The Community Feud Over Beverly Hills' Trees

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Adobe Stock; Katzenberg: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

What’s going on with the trees in Beverly Hills?

That’s what a lot of 90210 insiders have been asking for months after the Beverly Hills City Council voted in February to move forward with the removal of close to 1,200 trees at a cost of $2.1 million, citing fire safety in the wildfire-prone area. 

Phase 1 was due to begin March 20 in the Trousdale Estates area, but the removal process is taking a breather amid the pandemic while, at the same time, opposition is mounting. A rep for the city of Beverly Hills tells THR that the removal plan is in “pause mode right now” and no trees are currently being removed. When the work began — “as we often find,” the rep added — some residents indicated they were not aware of the plans, but due to the pandemic, in-person outreach was not possible. “So we are resetting,” with plans to hire a consultant to develop a wildfire assessment report.

Once that is done, community meetings will be scheduled for the fall, and if approved, further tree trimming would begin later in the year. But local leaders should expect resistance. THR has learned that dissenters of the removal include Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tina Sinatra, Ed and Danna Ruscha, filmmaker Harold Becker, Clarence Avant, Minecraft inventor Markus Persson, and producer Randy Simon. Calls to other residents known to support saving the trees were not returned.

Grassroots efforts are underway to fight the removal, and THR obtained a letter signed by Nickie Miner, president of the Benedict Canyon Association, who writes that “healthy ‘green’ trees we now know act as a firewall for structures in case of wildfires. The owl population along with other wildlife habitat in our trees and hills are necessary to maintain ecological balance. Especially in this period of national emergency, while our community, the nation and the world is under siege by a virus that attacks the lungs, we want to ensure there is no impression that the City of Beverly Hills is attacking our oxygen producing trees.”

The BCA did not reply to THR’s request for comment.

A rep for the Trousdale Estates Homeowners Association did respond to THR, signaling a support for fire safety. "Once again, it is fire season and as always, our primary concern is the safety of our neighborhood."

One source indicated that real estate agents have joined the fray as the removal of some trees could create better views and thus boost property values in the area. THR reached out to at least six high-profile real estate agents for their take on the tree situation, but the only one who'd responded as of press time was Ben Bacal, founder of Revel Real Estate. He says “it’s a mixed bag. There are a lot of residents who enjoy the green and the environment. They like living in that serenity [provided by the trees] as opposed to the concrete jungle,” he explains. But for those who might want better views with a lower fire risk to increase property values, “This could be a favorable endeavor. With any change, there is always going to be discord and pros and cons.” 

June 26, 2020, 7:02 p.m.: Updated to include additional supporters of saving the trees. 

A version of this story first appeared in the June 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.