'I so loved the greenery. It gave me privacy, protection from vandals, clean air. Now it's gone.'
Annette Forster stood in her nearly barren backyard in an expensive Brentwood neighborhood, pointing to the spots where a fig tree had stood here, an apricot tree there.
A crew from the Los Angeles city Bureau of Street Maintenance, under orders from the city Fire Department, had shown up last week to rid the yard of junk and dead brush that had virtually walled in Forster's house on Amherst Avenue.
She had been notified that the work would be done but was surprised at the extent of the cleanup.
"I'm numb at this point," she said. "They really didn't have to do this. I so loved the greenery. It gave me privacy, protection from vandals, and clean air. Now it's gone."
However, city officials, concerned about a fire hazard, said that for almost two years they had tried to get Forster to remove what they considered combustible materials from her property.
"The property, with the hazardous materials surrounding it, was a danger to her and to her neighbors," said Capt. John Hall, legal liaison officer for the Fire Department's fire prevention bureau.
"Believe me, the last thing we wanted to do was have to go in there and clean it up. But when it became obvious that she had neither the money or tools to do it herself, we had no choice but to do it for her."
Forster, who declined to divulge her age except to say that she is old enough to draw Social Security, her only income, conceded that the cluttered front yard needed to be cleaned out.
She remained adamant, however, that the backyard, which even friends on the scene described as "jungle-like," did not need such a thorough cleaning.
"You can see," she said, pointing to a sheared peach tree stump, "that there was some life in the tree. Perhaps it should have been pruned. Certainly they should not have lopped it all off."
John Picard, who lives a block away, agreed. He was particularly upset with the city's use of heavy machinery to clear the yard.
"The city is being overly aggressive," said Picard, a builder. "You don't have to use bulldozers when what really was needed were a few workmen. This is ridiculous."
But Claire Rogger, an aide to Councilman Marvin Braude, whose district includes Brentwood, said that the heavy equipment was necessary to penetrate the stacks of wood, trees and crates surrounding the modest, two-bedroom house.
"City workers tried doing it by hand and found they could not get into the property to clean it up," Rogger said. "There also was a question of doing the job as inexpensively as possible because the bill for the clean-up will go to Mrs. Forster."
The amount is not yet known but could come to several thousand dollars, she said.
Because of Forster's apparently poor financial status, the bill will be credited to her tax bill and will not be due and payable until the property is eventually sold, Rogger said.
"The city has been as gentle with her as possible," Rogger said. "We have tried every way possible to do it another way. She has been in our office many times and, obviously, did not like the notion of the bureaucracy coming onto her property."
Forster said that she has lived in the house for at least 35 years. She said that she will continue to live there, albeit without the sense of safety she felt before the work crews came last week.