Could Uptown Whittier’s beloved trees get a lifeline? Some politicians are considering it – Whittier Daily News

Could Uptown Whittier’s beloved trees get a lifeline? Some politicians are considering it – Whittier Daily News
Could Uptown Whittier’s beloved trees get a lifeline? Some politicians are considering it – Whittier Daily News

Whittier’s Greenleaf Promenade Project calls for the removal of 108 trees along Greenleaf Avenue and their replacement with 118 trees. The project stretches from Wardman Street to Hadley Street. Many of the trees are seen along Greenleaf Avenue on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Opponents of a plan to cut down more than 100 ficus trees in Uptown Whittier urged City Council members on Tuesday, July 9, to reconsider their decision, and it appears they may be finding some support.

Councilman Fernando Dutra and Councilwoman Mary Ann Pacheco said in a phone interview Wednesday and publicly Tuesday, respectively, that they might be willing to reconsider the vote.

The other two council members – Octavio Hernandez and Cathy Warner, who joined Dutra on June 18 in supporting the $20 million project that spans three blocks of Greenleaf Avenue – from Hadley Street to Wardman Street – showed no willingness to change their minds.

The plan passed in June by a vote of 3 to 1. Councilwoman Mary Ann Pacheco was the lone no vote and Mayor Joe Vinatieri abstained because he and his wife own a restaurant in Greenleaf.

The plan calls for the removal and replacement of 108 trees, including 83 ficus trees dating to the 1960s, because their roots could damage sidewalks and underground infrastructure, city experts said.

“I am always willing to listen to any speaker and their opinions,” Warner said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

“Since the matter is already before us, I will not discuss it outside of a lawfully convened council meeting,” she said.

Conny McCormack, one of the leaders of the effort to save the ficus trees who put forward what she called a compromise plan, said Wednesday that she and others, including the Whittier Conservancy, would not give up.

“It’s amazing how little consideration they have for the public and their voters,” McCormack said. “It’s dismissive.”

McCormack, who is now retired but served as Los Angeles County registrar from 1996 to 2008, asked council members to look at an earlier plan that called for a pedestrian promenade closed to traffic that could save more than 70 trees.

“Is it possible to get Greenleaf Promenade back on track with the overwhelming support of residents and businesses?” she said during Tuesday’s meeting. “The answer is yes.”

That plan included planting new trees at intersections and crosswalks, she said. New pavement to accommodate the existing tree trunks is planned, McCormack added.

Instead, the city council voted for a promenade plan that allows vehicles and requires the removal of all ficus trees.

Dutra supported the plan to close Greenleaf to car traffic but keep some trees and said he would be willing to reconsider the plan.

“I will need the support of other council members to look at this,” he said. “We need to see if there is interest in bringing it back for review. I am happy to consider all aspects.”

Before he takes any action, he must ensure that the technical design of the plan supports the replacement of the infrastructure, Dutra said.

Almost all speakers – 17 in total and none in the opposition – called on the Council to reconsider the June vote.

“I am here as part of a broad community coalition that fully supports reconsidering the boardwalk project,” said Helen Rahder, executive director of the Whittier Conservancy, Tuesday evening.

“The city had three options, two of which included at least half of the trees without giving up streets or sidewalks,” Rahder said, referring to plans reviewed in June 2022.

You can have it all,” she said. “I and the Conservancy respectfully ask that you put this item on the next agenda.”

But the three council members did not seem to change their minds, even though they all said they would listen.

“We live in a democracy,” Martinez said in a personal interview after the meeting.

“People are entitled to their passionate views,” he said. “I take their views seriously. I prefer to remain unbiased and know all the facts.”

Only Pacheco demanded at the meeting that the point be referred back to the Council.

“I hope that out of respect for the people who have come tonight, we will at least consider not just listening to their comments but having a discussion on the podium about the things they have raised,” she said.

“They were passionate and respectful,” Pacheco said. “They offered compromises that they thought were right. I really appreciate the spirit of collaboration.”

David Dickerson, chair of the Whittier Conservancy’s Urban Forest Committee, told the council that ficus trees absorb more greenhouse gases than any other tree in the world.

“They release five times more oxygen than other trees of this species,” Dickerson said. “They are among the top five trees in the urban forest, saving $10.2 billion in air conditioning costs.”

Mike Sprague is a freelance writer and columnist. You can reach him at [email protected].

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