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Treesavers, 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.

 

“We were trying to do a settlement type of thing.” Jerry Rubin

 

“They asked us to rethink it. We’ve already had arborists.” Herb Katz

 

 

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