As teary-eyed neighbors looked on, a centuries-old oak tree was chain-sawed to the ground in less than two hours Tuesday, ending a battle between residents who say the tree was healthy and city officials who maintain it was sick and posed a threat to the public.
"I feel like I'm at a funeral right now," said Paula Molino, whose condominium once overlooked the towering oak that stood in the rear parking lot of Encino Town Center mall.
"All the Indians buried under this ground are just turning in their graves," Molino said, wiping tears from her eyes. "It was a big, beautiful, healthy tree."
The city Board of Public Works approved the removal of the oak last week after several tree experts said it was "in poor and declining health," and the city attorney said the city could be held liable for damages if it fell.
"It was a particularly painful decision because it was a beautiful tree and it will take a long time to replace it," Commissioner J. P. Ellman said Tuesday. "I was really hoping there was something we could do to save it."
In the end, Ellman said, the public safety and liability issues proved insurmountable.
The oak was one of four trees the Department of Public Works approved for removal at the request of the company that manages the mall property. The other three have been cut down.
Although removal of the tree cut down Tuesday had been approved since October, the property management company voluntarily waited to remove it while neighboring residents hired an arborist who contradicted the findings of city inspectors and city officials considered what steps could be taken to save the tree.
"This is the last thing we wanted to see happen," said Frank Nazarian of Encino Property Management. "But we had no other choice."
Joe Goldwine, who also lives in a condominium overlooking the tree and led neighbors in their fight to keep it from being cut down, said he is still convinced that the city allowed a healthy tree to be removed. "They kept saying, 'Oh, it'll die some day," Goldwine said as he watched another limb fall. "Well, so will I . . . we all will!"
Kelvin Schlorf, who owns the company that cut down the tree, said he too was sad to see the oak go.
"This is basically because of a sue-happy society," Schlorf said. "Sooner or later a branch would fall and hurt somebody and they'd sue--that's what we're all afraid of."