DOWNTOWN — Nearly two years after co-founding the Santa Monica Treesavers to fight the destruction of the ficus trees along Second and Fourth streets, local peace activist and City Council gadfly Jerry Rubin has decided to step down from the organization.
The former City Council candidate, who was arrested last year for chaining himself to a ficus tree on Fourth Street, announced his resignation shortly after a Treesavers gathering last week when members voted to formalize the organization with a new structure, which will include the establishment of a governing board and a set of rules, one of which mandates that no person will speak on behalf of the organization unless a vote has been taken on the particular issue. The members of the governing board have not been decided.
Rubin said his decision to leave is not based on the restructuring of the group, but rather a desire to work more cooperatively with city officials, in particular Community Forester Walt Warriner, who has been a target of criticism by many of the Treesavers. His wife, Marissa Rubin, has also resigned.
While the Ocean Park resident said the organization will hold a special place in his heart, he was tiring of the name calling against several city officials and suspicion of their every step.
“I feel it’s always important to be able to voice your concerns and the Treesavers did that,” he said. “I always encouraged peaceful protest, but there is a time right now when we need to acknowledge the good things the city has done and not just criticize what we think are negative things.”
There has been some speculation of tension building within the group between Rubin and the other Treesavers. Rubin said that he acknowledges that his leadership has been “flawed and overbearing” at times and felt that he did facilitate too many of the meetings. Another newly added rule for the organization will require that a meeting facilitator/chair be a rotating position.
Members of the organization said they were surprised by the resignation and have encouraged Rubin to remain.
“Jerry did a lot for the Treesavers, not only getting arrested, but financially paying for all the filing fees,” Susan Hartley, one of the co-founders, said in reference to the legal and city application fees that Rubin paid.
Hartley said that some members felt restructuring the organization would also allow them opportunities to grow their leadership and activist skills.
Cosmo Bua, who has been with the organization since the beginning, said that Rubin has been indispensable to the Treesavers.
“We were a very loose association and Jerry was heroic,” he said.
Bua added that he doesn’t think the resignation symbolizes a rift between Rubin and the Treesavers.
“Jerry just wanted a more open sort of association of people,” he said.
The Treesavers held its first meeting in the food court of Santa Monica Place in September of 2007, attracting roughly two dozen people and a television news crew. The organization as well as the public’s awareness of the campaign grew rapidly in the ensuing months as media coverage expanded across the country.
The group was also co-founded by filmmaker Chris Paine and Dan Jansenson. Today there are about 600 members in the organization, about 60 of which are active, Hartley said.
Approximately 23 trees identified as structurally deficient were removed from Second and Fourth streets as part of a downtown improvement plan. Another seven were relocated. Fifty four were originally slated for removal.
Rubin said he will try to work with city officials on tree matters and has applied for a seat on a newly formed task force that will advise on the development of the urban forest master plan. He also plans to ask the City Council to establish a tree hugging day in Santa Monica.
“I will always feel a connection to Treesavers,” he said.