ARCADIA (AP) — With the sounds of bulldozers echoing beneath him, veteran tree sitter John Quigley perched in a century-old oak Wednesday, saying he won’t come down until public works officials stop felling scores of trees as part of a dam improvement project.

Quigley, who helped save a beloved oak with a similar sit-in eight years ago, was joined by a handful of other sitters who took up positions in branches overlooking 11 acres of picturesque foothills.

“They’re destroying trees all around us,” Quigley said by cell phone as the sound of bulldozers below him could be heard. “It’s a sad scene and definitely something that didn’t need to happen.”

Public works officials say the 11 acres of trees, some of them more than 100 years old, must go to ensure the integrity of a nearby dam that provides most of the drinking water to the Los Angeles suburbs of Arcadia and Sierra Madre.

As darkness fell about 2,000 protesters and curious onlookers including actress Darryl Hannah gathered at a gate leading to a stand of trees being felled.

“I came out just to support the community that is trying to put out some common sense and not cut down a paradise for a rubble pit,” Hannah said.

The actress said she learned of the protest from Quigley, who she has known since she took part in a tree-sitting protest to try to save an urban garden in a warehouse district near downtown Los Angeles that was plowed under in 2006.

Hannah, like other environmental activists, said the sediment from the Dam could be placed elsewhere, including a huge gravel pit about 10 miles away.

Later Wednesday about three dozen people held a candlelight vigil with a moment of silence to express their dismay over the removal of the trees.

Los Angeles County Public Works spokesman Bob Spencer said four people were believed to be hiding in the trees and public workers were checking the area tree by tree to make sure none was taken
down with a person in it.

“The safety of all the people here today, the trespassers, the contract workers, the protesters, is of chief importance to us,” he said.

David Czamanske, vice chair of the Sierra Club’s Pasadena group, said deputies had not asked the demonstrators at the gate to disperse. The tree-sitters were not affiliated with his group, he said.

Spencer said the tree removal project has been in the works for three years and the county has approval from federal and state agencies. He said it must done for the Santa Anita Dam, which was built in 1927, to meet seismic safety standards.

Over the years, Spencer said, sediment has built up behind the dam, limiting its water capacity and compromising its safety in the event of an earthquake or other catastrophe.

Clearing the 11 acres of oaks and sycamores will create a placement area the sediment can be channeled to.

Spencer said the dam provides 75 percent of the drinking water used in Arcadia, a city of about 56,000 people, and all of the drinking water for Sierra Madre, where about 10,000 people live.

The grove occupies a flatland below the steep slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, about 20 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. It is near a residential neighborhood and a small wilderness park in an area popular with weekend hikers and bicyclists.

The clearing operation began after extensive efforts by opponents to stop it. In December, county officials ordered a 30-day moratorium, which ended last week.

Czamanske and Quigley agree the sediment removal project must go forward, but they say the county should have picked a better place.

“It really is a tragedy that they had to go to this beautiful habitat to dump a pile of mud,” Quigley said. “There were plenty of good alternatives.”

In 2003, Quigley spent 71 days in an oak tree known as Old Glory that was to be bulldozed to widen a street in Santa Clarita, another Los Angeles suburb. Authorities finally removed him from the tree, and it was saved and replanted elsewhere. His lengthy protest, meanwhile, created a carnival atmosphere, bringing out folk singers, souvenir sellers, schoolchildren and others.

Quigley said Wednesday that he and the other tree sitters had come well-prepared with provisions and would stay as long as they could.

“To me this is one of those moments where the principal of what we should be about here in America is at stake,” he said. “We should preserve precious places that are here.”

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (15)
  1. Tax Payer says:

    Los Angeles County officials are a bunch of idiots to ruin this land scape for dredged sediment, city hall would be a better site to dump.

  2. Richard says:

    I thought the Santa Anita Dam was owned/operated by the Corps of Engineers. Is the County really responsible for the clean out of the debris?

  3. Loy says:

    Here here! Why can’t they dump it in the parking lot at Santa Fe Dam? That’s where it came from anyway.

  4. ceron says:

    pulling and uprooting those tree…will cause more damage in the long run…

  5. The Dude says:

    Of all the places in SoCal to dump they have to pick one of the few beautiful areas left in the Angels Front Range. Maybe they could contract with the gravel company that blocked access to Fish Canyon to dump the debris in one of the giant open pits they created. I really hope the protesters are successful in this.

  6. Janine says:

    This action that is being taken is not right. We have the resources and the technology to perform work that is less harmful to our beautiful environment.

    Los Angeles County is not thinking of the wildlife which will come down into the residential areas even more than they are now.

    We- Los Angeles County should do a better job and find an alternative. The taxes that are collected in Arcadia are high enough and therefore, there is no excuse.

    Shouldn’t Los Angeles County let the public have their say in this matter?

  7. blksmth99 says:

    The infinit wisdom of county officials is all seeing.I wonder if these wise men have ever seen what they are about to destroy forever.Did they only look at a map and make their decision.I wonder if any of them ever sat amongst a stand of beautiful trees?I know about tight budgets but they only think about their car and travel allowance.
    Great way to go L A county

  8. cloudyeyes says:

    All because of poor management!! Fire these idiots! This would not necessary, if they had been removing the sediment all along like they a have been warned over and over they need to do. Now it has come to this. High cost project, both for economy and environment. Hahamongna Watershed is next on the County hit list. Remove the sediment! State of emergency! Look out! The damn is going to collapse! People in LA are threatened! The county should be ashamed for perpetuating these lies. Using fear to get what they want. The American way.

  9. TT says:

    dont we have a great big desert full of nothin’ but dirt?

  10. Peace says:

    I have lived in Arcadia for ever and this is the best landscape ever. They are destroying our green landscape for industrial purposes.. I HOPE WHO EVER IS IN CHARGE OR DOING THIS HAS THE WORST OF LUCK!!

  11. blu says:

    Did any of you MORONS provide input during the moratorium or debate phase of this ordeal?? If that dam breaks before this job is complete, residents, not only in Arcadia, will wish the trees had been removed much sooner. The County has to act quickly as the article states because of a timeline. If the County doesn’t act, the State will… leaving a jacked up bill to the County.
    @TaxPayer, you’re obviously not very bright! You shoot down the County, but suggest dumping @ City Hall?? The “County” does not have a City Hall!! lol

  12. Rw Akile says:

    tHE TREES ARE WORTH SAVING BECAUSE YOU CANNOT BUY TIME. THE SEDIMENT CAN BE RELOCATED Easier then it is to buy a 100 years. Indeed, they can’t buy one minute let alone 100 years. This is a subject that Sheriff’ deputies should out of conscious refuse to allow the bull dozers to remove the trees. What TEY are doing is criminal.

  13. Duh! says:

    I wonder if the dam breaks because the protesters caused delays to the sediment removal, would said protesters be liable for damages suffered by the people living below the dam?

  14. Lisa Jacobson says:

    A candlelight vigil? That is so pathetic. We Caucasians really need to stop the overly love we have for the environment, trees etc. Anything excessive is abnormal hence all those candlelight vigil attendees need to really get a life. You people save trees, drive low emission vehicles but then have BBQ’s on a regular basis which releases tons of pollution into the air (one of which is a carcinogen) not to mention the torture that animal your grilling went through. Gotta love the absurdness of Americans =)

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