Activists, Planners Battle Over Street Trees

Neighborhood activists are fighting plans to remove ficus trees from the streets of Southern California cities.

"Santa Monica activist Jerry Rubin took to the streets again this week, marching not against the war in Iraq, global warming or pollution, but against what he considers a more immediate threat -- city plans to remove 54 aging ficus trees.

"We don't relocate senior citizens from their apartments just to bring in new young families," Rubin said, allowing that the ficus are not people, "but if they were, they'd probably be shouting 'Don't relocate us, don't get rid of us before our time!' "

Ficus trees are a close second to the famed palm as icons of the Southern California streetscape. Cities planted them by the thousands during the 1960s, when arborists say they were known as "wonder trees," with hardy trunks and lush green canopies that required little maintenance.

Now that the ficus are starting to show their age, cities are removing them. Low-hanging branches interfere with bus traffic and overgrown roots crack sidewalks, costing cities thousands of dollars in upkeep, repairs and payouts from pedestrian lawsuits.

Rubin represents growing local resistance to removing ficus. He and other opponents from City of Commerce to El Segundo and Newport Beach argue the tree's stylish canopy is a local trademark that sucks up carbon and soot and cools city streets, a valuable asset in an age of global warming."

Full Story: In Santa Monica, there's a fracas over the ficus

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