Nearly 250 live oaks, sycamores destroyed

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — San Gabriel Valley residents and environmentalists Tuesday called for an investigation into last week’s destruction of a grove of coast live oaks and sycamores.

The Department of Public Works cleared the 11-acre site near the Santa Anita Reservoir, which contained 179 oaks and 70 sycamores, in a matter of minutes, according to John Quigley, one of the “tree sitters” who protested the plan.

Quigley said it looked “like a scene from Avatar,” the 3-D movie blockbuster in which greedy humans tear down a vast, sacred tree on another planet in order to recover a valuable mineral.

“I’ve never seen that much destruction of life by human hands in such a short period of time,” he added.

In a phone interview, a DPW spokesman said the move was necessary given the county’s “emergency situation” in the wake of a series of devastating fires in 2009-10.

“It’s hard to imagine an emergency with 75 degrees and a sunny sky,” said Bob Spencer.

But experts from the U.S. Geological Survey estimate that there are millions of cubic yards of sediment that will flow from the region’s mountains over the next 10 years, he said.

The trees were removed to make room for about 250,000 cubic yards of that sediment, on a site that was purchased decades ago by the county as part of long-term flood control planning.

To give a sense of the scale involved, 400 hundred cubic yards would fill the Rose Bowl.

The failure to remove sand, rocks and boulders behind the Santa Anita dam might plug or damage the dam’s gates, critical for flood control, water conservation and, ultimately, water supply for Sierra Madre and Arcadia residents.

But Quigley and other advocates said the county could have pursued other alternatives, including trucking the sediment to a gravel pit in Irwindale, calling the destruction of the trees a “crime that was … perpetrated by the county,” and calling for an investigation.

Other solutions were considered, Spencer said, but the only viable alternative was to transporting the mud and detritus from debris basins to another site, which by one calculation would have resulted in 120 truck trips per day, every day for two years. The local homeowners association was “vehemently opposed” to that option, Spencer said.

“Removing vegetation is not what we want to do — it’s a last resort for us as well,” Spencer said. He pointed to flash flood destruction in Orange and San Bernardino counties in December as evidence of what might happen in Los Angeles without aggressive flood control.

But the demonstrators outside the Hall of Administration today were not satisfied by the agency’s explanation.

The DPW “deceive(d) the local community, the local city government and the County Board of Supervisors regarding the real goal of this project, which is to massively expand sediment storage capacity at the site, creating a regional sediment dump,” said Camron Stone, who lives within a quarter-mile of the former woodlands area.

At a meeting before the board last week, DPW official Chris Stone assured the supervisors that the Arcadia site would be used only “for that area, specifically for Santa Anita Dam, now and in the future.”

Having failed to save the Arcadia oaks, the activists now hope to influence future flood control projects through what they envision as a “citizen’s oversight board,” said Manhattan Beach resident Susan Rudnicki, who joined the group outside the Hall of Administration Tuesday.

Rudnicki and other woodland advocates said there was not sufficient public notification of the plans for flood control. Spencer countered that notices were posted in the same Arcadia library where those interested in saving the oaks tacked up their own flyers and that public hearings were poorly attended during the agency’s three-year planning process.

Activists said they want a chance to get in on the planning process early and influence the county’s decision-making on similar flood control projects.

Spencer said that his agency was looking at other long-term solutions to the county’s sediment challenge, which seemed to leave open the possibility that environmentalists and county officials could find common ground.

One near-term project may offer the first chance for more cooperation between the two groups — work related to Devil’s Gate Dam is proposed for September.

A presentation made to the Pasadena Hahamongna Watershed Park Advisory Committee by officials from the Flood Control District in November includes a plan to remove about 15 acres of willow trees in order to clear sediment around Devil’s Gate Dam. That 1920 structure was the first dam built by the county to control the Arroyo Seco watershed.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

Comments (7)
  1. Richard says:

    It really doesn’t give perspective to the audience when you used odd numbers. 400 hundred cubic yards? Really, you should have used 40,000 cy or a little more than 1 million cubic feet.

    I find it disturbing that the “environmental movement” fails to come out during public discussions but creates a flap when the project is set to begin.

  2. belinda says:

    Shame on the local homeowners association for their “vehement opposition” to hauling debris to another location. The whole community looses an irreplaceable natural wonder to support their convenience.

  3. Information for the Population says:

    Homeowners association probably are getting partial funding/paid off for the location of the sediment dump since it’s near their development which causes real estate to go down must have been a hefty chunk. I see associations welcoming cellphone towers in their development in order to get more funding for leasing the spot, they don’t care about the residents especially when they are ignorant to health effects that may be caused by such towers that have been proven scientifically over and over again.

  4. Tom says:

    Considering public meetings were held for three years prior to the actual work being performed is more than enough time for those opposing the action to have done something rather than waiting until after the fact. If those people cared that much they should have attended the public meetings from the beginning to provide input so LACDPW could create some additonal alternatives, if necessary, or at least come to some compromise. The fact is, when mudflows strike after a large burn followed by rainstorms, it can be devastating. There is a long history of such fire-rain-mudflow events every year. The expansion of the debris basin is meant to protect humans and their property from these devastatiing mudflows.

  5. Ross S. Heckmann says:

    I completely disagree with those who claim that the DPW gave adequate notice of the project involving the clear-cutting of acres of century-old oaks & sycamores. They may have done were forced to do by law, but they violated the whole spirit of the law by not giving notice to all persons or organizations who might reasonably be interested. I live in Arcadia about a mile from the project, north of Foothill Boulevard; and I didn’t get any notice. The DPW gave “notice” by putting a legal notice in a free weekly newspaper on one occasion. That’s notice? The DPW doubtlessly intentionally failed to give notice to organization who had both interest and expertise to correct errors in the environmental impact report (for example, the Sierra Club the California Native Plant Society, the Audobon Club), doubtlessly because they had their own agenda and didn’t want to be bothered with having to seriously consider any other serious alternatives. The DPW should be just as concerned or even more concerned with the buildup of public distrust as they are with the buildup of sediment.

  6. Baltimore Tree Removal says:

    It amazing that after all of that time the fighting still continues….we have run into the same issues in Baltimore with Tree Removal. Understand tree service companies pay employees as well and keep the economy going too!

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