willfully obstructing a police officer and interfering with city employees who were working to remove the seven ficus trees along Fourth Street. His bail was set at $10,000, he said.
“I was shocked when I heard the charges,” noted Rubin, as he said he told police officers that he understood if they had to arrest him and he would not resist arrest.
Rubin is set to appear Friday, September 26th, for an arraignment hearing at the Airport Courthouse, near Los Angeles International Airport. He said he was representing himself but actively seeking an attorney.
Rubin was released on his own recognizance on September 4th, with the condition that he not go within 100 yards of Fourth Street between Colorado Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.
“I’m trying to be very conscientious about it,” he said.
Rubin noted that he is still running for Santa Monica City Council, despite his arrest.
“I feel that’s it’s a long shot to win,” he acknowledged. “I know the incumbents have the upper hand, but I’m running because it’s really time for a change.”
Originally, 31 downtown ficus trees were to be removed and relocated, but the city found that only seven were suitable candidates for a successful relocation, city manager Lamont Ewell said.
The seven trees were hand-selected by the city’s urban forester, Walt Warriner, said Kate Vernez, assistant to the city manager for community relations.
Vernez also notes that the city has an “over 95 percent success rate” relocating trees throughout Santa Monica.
However, some members of the community, independent arborists and Rubin believe the relocation is a “death sentence for the trees.”
But Vernez says, “We expect the trees to thrive in the park without the extensive root pruning required for sidewalks.
“Plus, the move will allow their canopies to fully mature, so this is a good thing for these seven trees.”
Vernez also notes that 109 ficus trees remain in the project area on Second and Fourth Streets between Colorado Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard — and 120 ginkgo bilobas are to be planted shortly.
“I’m glad these seven trees will be replanted and not merely wasted as were others earlier,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown, the sole councilmember to vote against the streetscape improvement project. “However, I continue to believe the expensive removal of healthy trees is an unwise use of public money, particularly in the face of such opposition from the community.”
Treesavers, a grassroots group that Rubin founded a year ago to try to save the ficus trees, is adamantly opposed to the city’s relocation plan.
Rubin says he’s still shocked about the city’s decision to go through with the removal and relocation of the seven ficus trees.
“I really thought the city was going to delay any plans to relocate these trees and possibly have a town hall forum to discuss the details of why they want to relocate these trees,” Rubin says. “How na‘ve of me.
“They’re healthy trees. They’re not structurally damaged; there’s no question. They’re not decayed, let alone diseased.”
Vernez expects the project to be complete — with the seven ficus trees replanted in Palisades Garden Walk Park — by the end of the month.