Los Angeles investigating after trees used for shade by SAG-AFTRA strikers were trimmed by NBCUniversal

The Los Angeles City Controller’s office is investigating after several trees near Universal Studios property were trimmed — trees that were providing shade and relief from the blistering heat for striking members of the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA.

The city controller, Kenneth Mejia, announced the office’s investigation Tuesday on Twitter, sharing before and after photos of the trees — the before showing fuller trees with leaves and the after showing the trees’ barren limbs.

“Our Office is investigating the tree trimming that occurred outside Universal Studios where workers, writers, and actors are exercising their right to picket,” Mejia wrote. “The trimmed trees are LA City managed street trees.”

Members of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents thousands of Hollywood actors, are on strike after the unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents television studios and streaming services — including Paramount Pictures, which, along with CBS News is a part of Paramount Global — could not agree on new contracts. 

Residual pay and the use of artificial intelligence were key issues for the unions.

In a statement to CBS News, NBC Universal said it did not prune the trees to harm or create obstacles for picketers, and said that it cuts the trees near its property annually. Mejia said the trees should only be trimmed once every five years.

“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,” NBCUniversal said. “In partnership with licensed arborists, we have pruned these trees annually at this time of year…We support the WGA and SAG’s right to demonstrate, and are working to provide some shade coverage.”

The trees in question fall under the jurisdiction of the city and are maintained by StreetsLA, which can issue trimming permits to businesses. 

Mejia tweeted Wednesday that no trimming permits had been issued for the last three years, including the most recent trimming this week. 

Los Angeles City Councilmember Nithya Raman said the Urban Forestry Division and StreetsLA were “investigating whether a citation can be issued.”

The trees have been crucial for keeping Angelenos cool during the extreme heat the region has been facing, according to Mejia. This week, temperatures in Los Angeles have hit the mid-90s.

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