Project Manager of Community Corporation of Santa Monica Monica Mejia (left) digs up a plant with Cosmo Bya from Tree For All at the abandoned apartment complex on 26th Street and Broadway on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

BROADWAY — There’s a small yet lush forest living vibrantly on the shielded lot of a defunct nursing home, filled with more than a dozen different types of trees, shrubs and flowers that carry exotic names like pittosporum, elephant yucca and podocarpus.

In what would otherwise be the fate of destruction in the face of a new construction project, these different species of vegetation will be spared the wood chipper thanks to a sympathetic developer and a group of tree-loving activists who made a name for themselves fighting for a group of ficuses over in Downtown Santa Monica.

An offshoot of the Santa Monica Treesavers, the Tree-for-All initiative seeks to rescue mature plants that conflict with building plans, working with developers to either donate the trees for relocation or make accommodating changes to the blueprint that would save them.

The first cause came at the intersection of Broadway and 26th Street where Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) is proposing to build 36 affordable housing rental units for very low-income families through a cluster of six buildings that will sit on top of a parking garage. An old nursing home previously occupied the facility until it went out of commission about two years ago.

A group of concerned neighbors alerted the Treesavers about the project and the wealth of shrubs and trees that sit on the property. Those issues were later raised by some members of the Treesavers during a community meeting with the affordable housing developer in June.

In the followup meeting just a few weeks later, the changes were evident — the garage, which was affecting most of the trees, had been shrunk and moved to allow many to remain.

“I was shocked to go back to the second meeting to find out how much they had thought about it,” Cosmo Bua, who serves on the Treesavers steering committee, said. “A lot of times you go to community meetings and the meetings are just held … to say they had a community meeting.”

Kevin Daly, principal of Daly Genik Architecture, said that he redesigned the garage to keep the landscape perimeter on 26th Street. The project was also initially designed to surround and highlight a pittosporum, which is one of the largest ones on the property.

The meeting was followed with discussions between the Treesavers and Community Corporation of Santa Monica about donating the plants, reaching out to interested arborists and landscapers who would be responsible for paying the relocation fee, which could cost thousands of dollars depending on the number and size.

As a result, some interest by landscapers have subsided. Treesavers are also looking at fundraising opportunities to help cover the cost.

“What we’re really needing is people who are willing to pay the cost of moving a mature tree to their property,” Bua said.

Developers have increasingly made a concerted effort to preserve or relocate trees on their property, said Walt Warriner, the community forester.

The most recent example would be Nordstrom, which paid about $20,000 to move more than a dozen paperbark and coral trees that sat in planters on the perimeter of its building at Santa Monica Place. The department store, which was previously occupied by Robinsons-May, is undergoing renovation. The trees moved to Virginia Avenue Park and Olympic Boulevard.

“I think people are going to be more encouraged doing this because they are going to see the success and see exactly how it’s done,” Warriner said.

Construction for CCSM’s latest development will begin toward the end of next year with a completion date of early 2012. The project is estimated to cost $15-$20 million, including land, construction and soft costs.

“This is why we have community design meetings,” Joan Ling, the executive director of CCSM, said about the partnership with Treesavers. “They had a suggestion and we looked at it and were able to accommodate them and we’re more than happy to do it.”

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