Los Angeles County planners have been asked to postpone a decision on a housing developer's plan to uproot 337 oaks in Newhall until the Board of Supervisors considers changes to strengthen an ordinance governing removal of oaks.
A group of oak preservationists has asked the Regional Planning Commission to delay consideration, scheduled for Wednesday, of the plan by Leisure Technology of Los Angeles to remove the trees to make way for 102 single-family homes on a 34-acre site.
Doug Kitchen, Leisure Technology's vice president of development, said the company had designed a "good development plan that took optimum consideration for maintaining the maximum number of oak trees. We feel we've been responsive to concerns about the oak trees."
The firm already has scaled down the project from 119 homes, which would have required the removal of even more oaks, Kitchen said.
The Santa Clarita Valley Planning Advisory Committee, a citizen's group appointed by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, recently proposed several amendments to the county's oak ordinance to better protect the trees.
Under the existing county ordinance, developers must plant two oaks for every one they remove. But the replacements can be saplings, which often die because the existing law requires no care of the trees after their planting, according to Jeannette Sharar, a longtime oak preservationist.
The stricter ordinance proposed by the committee would require developers to spend up to $10,000 on each replacement tree, Sharar said. The developers would be required to plant more mature trees and finance a two-year county maintenance program to ensure their survival.
Sharar, a real estate broker and planning advisory committee member, was among the group that wrote the planning commission asking for a delay in any vote on the Newhall housing project.
John Schwarze, assistant planning director for the county, said planning commissioners will visit the project site Monday to view the oak trees in question. Commissioners will consider the request that they delay their vote after Wednesday's public hearing on the project, he said.
The advisory committee's proposal is being reviewed by Antonovich, who represents the area. JoAnne Darcy, a spokeswoman for Antonovich, said he has not had time to consider the proposed amendments. Planning commissioners will not receive the suggested changes until after Antonovich has considered them, she said.
Ken Buchan, who lives across the street from the proposed Newhall housing tract, said that in light of the committee's request, "any approval of the applicant's oak tree permit, in our opinion, should be postponed."
The "destruction of 337 mature oak trees, many of which must be hundreds of years old, seems hard to justify," said Buchan, who has scheduled a neighborhood meeting Saturday to plan opposition to the housing project.
"It also seems hard to rationalize that the planting of some 15-gallon trees as replacements is a fair trade-off," he said.
The project, which includes a 790-tree oak grove, is on the south side of Calgrove Boulevard near Ebelden Avenue.