Junipers the latest target of misguided City Hall

To our City Council and City Manager Rod Gould,

[The other] night I attended a meeting with city staff and Wilmont members regarding the imminent destruction of the juniper trees at the southern end of Reed Park. I wrote to you all last week, as did a few other Treesavers, asking for your help to save these mature, beneficial, public, evergreen trees. I do hope the council members who responded that you would be looking in to it will take some immediate action to at least delay this unnecessary violence.

In this meeting I learned that all the reasoning to remove these healthy trees boiled down as follows:

1. We have had a public process. Participants in surveys and two public meetings about four years back had named safety as a main concern in using the park. This was due to their perceptions of the homeless people who spend time and store belongings under the junipers.

2. Our Santa Monica Police Department wants to be able to have one unobstructed sight line to be able to see, at a glance from a distance, all the way down the tennis court chain link fence, whether or not any homeless are there. 

3. Some tennis players want to be less visible from Wilshire Boulevard.

As far as safety, the redesign of the area between the junipers and Wilshire, which will remove the lawn and fill the entire area with various plants and a bioswale, will accomplish making it too uncomfortable for the homeless, or anyone else, to use the area for anything but viewing from the outside. (Will the fact that some residents apparently find junipers “big, dark and scary” cause the city to next hack down those living on either side of the entrance to City Hall?) Also, one would think that a person having been killed on those tennis courts a couple decades back would argue more for keeping the partial screening provided by the junipers rather than totally eliminating any visibility by covering the fence with vines. Lighting could be improved.

I believe it is accurate to state that some staff at this meeting seemed to believe that, given all the changes being made to the ground around the junipers, this tree removal is more about a feeling of unease some residents have around the homeless, and a desire for a different design. As everyone knows, Reed Park will continue to house the homeless after these trees have been destroyed. 

Further, without removing the eucalyptus trees as well (not yet suggested, but wait), the police will still not have an entirely clear sight line down Wilshire. They will need to actually patrol regardless. Currently the ground in which these junipers stand is elevated from about 2 feet to 6 feet or more above street level. They are also branchless — just sticks a few inches wide — from their bases to another 2 to 6 feet up, in other words, to above eye level. Unless these dastardly homeless have taken to actually living up in the trees, there is going to be very little danger of their being significant nuisances amongst the junipers. 

The words “sustainable” and “palette” (so in vogue and so often thrown around by designers as an excuse to remove trees they don’t want to keep within the rarefied domains of their pristine re-designs), do not even apply in this situation. Junipers are very drought tolerant. Keeping these mature evergreens is much more sustainable than spending water and other resources to replace them with baby vines in need of care.

I disagree that removal of these trees was always understood to be a part of the redesign. One Treesaver member who attended the first public meeting about the concerns over Reed Park is certain she was told that no trees would be removed. Documents I’ve seen from the time of the public process do not refer to the destruction of the junipers, but only “changing out the turf along Wilshire Boulevard and Seventh Street to sustainable, drought-tolerant plant species.”

Staff has agreed to see if any of the junipers can be saved. Yet despite the claim that these healthy trees are not being removed primarily on design whims, it is not with safety experts they will be conferring. Rather, we were told, they will be consulting the designers. Also, public meetings should be one venue in which our forestry department educates the public about the benefits of trees — not colludes in unnecessarily destroying them on whims, and exaggerated fears. 

Please put a stop to this senseless slaughter. Save all of these trees. Santa Monica must require actual necessity before destroying the urban forest. This is a very serious matter. It is immoral to hack up living things just because you feel like it.

Cosmo Bua is a member of Santa Monica Treesavers, a group of concerned citizens who are opposed to the removal of healthy trees.

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