A tree removal map.
Seven trees will be removed from the campus.

In a confluence of topics that make Santa Monicans angry on the internet, tree removal has become part of the process to repair a water-damaged local school.

Seven trees will be cut down on the John Muir Elementary and Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) campus to facilitate repair of mold and water damage that has emptied the location of students.

The campus, which previously served about 550 students in Ocean Park, was closed at the end of the 2021-22 school year following the release of a report on May 17, 2021 that revealed the campus was in need of extensive repair due to years of unresolved water damage. While closed, the District is pursuing structural upgrades as part of the repair project and students are not expected to return to campus until 2025 and students have been dispersed to other schools during the work.

Last week, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) sent a letter to the nearby community stating the work would now extend beyond the classrooms and into the campus greenery.

“There are several trees on the campus that are impacting the underground infrastructure and exterior patios. The branches and leaf debris have caused gutters and waterways to become clogged, increasing the issues,” said the letter. “To restore the structural integrity of our campus infrastructure, the SMMUSD has decided to remove seven trees. SMMUSD is committed to preserving the environmental balance of our campus and will be planting replacements for each tree removed following our urban forest commitment to plant two trees for every tree removed.”

The District said it is committed to the urban forest and the benefits students derive from being near nature but they also have to balance the need to keep buildings operational. According to the letter, the District will also be working with a consultant to protect nesting birds and they will work with a landscape architect to select suitable replacements.

“The District is striving to maintain the Muir/SMASH campus as a beautiful and functional environment,” said the letter. “The decision to remove the trees is critical for the long-term preservation and operational efficiency of our campus.”

Three of the trees in question are along 5th Street, toward the Ocean Park Blvd. intersection and near the play area. Two trees are in the central walkway of the site with one serving as the centerpiece of a small courtyard. The other two are part of the interior walkway near Buildings A and C.

Initial estimates on cost for the entire repair project were about $20 million but that total increased to about $26 million with the inclusion of the additional structural upgrades.


Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...