An investigation by the Los Angeles City Controller’s Office has found Universal Studios liable for illegally trimming trees on studio property, on a day when writers, actors and other unionized film industry workers were set to picket during their ongoing labor dispute

The studios will be fined $250 for not getting the correct permit to trim the trees, which is the normal citation for a first-time offense.  

Los Angeles City Controller Kenneth Mejia said that while city laws limit fines and penalties, if the studio were to illegally cut the trees again, the fine could go up to $1,000. 

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  • Universal Studios tree investigation
  • Trees are seen outside Universal Studios on Wednesday, July 19, 2023, in Burbank, Calif. The actors strike comes more than two months after screenwriters began striking in their bid to get better pay and working conditions. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

The trees were cut sometime during the weekend of July 15-16 in an area where picketers are known to stage protests. 

The timing of the tree-cutting scandal – dubbed “Treegate” by some – comes as protesters continue to picket outside in record-high temperatures.  

Some strikers claim that the company was trying to stop the protests by removing the shade from the protest area, but NBCUniversal reported that it was simply “routine landscaping.” 

According to Mejia, the trees are managed by the city and are “essential to providing Angelenos with significant environmental and public health benefits, especially during a heatwave.” 

The L.A. Times reported that the city only has 12 inspectors to protect over 700,000 trees across the city.