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Crews Begin Removal of 39 Diseased Trees

Woodland Hills: Experts say the historic pepper trees pose a threat because they could fall, but residents want Los Angeles officials to find a way to save them.


Los Angeles city crews on Tuesday began cutting down 39 diseased California pepper trees that historians say are part of an original grove that gave Woodland Hills its name.

The trees--sealed off with yellow warning tape and barricades along a stretch of Canoga Avenue from Ventura Boulevard to Arcos Drive--are close to death and will be removed, said Robert Wallace, an arborist hired by the city to inspect them.

Some residents argued at a public meeting Monday that the 300 trees on Canoga Avenue hold historic value and the city should find a way to save them.

Gordon Murley, president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, said that when he moved into his home in 1966, pepper trees stretched overhead from each side of Canoga Avenue.

"The pepper trees used to go down to Victory Boulevard. It was beautiful," Murley said. "It was almost a canopy."

A 1982 account in "The History of Woodland Hills and Girard," by Richard Cacioppo, details how the original 1920s community of Girard came to be renamed Woodland Hills because of trees planted by developer Victor Girard.

Through his Boulevard Land Co., Girard marketed the arid 2,886-acre West Valley ranchland area south of Ventura Boulevard as a weekend retreat for Los Angeles residents. He realized the land needed trees to give it a country look for potential buyers, Cacioppo said.

Under Girard's plan, pepper trees were planted along Canoga Avenue, between Victory Boulevard on the north and Mulholland Drive on the south. When Warner Center was developed in the 1970s, the pepper trees between Victory and Ventura boulevards were chopped down to widen the two-lane street.

About 25 residents attended the meeting called by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski to inform the public of the urgency in removing 39 of the 167 trees Wallace inspected. The remaining trees will be pruned and monitored for decay and possible removal, said George Gonzalez, chief forester for the city Bureau of Street Services.

"As a consulting arborist, I'm putting my name on the line saying these 39 trees should be removed based on my life experiences," Wallace said Monday. "A few days ago, one of the trees suggested for removal fell. Thank God the homeowner wasn't driving up when that tree fell."

The incident occurred Jan. 12 in the 5000 block of Canoga, Gonzalez said.

No matter how beautiful they are or once were, dying California pepper trees pose a threat for which city officials do not wish to be held liable, officials said.

One resident said she was shocked when city workers began placing barricades around the trees last week.

"When they came in, it felt like a raid," said Etta Hulett, who has lived in her Canoga Avenue home for 48 years. "They put up the barriers. The next thing I know, flashing lights are going around. I went out there and they were trimming the trees."

Gonzalez said the process of removing the trees and grinding the stumps should take about two weeks and new trees will be planted in their place, he said.

California pepper trees will be replanted where possible, he said. In places where the soil is so diseased a pepper tree will not be able to survive, a similar species will be planted, he said.

Although trees across the city are aging, Wallace said he does not foresee a similar fate for them.

"All trees are going to die one day," he said. "It's just, you try to keep them around as long as possible. The California peppers are one that's most susceptible to decay. That's why they were so urgent about that particular street."

Four mature pepper trees in Northridge were earmarked for removal last month to make way for a development, but the issue was put on hold while the developer and tree advocates tried to work out a compromise.

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