Removing Whittier’s trees — Who benefits?
Trees in jeopardy in Uptown Whittier, Calif. | Photo via Save Our Trees

WHITTIER, Calif.—“Save Our Trees!” That’s the call issued by citizens in this California town at a protest on June 18. They’ve been voicing dissent for several months over the decision by the local city council to finalize development plans for the Greenleaf Promenade, a city renovation project. Among their top concerns is the removal of tree coverage and its links to the city’s history, accessibility to shade, and climate.

The project spans several blocks in Uptown Whittier, along well-known roads including Greenleaf Avenue and Hadley Street, which receive a significant amount of pedestrian traffic that contributes to economic stimulation. It would include the removal of its iconic canopy of ficus trees which provide beautiful scenery with cool shade for people traversing the city or stopping to enjoy its sights and shops. Recently, the project’s budget increased from $4 million to $20 million.

At a special meeting on April 30, Whittier City Council convened to study some of the alleged benefits of the project, specifically the removal of the trees and the environmental impact, which has proven to be a contentious issue between everyday citizens versus businesspeople and their tight-knit financial associations. Many in Whittier feel that the decision to move forward does not represent the popular will of the city.

During the meeting, dozens of citizens, business owners, and landlords expressed their opinions to the council. Some highlighted that pedestrians would have a much hotter experience in Uptown due to the lack of shade and the fact that the trees intended to replace the current urban forest will never reach the size and height of their predecessors, in tandem with the fact that they would lack the current level of carbon sequestration until they are fully grown. Others stated that the trees’ beauty contributed to the city’s historical significance and character.

Troubled business owners expressed that the roots of the trees were causing piping issues, increasing plumbing costs for their establishments and that citizens were not taking the concerns of the city’s propertied class seriously enough.

“I hope to see some of you at our businesses,” one boutique owner said to the crowd. “Because I have been here for ten years, and I haven’t seen any of you before.”

The nature of the project has some questioning the legitimacy of the development deal between the city council members and the contractors. “We all get the feeling that the fix is in,” a former council member in attendance commented, “you cannot hide that from us.”

Magdalena Barragnon Moe, a former Whittier City Council District 1 candidate and president of the Whittier Sunrise Rotary, warned, “Our mayor, who owns a business on Greenleaf named Auntie’s, will benefit the most from this Promenade idea that they voted on with no transparency to the community. We are being bought out to investors.”

The controversy is exactly what sparked the creation of the grassroots “Save Our Trees” initiative by concerned citizens to protest the council’s decision and preserve the benefits the trees give to the community of Whittier.

See the latest updates here.

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Elias Moya
Elias Moya

Elias Moya serves as Chair of the Southeast Los Angeles Club, CPUSA. When he isn't working, he enjoys reading philosophical and political texts. He enjoys hobbies where you can experiment, such as cooking, chess, and video games. He is also a father to two cats named "Soot" and "Vordt, of the Boreal Valley."