The palm trees at the northwest corner of Abbot Kinney and Venice boulevard stood tall Thursday as city officials, local activists and neighbors celebrated the year-long negotiations to save them from being cut down.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl showed his appreciation for the trees before the ceremonies started when he gave several of the Washington fan palms giant bear hugs. Rosendahl was joined at the event by Ron Nichols, the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, along with Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks and Andy Lipkis of TreePeople, a group that works for tree conservation citywide.
Jim Murez, a longtime Venice community activist who also runs the weekly Venice Farmers' Market, spearheaded the effort to keep the palms in place and also participated in the event. Murez in the 1990s planted more than 1,000 trees in Venice and nurtured them for years. He more recently turned his attention to the palms on Abbot Kinney and Venice.
The trees were slated to be cut down because they were interfering with overhead power lines, but Murez, who also is a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council's Land Use and Planning Committee, was able to work with the DWP and Rosendahls' office to come up with an alternative plan to move the wires.
Nichols said the trees were growing underneath their overhead lines and creating a liability issue.
"We needed to find out how to resolve this without cutting down these beautiful trees that are a gateway to Venice," Nichols said.
The department found that some of the power poles were deteriorating and with the help of Murez and Rosendahl's office found a way to relocate some of the trees and modified the configuration of the power poles.
Lipkis, the founder and president of TreePeople, noted the celebration was taking place on the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, which marks the beginning of a "New Year for Trees." He said that Jewish rabbis 4,000 years ago understood the importance of trees and made annual appreciation of them part of their religion.
Rosendahl said that if it wasn't for Murez's leadership, the trees wouldn't be standing there today.
Murez, wearing an orange hard-hat with a TreePeople sticker on it, thanked his neighbors for their help, along with Rosendahl and the "good people of the DWP."
"We need to continue to protect the rest of the trees on Venice Boulevard," Murez said, citing several trees on the south side of the street that have been pruned without permits. The trees by the billboards near Lincoln Boulevard also have had their tops chopped off several times recently, he said.
Nichols said after a ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony that he considered the trees a "signature statement" of Venice and saving them was a good example of how the largest municipal utility in the nation can work down at the local level to solve issues.
Nichols said the key to saving the trees was the fact that they had permits and were not planted illegally, plus the pole deterioration found by his crews.
Murez also was key.
"Jim was, number one, the guy who when he learned that we had concerns about it, he was on it," Nichols said. "He's pretty tireless in his interests in saving the trees. He was instrumental in getting these trees planted originally and spent many, many hours in meetings with our staff and the councilman's office."