Whittier residents outraged over plan to remove ficus trees in historic district

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Residents are fighting back after city officials voted to remove the large ficus trees lining the streets of Uptown Whittier.

The mature ficus trees were planted in the 1960s and provide a canopy of shade that some say defines the look and feel of the uptown district.

The historic Greenleaf Avenue is a walkable stretch and is home to a variety of small shops and local restaurants.

However, in December 2023, city officials voted to approve a $20 million redesign project that would revitalize a three-block stretch of the commercial district between Wardman Street and Hadley Street.

The renovation plan for “Greenleaf Promenade” calls for the removal of the large ficus trees to be replaced with much smaller trees.

The move has prompted outrage from some residents who believe the trees’ removal will erase the district’s innate charm and appeal.

“It’s devastating and it’s unnecessary,” said Conny McCormack, a Whittier resident.

McCormack and thousands of residents are fighting the decision and have signed a petition asking city leaders to save the trees. Many have appeared at city hearings to air their grievances. 

“What we’ve been telling the council is, it’s not mutually exclusive to renovate Uptown,” McCormack explained. “We want that and to keep some of the trees in the canopy. That’s really important to the citizens.”

However, the city said the non-native trees are invasive and destroying the infrastructure. As the large roots continue growing outward over the years, it has created issues such as uprooting sidewalks and clogging sewer lines which are affecting local businesses.

“If we’re going to do any improvements up here at all, we have to do something about the tree roots, which means we have to do something about the trees,” explained Cathy Warner, Whittier Mayor Pro Tem.

Warner said the plan for Greenleaf Promenade has been in motion since 2008, but was stalled during the pandemic. With the project’s approval now, the city would replace all the ficus trees with a much smaller, noninvasive species. 

“We’re going to not only replace tree for tree, but we’re [planting] an even higher number and we’re using bigger boxes and there’s additional landscaping,” Warner said.

The revitalization plan aims to make the district more updated, pedestrian-friendly and accessible to visitors while resolving underlying issues caused by the ficus trees.

The plan would also provide more room for restaurants to offer al fresco dining along the promenade, which some proprietors are happy about.

Ciro Brito, owner of La Sexy Michelada, said Uptown is in need of upgrading and while a year-long construction project could temporarily affect business, the final product will be beneficial in the long run.

“Having the patio outside and bringing more people in will definitely help our business,” Brio said.

Some business owners also believe the area needs major upgrading as the district hasn’t seen a major renovation since the early ‘80s.

Ultimately, residents and tree advocates are hoping city councilmembers will compromise and agree to retain some of the ficus trees instead of clearing them out completely. 

“Keep the canopy, take some out, let the others one grow up,” Warner said. “Otherwise, what a contrast between this block we’re standing on and the next three. The rest of the town has these beautiful tall trees and then this new area looks like Orange County. It’s going to look so incongruous. It’s not going to match Whittier.”

Amid fervent pushback, the city plans to address the issue in a June 18 “study session” which will examine the promenade plans for the trees. 

More information on the plans for Greenleaf Promenade can be found here.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.