I received an e-mail from regular ”My Write” reader Helen Auerbach. She had a question about the former Berkshire skilled nursing care facility at 2602 Broadway recently acquired by Community Corporation of Santa Monica for redevelopment into a new, public-housing project. Auerbach asked me how to save the very beautiful trees on the property before they were cut down prior to new construction.

I referred Helen to Santa Monica Treesaver activist Susan Hartley because I knew she’d respond to Ms. Auerbach’s concerns. Auerbach reported: “Susan connected me with the Treesaver organization who sent representatives to both neighborhood meetings (on the project). At the first meeting, they were able to give some very constructive input to the developer about how trees may be saved. At the second meeting, the proposal had been modified to save several more trees and a plan had been made to work with landscaping firms and to re-locate some of the other trees … .

“I was quite impressed with how Treesavers, quietly but persistently and in a very courteous way, was able to bring this improved situation about. Cosmo Bua of Treesavers was at one of the meetings. He is excellent and made constructive suggestions. They will work with him to figure out how to dispose of trees they can’t use.”

Regular readers know “I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.” With one of Treesavers’ founders having “resigned” to angle for a seat on the city’s new Tree Task Force — thus bringing new meaning to “working both sides of the street” — the grassroots organization seems to be turning a new leaf. It seems that goofy self promotion has yielded to solid and credible community and environmental advocacy.

The issue with CCSM’s developments is that the city-affiliated public housing builder is not required to respond to citizen suggestions. The only city commission with any authority over a CCSM project is the Architectural Review Board, which can approve color, materials, landscaping plans and other cosmetics, but can’t change more important aspects such as height, massing, density or parking which is all worked out behind the scenes with city staff. And with the “flexibility” allowed by code, many of ARB’s recommendations can be altered. Treesavers and neighbors will have to watch the 2602 Broadway project and hold CCSM to their promises to save as many trees as possible.

Community meetings on housing projects turn snarky

The directors of Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood group sent a detailed memo to CCSM Executive Director Joan Ling listing numerous concerns about its pending public housing project at 2802 Pico Blvd. Ling responded to FOSP that, after hearing comments from neighbors at the first (June 3) public meeting on the project, she had directed its architects to redesign the project with fewer units, more height modulation, more step backs and setbacks and make other changes. Additional concerns would be addressed after the June 24 public meeting (last week).

In the meantime, I’ve heard things got rather testy at a neighborhood meeting on CCSM’s 2602 Broadway housing project. Comments were made about how unattractive some of CCSM’s projects were. A meeting attendee e-mailed me that the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights paid point person pushing affordable housing chided everyone.

“We’re lucky to be involved in discussions as it’s private property and they (CCSM) didn’t have to ask us at all,” he said. Condescending. But, not surprising.

This same SMRR organizer also showed up at Thursday’s meeting on 2802 Pico. Supposedly, he spoke out of turn, bullied and shouted over people. I wanted more information, so I called SMRR’s phone number — registered to SMRR treasurer, Roger Thornton. A male voice answered, “Who’s this?” When I said, “Bill Bauer, Daily Press,” he responded, “I don’t talk to the press” and hung up. Apparently, rudeness runs in the SMRR family as does stonewalling the public’s right to know what the city’s leading political organization is really up to.

LAUSD to Expo: Street level light rail is unsafe

Despite Santa Monica’s misdirected support of Expo Light Rail tracks down the middle of Colorado Avenue for some 14 blocks, the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District last week unanimously opposed the design of the same Expo Light Rail line because it would also pass near a number of West Los Angeles elementary schools at grade.

Citing concern for student safety, LAUSD board members said they couldn’t support Expo unless the safety hazards of operating trains at street level near schools were addressed and suggested employing legal options to remedy their concerns. The LAUSD’s resolution noted that Metro’s similar Blue Line, (Los Angeles to Long Beach) with its street-level crossings, has become the nation’s deadliest light-rail line.

No worries here. City politicians, bureaucrats, Santa Monica College and public and private school administrators, students and parents all eagerly endorsed Colorado’s at-grade alignment at recent public hearings — a route that runs just a couple hundred feet from Crossroads School’s campus.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com