In some parts of Santa Monica, the preferred obscenity is “Oh, fig!”

We are cursed with aging ficus trees that City Hall refuses to remove.

Note that a ficus is basically a fig tree. Each tree produces thousands of little figs euphemistically referred to as “berries.”

Recycled-rubber sidewalk sections, lifted by ficus roots. (Photo courtesy Anne Eggebroten)

Recycled-rubber sidewalk sections, lifted by ficus roots. (Photo courtesy Anne Eggebroten)

On Grant Street, for example, the sidewalks, pavement, and driveways are covered with the black fruit and their seedy mush. So are my carpets; the gooey red paste sticks to shoes and gets walked into the house.

Two mornings ago the plopping of figlets sounded like rain as I stood on the sidewalk near my neighbor’s ficus tree, trying to sweep them off the sidewalk. Another neighbor came to help, and for a few moments the sidewalk was fig-free — but within a day it looked as if it had never been swept.

On our street the ficus were planted in 1941 and many are now afflicted with a mushroom-like fungus that spreads in large brown turds around the foot of a tree. It grows over the flowers I plant like lava moving down a mountainside.

Two trees to the west of our house have been removed because of the fungus disease, but City Hall decided that our ficus can’t be removed yet because it still has half its foliage.

Santa Monica has an official community forester, but his philosophy is to protect any tree that is still half alive. He’s come out to inspect my tree several times over the last 19 years, but he won’t remove it. Save the trees! Screw the residents.

Another problem is that the roots of the ficus lift up the sidewalk so that it has to be replaced every few years. Circumnavigating around the bumps and dips in the sidewalk turns taking a walk into a challenging exercise for all the wrong reasons. It’s especially hard for seniors like me.

City Hall has replaced my sidewalk four times since we moved in, trying paving stones, recycled rubber squares, and plain old cement. Doesn’t anyone care about the cost of all those replacements, just to save a tree I don’t want anyway?

In addition, the roots strangle plumbing lines from the street into our home. When my family moved here in 1995, we had low water pressure at all the faucets and had to replace the line from the street to our system. (In the process we discovered that there were also mysterious bits of blue plastic clogging the line.)

Some people in this city like the ficus trees. Like any fig, they grow enormous trunks and branches that reach together in the middle of the street and from house to house, producing a lot of shade. This is charming except when there’s no light from the streetlights at night because the trees block it out.

Basically, the ficus is a lovely tree when kept in a pot so its roots can’t escape or when planted in a large space surrounded by grass, so its fruit can recycle itself into the dirt and its roots have freedom to expand.

When planted in a 3-feet-wide curbside space, however, the ficus will lift the sidewalk, drop figlets where people need to walk, and interfere with plumbing.

Others have spoken out against the ficus, citing the maintenance costs they incur and the “relentless” growth of their roots. At an Architectural Review Board meeting in 2005, board member Rodolfo Alvarez suggested a cost analysis of maintaining the current ficus trees as opposed to planting new trees without “messy maintenance problems.” Vice-chairperson of the board, William Adams, also spoke against the ficus on Second and Fourth streets Downtown, but apparently the treehuggers won.

While others debate the ficus on a city-wide level, I appeal to city officials: take out my aging tree. It’s had its threescore and 10. Give me a more appropriate tree for that small space — a jacaranda, a liquid amber, anything.

 

Anne Eggebroten is a teacher and writer who has lived in Santa Monica since 1992, first on Ashland Avenue (where a small plane crashed into the back yard) and now on Grant Street. Eggebroten blogs at www.marthaymaria.blogspot.com.