Residents hoping to save a centuries-old oak tree set for removal at 650 Georgian Road were disappointed at City Council’s Tuesday night meeting, as council members ultimately dismissed two appeals filed against the tree removal.
Council members said they were sympathetic to the tree and the applicants but they had not found any reasons to stop the removal. Mayor Terry Walker suggested the applicants look at possibly initiating change to the current tree ordinance.
“Nobody wants to take down this tree, but nobody wants to see people hurt,” Walker said. “I think we would be remiss as a council if we ignored the perspectives of the professionals and if we ignored the process. It would be unfair to (property owner Alan) Frank who followed through the process to all of the sudden say at this point, ‘You know what, the process has changed.’ If the process needs to be changed administratively then we can go back and once again look at the tree ordinance. But it seems to me that the process was fair and everything was done in the world to make a fair assessment of this tree.”
Councilman Leonard Pieroni said the oak tree looks beautiful but is a “big safety concern” for the public and could possibly fall because of damage.
“I’ve heard it’s 200 years old and I’ve heard it’s 400 years old, but if it can’t be kept safely in place, there’s no reason to deny this appeal,” Pieroni said.
The tree issue began in early October, when Frank submitted a tree-removal permit to the city’s planning department and it was approved on Nov. 2. The city ruled at the time that the tree was so diseased, it could cause damage to property or other protected trees.
Oak trees that have a diameter of 12 inches or more are protected, according to a city report. The report said the Georgian Road tree is 72 inches in diameter “at breast height.”
On Oct. 2, according to the approval notice, the city received an arborist report from McKinley & Associates with an application that evaluated three protected trees on the property.
Certified arborist James R. Smith additionally submitted a letter in which he concurred with the report from William McKinley of the American Society of Consulting Arborists. Frank hired both arborists.
The two other trees, a second coast live oak and a California sycamore on the property, were assessed and determined to be “relatively healthy and worth preserving.”
The approval notice stated that “the arborist explains that the subject oak tree is hazardous, in declining health (stressed and dying) and represents an unreasonable risk of injury.”
A city staff member visited the site on Oct. 24 to confirm the condition and location of the protected tree and Frank’s request to remove it was granted a few days later, according to the notice. Two appeals were quickly filed by LCF residents Beth Fabinsky and Edward Johnson and the appeals were heard at the Feb. 14 planning commission meeting.
The planning commission voted 4-0 to deny the appeal following the recommendation of a staff report that stated “based on arborist report and site inspection, it was determined that the subject oak is unhealthy and the likelihood of the tree failing is probable.”
Councilman Jonathan Curtis, who was previously on the Planning Commission, said the commission had spent more than a year looking at how the city could protect trees and he thinks the current process for tree removals is a fair one.
“I do think what came out of it is a fair process to make sure we’re looking at these trees,” Curtis said. “And we don’t take it lightly.”
Before the council denied the appeal, LCF resident and appellant Johnson tried to persuade the City Council to keep both historic trees and change the current tree removal permitting process.
“The first thing I would want you to do in amending the tree ordinance is make it impossible for it to be approved by a staff member for a public hearing,” Johnson said. “Secondly, I’d like for this tree, in any case for ancient trees, there needs to be a fully independent arborist taking a look at the tree, coming back with recommendations on how to preserve it and their mission should be to tell us how we can save this tree. How we can keep this tree, this heritage tree with historical significance, for future generations. Not tell us, ‘what’s the easiest way to dispose of this problem.’ I hope you’ll reverse the already granted tree removal permit and I hope you initiate a process to set up a new system for dealing with trees.”
Fabinsky did not file an appeal for the meeting but did speak out again against the removal of the tree and cited another arborist, Jan Scow, who told her he thinks there should be least three consulting arborists used to analyze the health of the tree.
Tiprin Follett, a resident who appealed the tree removal decision but was out of the country, submitted a statement that questioned the credibility of the arborists — paid for by the homeowner — and called for more investigation.
“A permit must be given based on fact, not on subjective opinions,” Bray said. “No harm happens while waiting a reasonable period of time.”
Councilman Greg Brown said he researched both arborists and determined they are legitimate.
“McKinley and his firm have been used by the city,” Brown said. “There’s no indication … that staff had doubts about his credibility.”
McKinley denied Follett’s implication and said his reputation is “far too valuable” for him to take money for a tree removal.
“I’ll look at the tree but if I don’t see any issue, I’m going to call it like it is,” McKinley said.
After the meeting, Follett said she was disappointed with the ruling.
“One day La Cañada residents will look around and wonder why their trees are gone and buildings cover the landscape instead,” Follett said. “How many trees will be lost until then? Since they put in their new protection ordinance five years ago, they’ve cut down almost 200. Maybe if this was a law to protect bank accounts or property, people would care. But it’s only trees.”
Public Safety Reports
The Los Angeles County Fire Department had a relatively calm January and February in LCF, said Anderson Mackey, an assistant chief with the county fire department. Fires and calls for service during the two-month period were generally down compared to previous years.
In January, a month with no fires, there were 80 medical calls, down from 93 from the previous year, Mackey said. In February, there were 81 medical calls (compared to 75 last year) and three fires, compared to five last year.
Lt. Mark Slater, interim captain at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, said there had been no homicides or rapes in January and February. There were no aggravated assaults in January but there were three in February, which Slater said was from a single incident in a Ralphs parking lot, where a driver almost hit several employees with her car.
Slater said there were 10 residential burglaries in January and 13 in February, which totaled five more than the same period in 2018. In February, however, there were nine burglaries and four attempted burglaries, he said. Some potential suspects were found in a Ring video on one of the attempted burglaries and the sheriff’s station is working with Los Angeles Police Department on the case, he said.
Officers are using undercover vehicles in the hopes of catching the burglars, he said. Slater gave some advice to local residents.
“We’ve had some victims leave (their house) for an hour and get burglarized,” Slater said. “Don’t drive the same way every day. Take a different way. Start paying attention to your neighborhood because we do need some more eyes and ears out there for suspicious people in the neighborhood.”
Slater added the department is continuing to investigate two burglaries that occurred in December and January and is working on new information.
Brown noted that the residential burglaries are concerning, and a similar uptick last year resulted in the sheriff’s department task force getting involved.