Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
A years-long controversy over fig trees is wearing away at some local officials
It’s not often that city officials call for their own firing. But it’s happening now in Newcastle, Australia, where a few of the local city councilors are calling for their entire body to be canned. The unlikely cause? Fig trees.
It’s a political soap opera in Newcastle, where a string of iconic and massive fig trees on the city’s Laman Street has created a morass of red tape and public outrage. Back in June the city council’s insurer announced that it would no longer cover any claims related to the trees, which have grown immense and, according to an arborist, in danger of dying and falling over. The council approved a plan in 2009 to cut down the trees and the idea has been a political battle ever since.
Reports estimate that more than $750,000 (AUD) has been spent on discussing, studying, and debating the trees.
The city’s insurer had called for the trees to be removed by the end of August, but that deadline has since been pushed back to October. A narrowly passed vote on Sept. 14 seeks to delay the removal in hopes of securing an individual analysis of the trees’ health.
For some on the council, all this fuss over figs has become too much to handle. Councilmembers Aaron Buman, Mike King, and Brad Luke are calling for the entire legislative body to be disbanded.
‘‘The best thing that could happen to this town is to not have a council for a term,’’ Buman told the Newcastle Herald.
King called this term in office “the most soul destroying experience of my life.” He does not plan to run for reelection next year.
An informal poll on the Newcastle Herald’s website finds nearly 85 percent of readers in favor of the council’s firing. Whether they and the three council members get their wish is uncertain. But for now, the root of the trouble remains standing on Laman Street and will be at least through the end of October.