Friday, May 16, 2008
Trees Gone Bad
Today while walking past Santa Monica's City Hall, I passed a group of protesters against the removal of some 23 ficus trees from downtown along 2nd and 4th Streets.
All I can say is - there's nothing worse than a tree gone wrong.
When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, although my second house dated from the 1900's, the lot was treeless. A photo of the property from the '30's showed two huge shade trees on the parking strip - vanished without a trace by the time we moved in.
We decided to plant some trees on the property, but I wanted to be sure I chose the right tree. So I bought a book called "Trees of Seattle" by Arthur Jacobson. This book catalogued every single kind of tree growing within the city limits of Seattle, described their appearances and growth habits, and recommended use and planting. Wonderful, but with a delightfully obsessive wackiness, Jacobson also provided photos and notes on where a particularly interesting specimen could be seen. Thus, I spent a lot of time in my car looking for "the vacant lot facing the parking lot at the corner of Jackson and 27th East."
Well, one of the things Jacobson deplores is planting the wrong tree in the wrong place. Hollywood junipers planted 2 feet from the house beside the front door will become entry-engulfing monsters in 20 years. He has no qualms about removing a tree that's overstayed its welcome, or that was a poor choice in the first place.
Case in point? The ficus trees in downtown Santa Monica. Perhaps 50 years old, with trunks more than a foot in diameter, they grow close enough to the curb that over the years passing buses have damaged their bark, breaking overhanging branches, and opening scars for decay. Their heaving roots have bulged the concrete sidewalks, causing costly repair and maintenance, and exposing the city to liability from "trip and fall" accidents. Their overhanging hefty evergreen foliage has - in some merchants' eyes - thrown gloom and dark over storefront signage.
The city identified 23 of the worst trees, and decided to remove them, replacing them with gingko trees - a choice Arthur Jacobson would no doubt approve.
Since this is Santa Monica, it goes without saying that the ficus trees have their passionate supporters. In 2006, the city's plan to rid the park of an overpopulation of squirrels roused activists in opposition. To save the ficus trees, a group called Treesavers has bombarded the courts and City Hall with injunctions and protests over the past several months. The trees are beautiful, they say; citizens over the years have carved memorabilia in the bark; the trees' foliage scrubs the air of pollutants. And why destroy a living tree? Treesavers vowed to chain themselves to the trees to prevent their destruction.
Tree supporters can be passionate about even the most thuggish of street trees, sometimes ignoring the cost to home owners or public agencies. A Seattle friend's water and sewer lines were destroyed by the roots of English Laurels in front of his 1920's era bungalow. While the trenches opened up my friend's lawn, a neighbor stopped by to berate him for the destruction of those "beautiful trees." English Laurels?? That's like championing bindweed!
Yesterday morning I drove east on Wilshire past 2nd, which was barricaded off. Masses of leafy branches were piled in the middle of the street. The trees' doom had been sealed.
Beaten but unbowed, the Treesavers struggle on. One battle is lost, but the war rages on. The city has targeted some 300 aging carob trees for removal and replacement.
I know some of you will disagree, but I'm with City Hall - and Arthur Jacobson - on this one.
There's no good reason to keep a tree gone bad.
Now, about those Hollywood junipers in front of City Hall......
Posted by Aunt Snow at 8:10 PM