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VENTURA COUNTY ROUNDUP | Ojai

Tree Protests Will Cost City Thousands

March 21, 2000|GAIL DAVIS

Last week's protests over the removal of two old oaks in Libbey Park could cost the city $8,000 to $12,000 in overtime pay and other services for sheriff's deputies.

Four people were arrested during the two-day demonstration, including John Christianson, a 51-year-old local activist who spent 15 hours roped 30 feet above the ground in one of the trees.

Christianson surrendered to police and was released on $5,000 bail. His arraignment is scheduled for April 14.

Dozens of protesters demonstrated against the City Council's decision to cut down the trees, which arborists had determined were dying and in danger of falling. The council decision was based on a recommendation by the city's insurance company because of the liability that the trees posed.

Total cost of police coverage for the protests was about $14,000, said City Manager Andy Belknap, but that includes regular police shifts and services paid by the county's crime-suppression service.

"It's a lot, but I think that it was appropriate. And I think that it was necessary," Belknap said.

On average, the city pays $110,000 monthly to the Ventura County Sheriff's Department for police services. A typical invoice includes about $10,000 for overtime.

Last week's protests will probably double the overtime portion of this month's bill, Belknap said.

Mayor Suza Francina was surprised by the $12,000 price tag. She said she did not think the situation required so many extra deputies. At times there were more than a dozen on hand.

"It's a waste of money," she said. "I hope we can have some dialogue about this so we can avoid it in the future."

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