As of February 14, about half of the trees set to be removed had been felled, Deputy City Manager Keith Sterling told the Courier.
City council is scheduled to discuss the moves at a meeting on February 21 in response to public outcry. However, with three to four trees being removed every day, six days a week, the majority of trees will likely be gone by then, Sterling confirmed.
From the city’s point of view, the demolitions are necessary to prevent trip hazards and to protect the infrastructure.
“Robertson Boulevard is one of the city’s most important commercial corridors, with a large number of thriving businesses and relatively high foot traffic,” Sterling told the Courier. “The existing sidewalk needs frequent repairs due to the trees that are next to the sidewalk. In addition, we have received several trip and fall claims in recent years.”
If the city council doesn’t stop the moves, Klenk said she is prepared to take legal action and is currently researching recourse with local attorney Alex Asadi, who also has an office on Robertson Boulevard.
Klenk is very concerned about the environmental impact of removing the old trees.
“I don’t have to be an environmentalist to know that it’s not healthy to cut down 87 trees in a few weeks,” Klenk told the Kurier. “The release of CO2 isn’t good and the poor trees haven’t done anything, nor have the innocent birds and bees that live in them.”
The actual environmental impact of removing the trees is unknown. The city chose not to complete an environmental impact report for the $227,000 project because the planning department deemed it exempt from California’s Environmental Quality Act.
The city plans to replant the street with weeping myrtles and Mexican fan palms.
Diane Nicole, horticulturist and director of the Los Angeles Audubon Society, told the Courier this is not an ecologically viable replacement for ficus trees.
“Crepe myrtle is a small ornamental tree that doesn’t provide much shade and provides few ecosystem services,” she said, adding that they also have shorter lifespans than ficus trees. “Then they mix them with Mexican fan palms, which also don’t provide much shade.”
In addition, the city will install an irrigation system to water the new trees while the native ficus trees have been self-sufficient.
Nicole is also concerned about how the loss of shade from mature ficus trees — the oldest of which are about 60 years old — will lead to warmer temperatures on Robertson Boulevard.
“The city hasn’t realized that we are in an extinction and climate crisis, and one of the consequences of that is that it’s getting hotter,” she said. “Given that reality, cutting down an entire street of their canopy is reckless.”
The loss of shadow already has unintended consequences.
Michele Randall, the co-owner of family business Art One Gallery, said she can no longer display most of the artworks in her window because the sun is damaging them. In addition, the temperature in the store is already noticeably warmer.
“We reach almost all of our local customers through our window display,” she told the Courier. “It’s also an unfair burden on our business that we’ll be spending more money on cooling costs.”
Shady trees have a strong cooling effect. A study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that 40% canopy coverage on a sidewalk can lower temperatures on that block by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit on a hot day.
Randall said her family was considering installing blinds or UV protection on the window, but noted that neither of those solutions would allow passers-by to view window art.
“We really understand that these trees can be harmful,” she said. “However, when they make such a dramatic difference in the make-up of a street community, it should have been treated with a little more sensitivity.
“Emotionally, we’re really heartbroken about this,” she added.
However, some business owners are happy to be rid of the troublesome roots of the ficus tree. Debra Carter, a showroom manager for Carter Hardware on Robertson Boulevard, has dealt with at least four cases of flooding resulting from tree roots entering her pipes. She recently spent $15,000 repairing damage. She also said that the ficus tree that used to stand in front of her shop was infested with ants, mosquitoes and rats.
“We’re tree lovers in general,” Carter told the Courier. “But that particular tree, I’m not sad at all that it’s gone. It messed up my business and my mind.”
According to Sterling, business owners on Robertson were notified of the proposed project in July 2022 and all businesses within 500 feet of the project received additional notification in January. Still, the moves came as a surprise to some, including Ansari, who was shocked to see trees fall in front of his Robertson Boulevard law office. Ansari said he is currently consulting with environmental attorney Jamie Hall, who recently won a court motion to stop the planned removal of some 13,000 trees in the city of LA for sidewalk repairs. Ansari is considering filing an injunction against the city to try to stop the moves.
“When we come here to the office, it’s so sad,” he said. “I miss walking with all those green trees and the oxygen and everything else they produced. Now they’re just gone.”