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City Flyer Part of Tree Offensive

By Jorge Casuso

April 7 -- The City fired the latest volley in the information war over the Downtown ficus trees with a mailer that began landing in Santa Monica mailboxes this weekend.

The flyer -- which City officials said is intended to set the record straight -- informs Santa Monicans that the City’s plans to remove 23 ficus trees deemed “structurally unstable” and relocate seven others is in keeping “with the best practices of urban forestry.”

The color flyer -- which showcases a photo of a badly damaged tree -- notes that the vast majority of the 157 ficus trees along 2nd and 4th streets will remain and 120 new ginko trees will be added to “ensure that Santa Monica’s tree canopy will remain healthy for future generations to enjoy.”

“There was so much misinformation out, it was important the public hears the facts,” said Kate Vernez, a senior analyst for the City Manager’s office.

While flyers are often sent to residents and businesses in the vicinity of a major project, the $8.2 million streetscape project -- which, among other things, calls for the removal of the trees along six Downtown blocks -- is important enough and has generated enough controversy to warrant a citywide mailing, Vernez said.

“It was an unusual thing,” she said.

Jerry Rubin, a local activist heading the Treesavers, a fledgling grassroots group opposing the project, called the flyer a “one-sided spin” that cost taxpayers $22,000.

“The City is sending out many misrepresentations, half-truths and misleading information now that the overwhelming majority of residents and visitors don't want” the ficus trees removed, said Rubin, who did not specify how the flyer misrepresented the project.

Treesavers, Rubin said, "has a committee working to rebut" the information in the flyer.

“The people who the City should be listening to have so far been for the most part ignored and disrespected,” Rubin said.

Despite the City’s announcement that it planned to relocated seven, instead of 31, of the ficus trees originally slated for transplanting, Rubin vowed to keep the pressure on as long as even a single tree is removed or relocated unnecessarily.

“They shouldn’t be relocating any trees for design or aesthetic purposes,” he said. “The bottom line is there really shouldn’t be any relocated trees.”

Representatives of Treesavers, who are planning a large Earth Day rally and march, will meet the day before on April 21 with Mayor Herb Katz and City Manager Lamont Ewell to discuss the highly publicized issue, Rubin said.

The group will ask the City to bring in an independent consultant, agreed to by both parties, to establish how many trees are diseased or unstable and need to be removed.

The City’s arborist -- backed by two independent consultants hired by the City -- places at 23 the number of ficus trees that “have been damaged by oversized vehicles, internal decay, weakened root systems or poor canopy structure, and are considered structurally unstable and could fail,” according to the flyer.

But Treesavers contends that arborists who have looked at the trees on the group’s behalf place the number as low as two.

“We would like an independent arborist to review the trees, and we would live by the decision,” Rubin said. “We don’t want the City to see Treesavers as adversaries.”

Meanwhile, an Appeals Court is reviewing the Treesavers appeal of a lower court decision giving the City the go-ahead to begin removing the trees.

Last month’s decision by the Second Appellate District Court to reinstate a temporary restraining order issued in October 2007 came one week after a Superior Court judge denied the group’s request for a preliminary injunction and lifted the order.

The stay gives the court time to weigh the Treesavers’ contention that the group filed its case within 180 days of the City Council’s decision to exempt the ficus trees from environmental review.

City officials, who have vowed to move forward with the plan, have been negotiating with State and Federal agencies funding the streetscape project to ensure it stays on track.

In addition to removing, relocating and adding new trees, the project calls for adding decorative up-lighting to the remaining ficus trees and repairing sidewalks or curbs damaged by the trees.

The project also calls for enlarging tree wells, installing new pedestrian lighting to illuminate sidewalk areas, enhancing six mid-block crosswalks and adding accessibility improvements for the handicapped.

Treesavers, which has threatened to engage in acts of civil disobedience, says the group does not oppose the overall project, only the removal of the trees.

 

“There was so much misinformation out, it was important the public hears the facts.” Kate Vernez

 

“The people who the City should be listening to have so far been for the most part ignored and disrespected.” Jerry Rubin

 

 

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