NBCUniversal slapped with $250 fine in foliage flap at striking writers’ picket line

WGA and SAG-AFTRA member Dee Thompson walks past trees
WGA and SAG-AFTRA member Dee Thompson walks past recently trimmed trees as he carries a sign on a picket line outside Universal Studios.
(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

The fine for allegedly denuding a row of street trees that shaded striking Hollywood writers is small — $250 — but notable enough for the Los Angeles chief auditor.

Controller Kenneth Mejia took to Twitter Friday afternoon to announce the city would issue a citation in that amount for allegedly trimming trees without a permit.

“Outdated laws limit penalties the city can issue,” Mejia added.

Mejia said Universal Studios was being cited, but a corporate spokeswoman said the citation actually went to its parent, NBCUniversal.


Members of the striking Writers Guild of America for two months have regularly picketed on Barham Boulevard outside NBCUniversal’s studio lot. They were joined last week by members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which has announced its own labor strike.

The historic strike of Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA has shut down Hollywood and brought widespread uncertainty, but an unlikely flashpoint of the labor unrest has emerged over the trimming of some trees on a block in Universal City.

July 19, 2023

Days later, the leafy canopy that shaded striking union members fell victim to the trim saw.

NBCUniversal issued a statement that characterized the action as annual landscaping and said it would provide shaded tents and water to picketers.

Public works officials, however, said they have no record of a required trimming permit from the city Bureau of Street Services, or StreetsLA.

When reached Friday evening, public works spokesperson Paul Gomez said he could not confirm Mejia’s claim of an administrative citation.

Diana Chang, a spokesperson for Mejia’s office, said StreetsLA informed the controller’s office in advance of the citation.


“It’s being served today,” Chang said Friday evening.

SAG-AFTRA has approved a deal from the studios to end its historic strike. The actors were on strike for more than 100 days.

Nov. 10, 2023

NBCUniversal spokeswoman Cindy Gardner confirmed the citation was received but said she did not know the amount.

In a Twitter thread Friday, Mejia said $250 is the typical fine for first-time tree-trimming offenses and that StreetsLA had determined these particular trees would probably rebound in six to 12 months. In severe cases, he said, offenders can be required to plant two trees for every one they maim.

But with only 12 inspectors, the agency is ill-equipped to protect the city’s 700,000-plus trees, he said.

In a related clash, the writers and actors unions this week filed grievances with the National Labor Relations Board accusing NBCUniversal of using construction fencing to block sidewalks outside the Comcast-owned studio.