The Sideshow

Standing up for a tree gets one Florida man fired

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

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Chris Brennan stands in front of Florida's largest "rain tree." (YouTube)

In February, Chris Brennan posted a video to YouTube in which he decries plans to tear down a gigantic Fort Lauderdale tree to make way for a property development. And now, a month later, Brennan has been fired for speaking out about the prized tree.

As it turns out, Brennan’s former employer rents space from the same international developer who wants to tear down the rain tree (Albizia saman) that is so big, a local ordinance was passed in 1987 to protect it.

After developer Asi Cymbal saw Brennan’s YouTube video he called Brennan’s employer, Water Taxi, and asked owner Bill Walker to “handle it.”

“I thought it was strange that someone who never met me was so angry, and that he was an employee of the Water Taxi,’’ Cymbal told the SunSentinel. "It seemed odd that a project that is so beneficial to our city and the Water Taxi would have a Water Taxi employee that was doing all these things.”

At the beginning of the video, Brennan takes a light tone, describing the tree with details such as, “It’s a really big tree. It’s like that tree in ‘Avatar’ that they blew up.” But the part that got him into trouble was when he called out Cymbal by name:

“So, why am I here today talking about the largest ‘rain tree’ in Florida? Because, there’s an Israeli billionaire named Asi Cymbal who bought all this property in 2011 at a foreclosure sale. Today, he’s in cahoots with a Danish architect who wants to build a great big condominium right on top of this tree.”

“Well guess what, you Danish freak,'' Brennan says at the end of the video.” "This ain't nothing. It's a 100-year-old, six-story-tall tree that the city of Fort Lauderdale promised to protect in 1987. I don't know about you, but in 1987, I was 7 years old, and promises meant something.''

For his part, Cymbal says he plans to move the tree to a nearby location, not destroy it. But Brennan and others say that would be impossible, citing the tree’s 20-foot-plus width at the trunk. In addition, Cymbal says he never asked Brennan’s employer to fire him.

In the comments section on his YouTube page, Brennan has urged supporters of the tree to attend a local city government meeting to protest the planned development:

“If you'd like to help, contact the Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners by or before the 19th of March. Or come to the city meeting on the 19th at 6PM and speak your mind!”

And he’s certainly not alone in his admiration for the record-setting tree. Another local resident, Derrell Thompson, says the tree has become his “best friend” since he moved to the area.

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