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Tree-Sitter to End His Lofty Protest

December 25, 2002|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

Tree-sitter John Quigley, whose crusade to save an old oak near Santa Clarita has made him an environmental celebrity, said Tuesday that he will leave his perch in January to return to his teaching job but vowed that "others are waiting to take my place."

Quigley, 42, of Pacific Palisades has been sitting in the branches of the towering oak along Pico Canyon Road since Nov. 1, with only an occasional break.

The veteran tree activist was recruited by Santa Clarita environmentalists to try to protect the oak from a road-widening project.

But Quigley, who has battled rainstorms, winds and freezing temperatures during his two-month campaign, said he plans to descend from his perch soon to return to his teaching job with the Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education.

He did not give an exact date when he would step down.

Quigley said he had hoped that a tree preservation plan would be worked out by Christmas, but that local environmentalists remain committed to the cause.

He said they already have plans to replace him when he leaves, and the campaign will go on.

"Part of their strategy was to try to wait me out, but they can't do that if we have a crew of people" willing to sit in the tree, Quigley said.

"We're preparing to go for the long haul. I've had calls from all over the U.S. from people wanting to be in the tree."

Lynn Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, said she is not worried about Quigley's departure. "If John needs to leave, there are a whole bunch of people who want to go up and sit in that tree."

In a campaign that has drawn national attention, Quigley and his supporters have managed to rally Santa Clarita suburbanites and even actress Rene Russo to their cause.

Last week, they presented Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes the northwest region, with 4,000 signatures of people who would like to see the tree remain where it is.

But activists have been less successful in coming up with an acceptable solution to the tree dilemma.

John Laing Homes, the developer of a nearby subdivision, is required to move the old oak as a condition of its building permit.

Antonovich's office has maintained that moving the tree and replanting it at a nearby park remains the best solution. The move would cost more than $250,000.

But Quigley and his supporters believe moving the tree will kill it.

What's more, the company that initially agreed to do the job backed away last week, citing the "circus atmosphere and bad publicity" that had sprung up around the plan.

A Valencia-based engineer, sympathetic to the activists, recently stepped forward with a proposal to split the widened Pico Canyon Road, so that it would swing around the tree, leaving a narrow pocket in the middle for the oak.

But that plan also has been nixed. Tony Bell, a spokesman for Antonovich, said Friday that county public works engineers have rejected the proposals as unsafe.

He said the county engineers concluded that a curved roadway did not meet county standards for speed and visibility.

Quigley disagreed with the finding, saying that the activists' engineer had used the county's own statistics and surveyor measurements.

"We're sorry to learn of this lump of coal being given to the people of Los Angeles," Quigley said. "They seem to be saying, 'Let's just bulldoze our way through any opposition.' "


Times staff writer Stephanie Stassel contributed to this report.

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