With everything going on in the world today it is so easy to overlook the things going on in our very own backyard at times. Sure, international politics affects us all on a big scale. But it is the events occurring directly around us that make a sudden difference. Such an awakening occurred to me last Tuesday in the form of the protesters camping out in the ficus tree on the corner of Pardall and Embarcadero del Norte to keep said tree from being cut down by the county.

I don’t consider myself a tree-hugger. However, as a resident of what I consider the most beautiful place on earth, it can be said that the county is going a bit too far to “beautify” an already beautiful place.

When I first moved to Isla Vista in 1987 there were ficus trees lining the sidewalks along the Embarcadero business loop, providing shelter from the sun for patrons enjoying the local eateries. The trees added to the small-town atmosphere as well. And then it started. It was happening slowly at first, but then progressed to a noticeable rate. The trees started to disappear.

At first it was my belief that they were diseased and dying. But from my last recollection the trees were in good health. I could see the point on the subject of roots uplifting the sidewalks, but this isn’t a problem that simple, sturdy root-guards can’t fix. Then the artists’ conceptual drawings of what the “ideal” Isla Vista is supposed to look like appeared and that’s when it dawned on me.

It had nothing to do with dying trees or anything remotely close to that. It was all about conceptual aesthetics and therein lies a deeper issue than the cutting of the trees in town.

This is the county’s way of clearing the path to making the Isla Vista Redevelopment Plan more believable to those who don’t remember the trees that once stood. The only hurdle in the way is people who do remember the trees and the protesters camping out in protest.

The last thing this community needs is to become another freak show like Westwood Village, full of megastores and chain restaurants. We don’t need it. But it is easy to impose growth policies on an area in which you don’t reside. Such is the case of the county planning folks and the architects who’ve drawn up the plans to “improve” our community.

Instead of wasting the redevelopment money on recent questionable endeavors, use it to widen the existing streets, designate some of them one way, put in some much-needed sidewalks, create angled parking to make more space, and make room for bikepaths. The funds, methods and ability are there, they just have to be applied. But instead they impose plans to get rid of this town’s unique ambiance.

We’ve been told that our voices will be heard, but what does it matter if the county has the final say-so? The only way the voices of Isla Vista residents get heard is when people get irate enough to confront the county on their potential blunder.

And so the protesters are encamped in the ficus tree in a standoff with the county. I can do without the drum circles, Birkenstocks, patchouli oil and such. But these are exponentially better than the county’s plans of shoving their decisions down our throats.

As stated earlier, I’m far from a tree-hugger. But the beauty of the trees and the protest to keep them is what gives this series of events my approval. The right to petition the government is what many have fought for in many a war and it is a right to not be taken for granted.

What doesn’t get my approval is the way the county has been sneaking this eradication among us in order to slide in a Westwood scenario under our noses.

Everybody concerned has their specific reasons as to why these trees should stand. Some are simply in it for the trees. My personal reasons are the uniqueness of our community and sending a message to the county that enough is enough. Besides, I think the trees look cool anyway. Don’t be surprised if you see me camped out for a night as well telling the county to shove it.

-Henry Sarria is a longtime Isla Vista resident