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NBCUniversal Trimmed Ficus Trees Providing Shade for Striking Entertainment Workers Without Securing Permit

"Quick shoutout to the good people at @UniversalPics for trimming the trees that gave our picket line shade right before a 90+ degree week,” Chris Stephens wrote in a now-viral tweet. This bold move is seemingly the latest strategic move by the studios to discourage Hollywood's actors and writers from picketing.

10:46 AM PDT on July 19, 2023

Via Google Maps

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Department of Public Works confirmed with L.A. TACO that NBCUniversal did not secure a permit to trim a row of ficus trees outside of Universal Studios that striking entertainment workers say were cut back to intentionally limit the amount of shade on their picket line.

“Quick shoutout to the good people at @UniversalPics for trimming the trees that gave our picket line shade right before a 90+ degree week,” Chris Stephens wrote in a now-viral tweet.

"The City of Los Angeles Urban Forestry Division (UFD), which is part of the Bureau of Street Services (StreetsLA) and oversees permits for tree trimming in the City, did not issue any tree trimming permits for 3801 Barham Blvd," the Department of Public Works said in a statement to L.A. TACO. 

"StreetsLA will issue a Notice to Comply to the property owner at 3801 Barham Blvd. This is standard practice for when work occurs in the public right-of-way without permission. Urban Forestry said they will work with other departments under the Bureau of Street Services "to confirm if this case warrants the issuance of an administrative citation or an administrative hearing."

In a statement to Deadline, a spokesperson for NBCUniversal said, "We understand that the safety tree trimming of the Ficus trees we did on Barham Blvd. has created unintended challenges for demonstrators. That was not our intention. In partnership with licensed arborists, we have pruned these trees annually at this time of year to ensure that the canopies are light ahead of the high wind season. We support the WGA and SAG’s right to demonstrate and are working to provide some shade coverage. We continue openly communicating with the labor leaders on-site to work together during this time.”

Katherine McNenny, a citizen forester and advocate for a more robust and healthier urban forest in Los Angeles, tells L.A. TACO, “You never want to trim trees in the hot summer months. You always want to trim trees when it’s cooler.” The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) generally recommends that most trees be trimmed during the dormant season.

“I saw the photos. Not only were the trees trimmed in the wrong time of year…but also the trees were ‘topped,’” McNenny said, referring to the process of cutting the tallest limbs of a tree down to reduce its size. The American National Standard Institute's (ANSI) pruning standards define topping as an “unacceptable pruning practice for trees.”

The city formally adopted and enforces ISA and ANSI pruning guidelines and standards, according to the Los Angeles Urban Forestry Division.

Writers and actors say that the tree trimming comes after NBCUniversal initiated a sidewalk construction project to similarly deter striking workers from gathering outside their property.

Days after The Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike in early May, “NBCUniversal began a construction project on Lankershim Boulevard,” according to an online petition. The WGA says the project “has eliminated access to entire sidewalks and gates where picketing was occurring."

"More than a month has passed, and despite having received requests to set up 'K-Rail' barriers from LAPD’s Labor Relations Unit, members of the Los Angeles City Council, including Paul Krekorian, and the Writers Guild of America, and despite already receiving approval from the County of Los Angeles to set up “K-rail” barriers, NBCUniversal still has not set up a pedestrian lane," the group wrote in their petition. "This delay is unacceptable."

The Washington Post reported that both the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) and the WGA “filed unlawful labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against NBCUniversal regarding unsafe conditions at picketing sites.”

"They can cut down all the trees. They can rip up all the sidewalks. We’ll find a way to be out here," Deric A. Hughes, a co-executive producer on Quantum Leap, told Deadline.

On Tuesday evening, elected officials spoke out against the tree trimming and promised to look into the matter.

“We stand firmly in support of the workers and their right to strike and do not believe any action should be taken to impede that right,” Councilmember Nithya Raman tweeted.

Los Angeles City Controller Kenneth Mejia's office tweeted that his office is “investigating” the tree trimming. "Trees can be trimmed by a StreetsLA Urban Forestry Division (UFD) crew as part of its trim cycle or as part of a Council District’s trimming allotment. A business can also obtain a permit to trim a tree. StreetsLA issues permits to businesses & conducts follow-up inspections."

This morning Mejia’s office confirmed that the city hasn’t issued a tree trimming permit for the location in the last three years. 

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