The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a beefed- up ordinance to protect oak trees Thursday, but left unsettled how to define heritage oaks, the scenic or older trees the ordinance is principally designed to protect.
The omission is critical because while the ordinance requires a permit to cut down or move any oak more than 25 inches in diameter, it is board policy to offer special protection to heritage oaks.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 23, 1988 Valley Edition Metro Part 2 Page 9 Column 6 Zones Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
An article on Sept. 16 incorrectly said a new county ordinance requires a permit to cut down or move an oak tree 25 inches or more in diameter. The ordinance applies to trees 25 inches or more in circumference.
But what makes an oak a heritage oak? The board has not legally defined a heritage oak, and finding an appropriate definition has proved difficult.
The county attorney's office recommended that a heritage oak be defined as any oak tree measuring more than three feet in diameter or that, regardless of size, has significant historical or cultural importance in a community.
Oak tree activists, however, want a more liberal definition. Mike Lyons of the Santa Clarita Valley Oaks Conservancy, a citizens' group, said there are trees less than three feet in diameter that deserve heritage oak status simply because of their beauty.
At the urging of Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the supervisors approved the ordinance but ordered the county legal staff to meet with the conservancy to prepare a new definition of heritage oaks that would be acceptable to both sides. The participants must report back to the board within 45 days.
Sally Chase Clark, another conservancy member, said she and other activists were pleased with the board's action although "there are still things we're not happy with."
Lyons agreed. But at least the measure approved Thursday is "stronger than the past ordinance," he said.
Developers have had to obtain permits to remove oak trees since an earlier tree ordinance by Antonovich was passed in 1982. When oak trees are removed, they must be replaced with new trees.
A provision in the new ordinance will require developers to care for the replacement trees for at least two years and to replace them if they die within that time. Oak tree activists argued that some developers did not take care of the saplings they planted to replace trees felled to make way for housing tracts and condominiums.
The new ordinance also requires developers to shield oaks with fencing while construction is taking place to protect them from damage by heavy equipment.
The ordinance applies countywide but is heavily supported in the Santa Clarita Valley, where saving oak trees has become a popular cause.
The first act of the Santa Clarita City Council after incorporation last December was to impose a moratorium on cutting down oak trees. When the council held a contest to design a city seal, one entrant drew an oak tree being felled by a bulldozer.