A row of tightly trimmed ficus trees along a stretch of sidewalk outside Universal Studios has become a hot spot in the face-off between Hollywood studios and striking screenwriters and actors.
Some members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Writers Guild of America unions — along with sympathetic local politicians — think the studio purposely pruned the trees in an effort to remove a source of shade for workers picketing under the hot Southern California sun. They gathered regardless on Wednesday, with one woman wearing a green wreath on her head and holding a sign depicting a full, untrimmed tree under the words “Never Forget.”
“Universal, get your ducks in order. We don’t want to see any more shady nonsense because the people are watching,” said Konstantine Anthony, a SAG-AFTRA member and the Democratic mayor of nearby Burbank.
Burbank’s city limits don’t include the stretch of Barham Boulevard where the trees were trimmed, which is part of Los Angeles. Anthony said he had consulted with Los Angeles political leaders about the trimming.
“We can’t find any work orders done for this particular tree trimming, which is problematic because in Southern California we have a lot of laws governing trees,” he said. “Normally, you don’t trim until October, and in fact, the exact same style and type of tree about 200 feet this way are not trimmed. But those aren’t providing shade to the picketers, are they?”
Los Angeles City Council member Nithya Raman, whose district includes Universal City, said in a statement that no permits had been issued for tree trimming at the site. City Controller Kenneth Mejia said his office was investigating the issue.
An NBCUniversal spokesperson said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that it knew the trimming had “created unintended challenges for demonstrators, that was not our intention.” The studio said it was working to provide some shade coverage for picketers.