City officials have asked construction crews planning to cut down a stand of rare and mature trees on Tarzana property once owned by the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate to temporarily put down their chain saws.
The Tarzana Property Owners Assn. pressed for the work delay in an attempt to save about 290 trees from removal for a new development on Tarzana Drive, south of Ventura Boulevard.
Although not legally obligated to safeguard any of the trees except the oaks, the developer, Manhattan Holding Co. of Long Beach, agreed to halt work until city planners review the issue.
"Our office, as well as the city Planning Department, is doing tremendous research into this case, and the applicant is being extremely cooperative," said Lisa Levy, a spokeswoman for Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.
Neighbors called the council office Monday to request the project review. They said they were outraged to learn that the developer intended to uproot trees to make room for 30 single-family homes on the 18-acre site.
"This is scandalous," said Helen Itria Norman, president of the homeowners group. "This is mowing down history and eliminating that character of Tarzana."
News that chain saws would soon be ripping through trees planted from 1910 to 1912 by Los Angeles Times founder Harrison Gray Otis quickly spread among homeowners.
Association members met Monday night and agreed to fax and phone Miscikowski's office asking her to intervene. By Tuesday morning, the councilwoman had won the trees a 24-hour reprieve.
On Wednesday morning Norman, along with association members Susanne Belcher and Joe Quercia, walked through a heavily wooded lot adjacent to the development site and lamented the possible removal of aged coast redwoods, coast live oaks, beef wood, sequoia sempervivum and other rare trees.
"Can you imagine replacing a 100-year-old oak tree with a 10-foot sapling?" Norman asked. Another resident said developing the open space would upset the area's ecological balance.
"That whole area is a nesting place for a lot of birds, some of which are predators that keep the rodent population in check," Michael Belcher said.
Residents say they were caught off guard by the developer's plans to begin clearing the area this week because their last contact with Manhattan Holding executives was in January 1997.
Although company President Robert Davis acknowledged that his last communication with homeowners was more than two years ago, he said it wasn't because he was trying to keep anything from them.
"They haven't heard from us because it has taken us two years to go through the mapping process," Davis said. "We notified the councilman's office and the planning agency that we were ready to go forward with the plan. There was nothing on our part that was hidden in any way."
The company has agreed to plant 65 new trees.