HomeCity NewsFelled ‘Forest’ for Sound Wall Ignites Uproar

Felled ‘Forest’ for Sound Wall Ignites Uproar

Community members at the Nov. 7. City Council meeting joined to voice their concerns about the sound wall being built on Salisbury Road after nearly 100 trees — including a 200-year-old oak tree — were removed to start construction at the site.
La Cañada Flintridge resident Cydney Motia was the first among the group to express incredulousness that the trees were cut down for the project, which is part of the phase IV sound wall implementation.
“The plans that were finalized did not include any planting of trees, shrubs, or irrigation on the north side of the wall, which faces our neighborhood,” said Motia, who has been an LCF resident for 45 years. “We thought we would have some trees on the north side of the wall, and now there are none because they removed all of them.”
She said that the trees provided a great atmosphere to the street, where residents could go on walks and enjoy the greenery and shade.
“Looking at a blank wall is acceptable when driving on a freeway, but not in a neighborhood,” Motia said. “Leaving only eight feet between the wall and the street also does not leave any room for future sidewalks in the planting of trees.”
She asked the Council to remove the wall and move it back more: “I encourage all of you to drive by the project site to see for yourself.”
As a reference, phases II and IV were combined into one construction contract, which started in July, and is scheduled to be completed in December 2024, according to the city engineer Maged El-Rabaa. Phase III was recently completed in April, which included three soundwall segments.
Mayor Rick Gunter took the chance to provide some clarity to the residents before more spoke.
“During the design phase, all of our consultants believed that we could save the oak tree, and we have done that in other places,” Gunter said. “As it turns out … the tree roots were very different than we’d expected. So, what we expected to happen in other cases wasn’t possible here, and unfortunately, the tree had to come out.
“Nobody wanted it to happen. But it was an unexpected result that we couldn’t really plan for,” he added.
Gunter continued to add that moving the wall would be easier said than done, since “Caltrans has a lot of specific rules and regulations” and funding for the project could go to waste.
“We are working with an arborist to see what we can put on the north side of the wall,” Gunter said. “But we feel that we’ve done a reasonable amount of outreach and let everyone know that this is kind of where it’s going to go.”
Director of Public Works Patrick DeChellis told the Outlook Valley Sun that about 95 trees were removed for the Salisbury Road project, and all trees that were previously on the south side of the sound wall will be replanted. The 200-year-old oak tree that was removed was not able to be saved because the roots left no room for a suitable foundation and saving it would have left it vulnerable to dying anyway.
“We learned from soundwall phase III that large oak trees like this, that their roots tend to go down. And although the wall was within the dripline of the oak tree, the arborist felt that because the foundation for the sound wall is on piles and a pile cap,” that it wouldn’t work with the oak tree there, said DeChellis.
Annette O’Brien, another resident who resides on Salisbury Road, also spoke about the sound wall and asked if it could be moved back from the street so trees could be replanted facing the neighborhood.
“There is ample flat space where houses sat prior to building the 210 freeway,” O’Brien said. “A significant wooded area, a micro forest, has existed there for all the years since then. … Please recreate this experience that has brought so much enjoyment over the years while walking our dogs and our children to and from school. A forest in the city.”
She continued to say that the wall being right on the street will have easy access and quickly become a “graffiti magnet.”
“The Caltrans development manual in chapter 30 states that residents’ desires are to be included and respected during the design and planning stages,” O’Brien said. “This unfortunately did not happen. We are in favor of the sound wall, but we also would like our forest on the north side of the wall to be replaced.”
Saul Garlic, another Salisbury Road resident, spoke about how the new sound wall could bring trouble to the area.
When his family moved to LCF in 2020, he said the street could get really dark at night, which attracted kids to hang out there and do drugs.
“The reason I’m telling you that story is because if there’s a big blank wall, it’s going to invite graffiti, there’s going to be bad actors out there who take the initiative to make it worse,” Garlic said. “I really want to urge you to find every means possible to beautify that area to create the best possible experience.
“La Cañada is not a super urban environment,” he added. “We live here on purpose to have this suburban experience for our kids. And I would just urge you to please do whatever you can to ensure that it’s a beautiful neighborhood going forward.”
La Cañada High School graduate Frank Motia also spoke regarding the trees.
“I don’t understand how you would set up a plan to kill so many trees,” Frank Motia said, adding that if residents were the ones cutting down trees, they would face stiff penalties.
He added: “You would never allow that, but [Caltrans] did it, and now, they are saying ‘we’re sorry, it was an unforeseen accident.’ We have this wall. We don’t want graffiti. You can push the wall back and put stuff in front of it.”
He also spoke against the Caltrans 2007 study on the sound walls and said it was outdated.
LCF resident Georgette Tuttle spoke about how the street could feel prison-like once the wall is added.
“I would just like to reiterate that we would like something aesthetic, along with the wall, so, it does not feel prison-like,” Tuttle said. “That is a long stretch of wall, and it’s very imposing and the way it’s situated now, there is not room for plants that I could see.”
“It looks destroyed, and it’s very disheartening. So please don’t ignore that. We have to look at that every day,” she added.
Councilman Keith Eich asked DeChellis what options the city might have and if moving the wall or redoing it would be a possibility.
DeChellis responded that it might put the entire project, or part of it, in funding jeopardy.
“We will probably jeopardize the funding because the project that we funded was for the sound wall segments in phase IV, and by not doing one of the sound walls, we will lose that share of the funding and never get it back,” DeChellis said.
The deadline for the funding might also be an issue, he added, noting that the city has already extended deadlines.
Eich asked if the city could talk to Caltrans about planting some trees on the side of the wall, and DeChellis said he would look into it.
The 2007 Noise Barrier Scope Summary Report and Noise Study states that, “once the construction is completed, the exposed soil areas will be revegetated with similar types of groundcover vegetation in each area. The city will periodically monitor the replanting areas to ensure that the replanting vegetation is healthily grown.”
It also states that construction of sound walls would possibly result in the loss of 40 Coast live oak trees, fewer California fan palms, foothill ashes and several species of native shrubs.

As of right now, the city has phase V left to begin on the sound walls in the city. Phase V includes the remaining 12 of 23 sound walls in the city. The last phase is currently unfunded and estimated to cost about $35 million.
Typically, sound walls are built at the edge of Caltrans’ right-of-way.
“Caltrans is the owner of the right-of-way where the proposed sound walls will be built,” El-Rabaa told the Outlook Valley Sun. “The city and Caltrans have entered into a cooperative agreement for each phase of the sound wall outlining the roles and responsibilities of each agency.”
The city is leading the design and construction of the sound walls, while Caltrans is an oversight agency, who reviews and approves the engineering plans and construction.
As for the first four phases of the sound walls, the city has received funding in grants from the state and Metro.
Community outreach was also part of the process when completing the noise study, said El-Rabaa.
“The consultant who prepared the Noise Barrier Scope Summary Report and Noise Study did an outreach to the community about the type, location and cost of each segment of the sound wall,” said El-Rabaa. “In addition, the city conducted specific community meetings at City Hall to present the final design prior to start of construction. It shall be noted that the city will not be able to deviate from the sound wall alignments identified in the [report].”

First published in the November 23 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.


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