Students protesting a possible removal of the ficus tree outside Dublin’s in Isla Vista climbed down from their perches Wednesday morning when Santa Barbara County officials announced that the tree would remain intact.
Led by senior global studies and geography major Jonathan Morse, the protesters are waiting for a county representative to sign an agreement that the pruning of the tree and its roots will abide by the approved American National Standards for Tree Care operations and that an arborist will be present at all times to supervise the operation.
“If a representative does not sign the agreement we have no choice but to go back up in the tree,” Morse said.
Despite the ongoing protest, county officials claim the tree was never going to be destroyed.
“They never intended to cut the tree down. They just need to level out the sidewalk, following the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Derek Johnson, Isla Vista Recreation and Park District general manager, said.
The pruning of the ficus tree – a species notorious for its invasive roots – will facilitate the maintenance of the sidewalks. However, root pruning will have to be an ongoing maintenance procedure so the sidewalk remains flat as a safety consideration.
“There was never an intention to cut down the tree; this is all because of various citizens’ complaints to fix the sidewalk,” Gary Christiansen, maintenance manager for the Dept. of Public Works, said.
Udy Loza, project manager of trees and cement projects for the county, said Morse and other protesters were in the tree for no reason. Loza said, however, that he and Morse reached a happy medium. The primary objective of the project is not to remove trees, Loza said, but to create a safe passage for people and vehicles.
Christiansen said businesses were also concerned about the sidewalks, the flow line for runoff, and safe access.
“In Dublin’s, their sewer has been clogged, utilities have been affected,” Christiansen said. He also said that the federal government has mandated that Public Works provide access for everyone, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act calls for reconstruction of landscaping to provide easy and safe access to businesses.
Arborist Dougal House said root pruning has weakened trees in the past. In 1997, many trees were lost during a storm due to the weakness of their roots, a problem the ficus tree may encounter in the future. Christiansen said in that case, Public Works would be able to take appropriate steps so the tree is not a threat to the public.
Loza said after a few years, if decay was to set in and removal was necessary, the county would plant another tree in its place.