City Meeting Fails to Bear Fruit
By Jorge Casuso
April 22 -- A meeting between Treesavers and top City
officials Monday appeared to have been a fruitless effort to reach
a compromise on a plan to remove or relocate 31 Downtown ficus trees,
both parties reported.
Treesavers -- whose delegation included local activist Jerry Rubin and Chris
Paine, director of the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” -- asked
the City to bring in one or two independent arborists before removing 23 of
the 157 ficus trees along 2nd and 4th streets and relocating seven others.
But the City’s representatives, who included Mayor Herb Katz and City
Manager Lamont Ewell, turned down the proposal, noting that the City’s
urban forester and an independent consultant had deemed the trees slated for
removal “structurally unstable.”
“They asked us to rethink it,” Katz said after the meeting. “We’ve
already had arborists” look at the trees.
Rubin said Treesavers, which appealed a court decision that paved the way for
removing the trees as part of an $8.2 million streetscape project, said the
meeting on the eve of Earth Day was “very discouraging.”
“We were trying to do a settlement type of thing,” Rubin said.
“We wanted an independent arborist or two not contracted by the City and
mutually agreeable to both parties to review the trees.
“Whatever they came up with, we would live with,” Rubin said. “It
would show the community we went that extra mile. But they felt they had given
their opinion, and that’s it.”
The meeting requested by Treesavers was a last ditch effort to negotiate with
the City before an Appeals Court rules on the Treesavers appeal of a lower court
decision giving the City the go-ahead to begin removing the trees.
The Second Appellate District Court’s decision last month to reinstate
a temporary restraining order lifted by a Superior Court judge 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.
“We’re awaiting the court’s decision,” said Katz.
If the Appeals Court rejects the Treesavers case, the City plans to move ahead
with a scaled-back version of a streetscape plan that originally called for
removing all the trees. This month, the City trimmed the number of trees slated
for relocation from 31 to seven, all of which will remain in the project area.
Despite the scaled-back plan, Treesavers has vowed to engage in acts of civil
disobedience if the City follows through on its plan.
“The relocation of healthy trees is something the community doesn’t
want,” Rubin said. “We’re glad they dropped the number from
31 to seven, but even one tree is too much.”
In addition to removing, relocating and adding 120 new ginko trees, the streetscape
project calls for adding decorative up-lighting to the remaining ficus trees
and repairing sidewalks or curbs damaged by their roots.
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.