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One of nine ginkgo trees in Downtown that were vandalized early Monday morning. Police arrested a 25-year-old Brazilian man on a charge of felony vandalism. Police did not identify a motive at presstime. (photo by City Of Santa Monica)

DOWNTOWN — A group of young ginkgo trees that were caught in the center of a controversial plan to replace the aging ficus trees have been reduced to a pile of leaves and branches after a man allegedly vandalized them early Monday morning.

Santa Monica police have in custody 25-year-old Fernando Capeto from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who was arrested in the 1400 block of Second Street shortly after 2 a.m. He was booked for felony vandalism and disorderly conduct and is being held on $20,000 bail.

Authorities believe he is responsible for damaging nine trees, three of which were destroyed, along Second and Fourth streets. Police received a call about the vandalism around 2 a.m.

The trees were planted six months ago as part of a Downtown beautification project.

“They were beautiful trees that were thriving and had just leafed out for the spring,” Kate Vernez, spokeswoman for City Hall, said.

The ginkgos replaced approximately 30 trees that were either removed or relocated to the Palisades Garden Walk, causing an uproar among tree lovers who protested that the leafy specimen should remain in place, which they believe reduces the urban heat island effect.

Police have not identified a motive for the vandalism.

news@smdp.com