Fort Lauderdale Man Claims He Was Fired For Trying to Protect Rare Tree

Chris Brennan says YouTube video in support of giant rain tree led to his firing

By Brian Hamacher
|  Thursday, Mar 14, 2013  |  Updated 6:06 PM EDT
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SoFla Man Claims Fight Over Rain Tree Led to Firing

Chris Brennan stand in front of the tree that he claims got him fired in a YouTube video.

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A South Florida activist claims his mission to save a giant and rare tree in Fort Lauderdale has gotten him fired from his Water Taxi job.

Chris Brennan, 33, says he was fired last Friday after the developer of the land where the tree sits — who also happens to be the landlord for Water Taxi — didn't like a YouTube video Brennan posted and reached out to his boss. Water Taxi is ferry service with multiple routes in Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale beaches.

"The landlord did not want any opposition so he eliminated the one guy who was voicing his opinion," Brennan told NBC 6 South Florida Thursday. "In the end I still lose my job but I'm still able to be vocal about the tree."

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The tree, Albizia Saman, also known as a rain tree or monkeypod, stands six stories tall and is the largest of its kind in the state and possibly the entire country. The city passes a resolution in 1987 that protects the tree, Brennan said.

In the video, shot and posted last month, Brennan slams developer Asi Cymbal, whose company wants to move the tree to make way for a condo project called Marina Lofts, which would go up on the south side of the New River.

"There's an Israeli billionaire named Asi Cymbal who bought all this property in 2011 at a foreclosure sale," Brennan says in the video. "Today he's in cahoots with a Danish architect who wants to build a great big condominium right on top of this tree.''

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Brennan said the tree can't be moved without causing damage and possibly killing 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 South Florida Sun-Sentinel earlier this week. "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."

The Water Taxi would be located inside Marina Lofts and be highlighted as "a primary means of public transportation," Cymbal said.

Brennan's boss, Bill Walker, told the paper that Cymbal saw the video and contacted him.

"We just felt he was operating in conflict of our business," Walker said.

Cymbal said he didn't ask for Brennan to be fired, and Walker also said no such request was made.

Brennan said he was given an ultimatum: take down the video and end his protest or be fired. He chose the latter.

Despite being fired, Brennan said he harbors no ill will toward Water Taxi, where he's worked since 2007.

"Those guys are my friends and family," Brennan said. "[Walker] did what he had to to protect his company."

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Brennan, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale and lives on his own house boat, served as a park ranger in Broward for 10 years and said preservation of local landmarks is one of his passions.

"There's certain things that make Florida special, small things like that tree," he said. "If someone doesn't stick their neck out for them, we'll lose what makes it special."

Brennan said he's been flooded with emails and calls of support since the news of his firing came out. His YouTube video has been viewed over 4,600 times as of Thursday afternoon.

"It's overwhelming, the amount of support I've gotten for my decision is humbling," he said.

Brennan plans to bring the issue of the tree up at the next City Commission meeting on March 19, and hopes other residents will join him.

"If the locals don't put their foot down, who will?" he said.

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