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California and the West

Car Barricade Stalls Tree-Cutting Plan

Protest: Residents fight homeowner association's decision to fell eucalyptuses.

April 28, 1998|BONNIE HAYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DANA POINT — For nearly a week, the cutting didn't stop and the trees kept falling.

So on Monday, about 50 residents--frustrated by a Dana Woods Homeowner's Assn. decision to remove hundreds of trees deemed too old and too dangerous--went out on a limb of their own.

By the time the tree trimmers' trucks arrived again at the pricey single-family-home development early Monday, neighbors had lined their cars along both sides of the street, preventing the crew from parking their equipment and getting to their intended batch of eucalyptus trees.

The crowd toted "Save Our Trees!" signs around the neighborhood park and tied yellow ribbons around the dozens of trunks they hoped to protect. Hours later, they filed a complaint in Orange County Superior Court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt cutting until an emergency meeting between residents and board members can be held.

"We were left with no other option," Norman Heidner said of Monday's protest, which came after about 200 trees had already been felled. "We had to do something and we had to do it fast."

The residents' strategic parking tactic worked. After scratching his head for 20 minutes near the community park, Robert Blood, a foreman for Modern Tree Service, said he had no choice but to leave.

"I've never seen anything like it," Blood said of the residents. "These people mean business."

The dispute began last week, when residents learned that association board members had voted to cut down hundreds of Dana Woods' towering eucalyptus trees. Neighbors said they were never told of the tree removal plan, but officials say the action is essential because at least four properties have been damaged by falling limbs and trees in recent months.

Twice, trees have landed on a roadway, blocking traffic. Having the eucalyptus trees has become such a liability that the association's insurance policy has been threatened, said its vice president, Vince Zoratti.

"I look around here and some of these trees look pretty scary," Zoratti told neighbors Monday. "Now, we maybe should have done a better job at presenting the plan to you, but I don't think anyone here can say every single one of our trees is just fine. They have to go."

But Zoratti, responding to a petition signed by nearly half the neighborhood's 250 homeowners in support of a moratorium on the tree removal, agreed to call off the work until an emergency meeting with residents Wednesday.

Although the gesture seemed to satisfy most of the neighbors, attorney Tom Davis, whose brother lives in Dana Woods, said he moved ahead with the court request anyway. A judge probably will decide on the restraining order request today.

"We just want to have an order in place," Davis said. "No one at this point wants to leave anything to chance."

Meanwhile, some residents plan to keep parking their cars along the street, in case the tree trimmers return.

"All of these trees don't have to be chopped down," said Maimu Belhumeur, who bought her home on Dana Fir when the development opened 12 years ago. "Why not take only the ones that have to go? Why turn this special place into a logging mill? I can't stand to see that happen."

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