Think Tarzan with an environmentalist streak.
Students on their way to class Wednesday afternoon might have noticed something besides the leaves shaking in the iconic Ficus benjamina outside Dublin’s near the corner of Pardall Road and Embarcadero del Norte. It was senior geography and global studies major Jonathan Morse and junior CCS painting major Ambri Zeboski, shivering in chilly winds, hoping their presence would prevent the tree’s destruction.
The Santa Barbara County Public Works Dept. removed two trees last weekend from the walkway in front of Tapioca Express and Rosarito’s on El Embarcadero because the trees’ roots had rendered a once level sidewalk into a jagged, multi-leveled surface impassable for bikes and skateboards and dangerous for pedestrians.
Morse said he hoped he and his friends’ demonstration could help prevent the removal of additional trees, a project he said Isla Vista residents are not well enough informed about.
“I don’t want to see this tree get cut down,” Morse said. “I don’t think people knew about the decisions that were being made for this tree.”
Zeboski agreed, saying she hoped sitting in the tree could help raise enough public support to keep the tree.
“I just wanted to show my support. I was walking by The Cantina and I saw the trees were cut down. I like the way the trees look and I think it looks bad when they take them out. This was a good way to get involved,” she said.
Like the people perched in its branches, the tree’s fate is up in the air. Udy Loza, a county engineer and tree specialist, said whether the tree remains will be decided as construction progresses.
“We’re going to monitor [the tree] as construction continues,” he said. “If too many roots are damaged in the construction, the tree will come down, but we’re going to try to salvage the tree. … If you cut out too many roots decay will set in, and the tree will just have to come down a few years from now.”
Loza said a more definite decision would probably be made in two to three weeks, during the second phase of the project.
County Engineer Construction Manager Eric Pearson said the sidewalk reconstruction is part of a countywide effort to repair roadside walkways before road surface overlays, which would occur within the next year. Although concrete work will not begin for about three weeks, Pearson said root pruning would likely begin in one to two weeks.
I.V. Bike Shop owner Dorothy Dent, who argued against the removal of the trees as a part of the project, however, is delighted with the interest from the community.
“The power of [gathering] is available if people want to take advantage of it,” she said.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Dent said of the tree-sitters. “I was a bit forlorn at not getting too much community support, but I really tried to get the word out.”
Dent said she felt removing the trees would detract from I.V.’s atmosphere.
“So far, we have succeeded in saving three of the trees. In time, I guess we’ll see if we really can save them,” she said. “I proposed saving some of the trees originally intended to be removed as part of the installation of the new sidewalks.”
Dent’s efforts have already resulted in the preservation of a tree near the corner of El Colegio and Embarcadero del Norte. Upon Dent’s appeal, the county agreed the tree was not interfering with the sidewalk reconstruction.
Meanwhile, Morse said he would like to try other ways to protect the tree beyond just sitting in it.
“We’re just trying to get people aware of what’s going on,” he said. “And I’m trying to find out what else I could do and how I could do it.”
Derek Johnson, I.V. Recreation and Parks District general manager, said the removal of the present trees would likely make room for more sidewalk-compatible ones. Johnson worked on a committee that recommended the Ginkgo biloba as a good replacement.
“The ficus trees that are there now are native to South America and they’re not the kind that could work well around sidewalk. Their roots are lifting up the sidewalk,” he said. “It’s human error. It’s not the trees’ fault.”
Morse said signature collection might be an avenue he and his associates decide to follow. However, the people committed to sitting in the tree are trying to keep up a round-the-clock vigil.
Anyone interested in joining in the tree-sitting can email Morse at . To obtain a copy of the permit for the sidewalk reconstruction project, contact county planner Heather Baker at 568-2882.