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I'm Just Sayin': Saving trees from fools

July 15, 2010

Trees have been long celebrated in poetry and song. I remember learning Odgen Nash's poem about trees when I was in elementary school. Somewhere I learned the World War II song "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me," and more recently my kids became Laurie Berkner fans and sang "Under A Shady Tree."

Now we have a century-old tree here in La Crescenta that we are in danger of losing to development. It's the beautiful Moreton Bay Fig tree on Foothill Boulevard across from the Ralphs shopping center.

This tree has seen so much in its long history. A hundred years ago, La Crescenta was a place where tuberculosis patients were sent to the local sanitariums to recover in the fresh air, and where a world-class hotel was a stagecoach ride away from Los Angeles.

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This tree is being threatened by a new office complex under construction on the property just to its west. The building will have subterranean parking, which will place a wall underground just two feet away from the property line. Even though the tree's massive trunk is about 12 feet away, the roots extend at least 20 feet beyond the property line and in the direct path of the excavation.

In 2005, when the tree was in danger from a similar development that never took place, local certified arborist Gary Knowlton sent a letter to the Crescenta Valley Town Council. In it he said that this tree "will more than likely be killed by construction damage."

He went on to say that "if preserved, this tree can live as long as 1,000 years."

On Tuesday evening about 30 community members gathered at the tree to show how much we value this La Crescenta icon. Members of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley brought a photo taken in 1915, which even then showed a lush, mature tree that fit in so well with the stately home behind it.

This very same home, which of late has housed realty offices, is now in foreclosure. This could put the tree in even greater peril. Hopefully whoever buys this property sees the value of the tree and the nearly 100-year-old building.

If instead they want to construct another behemoth structure, the tree could be chopped down with no notice or input from the community whatsoever.

The county has no protection for trees, other than native oaks, no matter what their age. The new Community Standards District for Foothill Boulevard, which took effect last fall, does require mature trees to be preserved.

Los Angeles County attorneys, however, added an exception if the developer can show it would be impractical to do so. This is a huge loophole through which we may lose even more trees along the boulevard.

In the late 1800s, naturalist John Muir said, "God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools."

Sadly, his words still ring true today.

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