Until Lorlaine Davis and her friends in the Trabuco Women's Club heard that a proposed widening of Live Oak Canyon Road would mean the destruction of centuries-old oak trees, they never imagined themselves taking part in an act of civil disobedience.
The women's club is not one that traditionally involves itself in political issues. But when plans for the road's widening were announced, the women knew that it meant more than just the razing of a few trees. They were convinced that an entire lifestyle in rustic Trabuco Canyon, one of Orange County's last rural areas, was at stake here, Davis said.
"I was determined that if they actually came to take down the oaks, I would chain myself to one," Davis said.
She decided that if others in the community "adopted" their own trees, they might feel the same way. And, at Davis' suggestion, the Trabuco Women's Club agreed to launch an adopt-an-oak program to save the trees from bulldozers.
No one has had to face off any bulldozers or become involved in any other public act of defiance. But it is apparent that the movement to save the canyon has spread. Along a four-mile stretch of the road, dozens of white banners hang on the mighty oak tree trunks. On each banner is the name of another activist who has joined the battle to save the oaks.
"People are actually willing to stand in front of their tree if it comes down to that," said Susie Wiberg, president of the Trabuco Women's Club. "It sounds '60-ish, but that is the kind of militancy that's raised when you try to mess with the canyon's rural character."
The future of Live Oak Canyon Road has been at the center of a debate involving how many new homes should be built in a 6,500-acre unincorporated area east of Mission Viejo.
The latest version of the county's development plan for the area, called the Foothill/Trabuco Specific Plan, recommends the construction of 2,200 new homes in the canyon, said Ray Chandos, a Trabuco Canyon homeowner and chairman of an advisory panel of residents and landowners reviewing options for the area.
Officials of the county's land-planning department did not return telephone calls about the plan. But Planning Commission Chairman Stephen A. Nordeck, who represents the Trabuco area on the commission, said there was general agreement among commission members and county officials that the oaks will not be bulldozed.
"No decision has been made on the latest plan yet, but the key thing is that people can be assured that the oaks are no longer threatened," said Nordeck, a Trabuco Canyon restaurant owner.
But the members of the Trabuco Canyon Women's Club are not so sure. The 25 members meet regularly to paint the names of "foster parents" on banners. For a donation--there is no set amount, but some have been as high as $100--supporters not only get a banner with their names, but also a certificate of recognition. Each foster parent is then given the responsibility of protecting one of the oaks that form a natural canopy along the route.
The movement to save the trees has spread beyond the banners. Third-graders in Sue Boyd's class at the Trabuco School have devoted weekend days to writing and mailing letters urging elected officials in the county to help.
Across the street from the school, the Emory General Store sells buttons and T-shirts inscribed with "Save-The-Canyon" pleas. Store owner Linda Emory said sales of the buttons and T-shirts have been good.
Trabuco Canyon residents still wake up to the crowing of roosters, and horses are as common as cars. With its sparse population of about 500, the community is one where folks know most of their neighbors.
"We don't need curbs, traffic lights and tract homes," Wiberg said. "We've had enough of Rancho Santa Margarita and Portola Hills-type development. People here are fighting to keep their chances of communing with nature and their animals."
But for at least one family, enough is enough.
Nancy Moreton moved to the canyon from Northern California with her husband and two children eight years ago. They settled in to raise chickens and kept a horse for their two young children. On Monday, Moreton, who has been active in the campaign to save the canyon, was busy packing to move her family back to Northern California.
"I still do like the canyon and have caring and feelings for it, and it's not too late to stop the developers from moving in," Moreton said. "But we're being swallowed up. The area is overbuilt, too crowded and too smoggy. We've had too much of it."