A tree may be lovelier than a poem, but sometimes it has a nasty way of heaving up sidewalks and plugging sewers.
Those conflicting aspects of trees were considered by the people of Velez, a two-block street shaded by Italian Stone pines.
They concluded that as lovely as they were, their Stone pines had to go.
So John Perkins and six of his Rancho Palos Verdes neighbors along lower Velez called in a contractor, and Monday morning, amid a noise like a billion buzzing bees, a crew of chain-saw-wielding workers started swarming over the trees, toppling them to the ground and grinding up their branches.
But others in this Eastview section of the city were not happy. On upper Velez, one block away, people were rising up in revolt against the killing of the trees.
Marchers Carried Signs
A dozen, half of them small children, descended on lower Velez. They paraded through the piles of cut branches and stacked cordwood, waving signs that called on the workers to spare those trees.
"I'm just trying to make a living," one baffled worker muttered.
Flo Smith, a tree lover from another street, tied herself to one of the monarchs with a long electrical extension cord. In her haste to reach the scene, she said, she didn't have time to find a rope or chain.
"A tree is like motherhood," she said. "It is nurtured at the bosom of the earth as we all are. We must save our trees."
Perkins and his lower Velez neighbors did not welcome the protesters' efforts. He grabbed a pair of garden shears and cut Smith's extension cord.
"This is none of their business," he growled. "Let them go look after their own trees."
The protesters formed a protective circle around a doomed Stone pine. It was about 20 feet tall, its trunk about three feet thick. Rick Wheeler, the contractor's foreman, waved his men to the next tree along the parkway. They attacked it with chain saws.
Deborah Anne Palmieri, the protest organizer, explained the situation to Wheeler as the trees continued to fall. A baby, strapped to her back, peeked over her shoulder. The chain-saw din, joined by the howl of the wood chipper, grew louder. The city, Palmieri said, is destroying the neighborhood, denuding the Peninsula of its natural beauty. In their mindless determination to get rid of a few trees whose roots are causing problems, she said, the bureaucrats are laying waste a virtual forest of good trees.
On Valleta, the nearby street on which she lives, 10 of 17 orchid trees have been marked for destruction but are not among the culprits that have damaged sidewalks, Palmieri said.
Owners Had Permits
Wheeler rubbed the back of his head and gazed off into the trees. Three sheriff's deputies arrived. Deputy Bob Cook listened patiently while Palmieri explained the situation to him.
Lee Jester, an official of the Public Works Department, arrived. He told the deputies that the seven lower Velez homeowners had the permits and the right to have their trees cut down.
The Velez operation is part of a two-year program approved in 1985 by the City Council. It was prompted, Jester said, by concerns over the city's liability for accidents and by the mounting costs to taxpayers of repairing root-damaged streets and sidewalks.
About 1,500 of the city's 8,500 parkway trees have been identified as troublemakers, Jester said, and must go.
Property owners have the choice of hiring their own contractor--as the lower Velez people did--or the city would get it done. In both cases, the cost is split. He said the owners may replant other varieties--such as the Canary pine--that are less prone to attack sidewalks.
If a resident insists on saving a tree that is causing only minor problems, he must agree to pay for future damage, Jester said.
All Stones Must Go
Except the Italian Stone pines. Those renegades have caused such mischief over the years that all must go, he said.
While Jester was explaining the program to the throng, A. H. Rendall, whose Stone pine was being protected by the protesters, arrived. His wife had called him home from work. In a heated exchange with Palmieri, Rendall said he wanted that tree out now.
Everybody except the workers had drifted away from Rendall's house. The chain-saw din rose again. Rendall's tree, the last of seven, fell to the ground.
It was a lovely tree, Rendall said. He recalled tending it over the years, since he moved his family to Velez in 1961.
But, he said, "Its time had come." It had caused too many costly problems with his sidewalk and sewer.
They'll Try Again
The protesters headed home, vowing to strengthen their defenses for the day when the tree-cutters descend on their neighborhoods.
Councilman Bob Ryan said he regrets the "emotional trauma" provoked in some people when they lose their trees. One homeowner, he said, wept over his favorite tree.
"But I've gone full-cycle on this and we can't find any other solution," said Ryan, a 13-year veteran on the council.
Years ago, he said, the city tried to limit damage by pruning the roots of trees, but then the trees either blew over in the first windstorm or soon grew surface roots bigger than ever.
"You should have seen Shoreview," he said. "Bumps two or three feet high in the pavement, curbs and sidewalks buckled all over the place, and this great canopy of Stone pines arching over the street.
"It was beautiful, in a surrealistic way."
But it cost the taxpayers $40,000 to rebuild the street, he said.
"People like Ms. Palmieri ask us to join them in celebrating the virtues of trees," Ryan said. "But we also need a solution to the problems they cause."