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Oak's Supporters Rally for a Study

Activists at downtown protest call for an environmental analysis of road project that threatens ancient tree.

November 21, 2002|Carol Chambers | Times Staff Writer

Activist John Quigley neared the three-week mark sitting high in the boughs of an ancient oak near Santa Clarita on Wednesday as supporters rallied in downtown Los Angeles to save the tree they call Old Glory.

At a noontime demonstration at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration, actress Rene Russo joined dozens of tree supporters in calling for a full environmental study of a road-widening project that requires removal of the 400-year-old oak.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the unincorporated area of Stevenson Ranch where the tree is situated, this week proposed that the oak be moved to another site. The plan would cost an estimated $250,000, which would be paid by the developer of a nearby subdivision.

But Antonovich's plan has sparked a debate over whether moving such a large old tree with deep roots would kill it. Quigley and his supporters believe the plan is ill-conceived and not the solution to the standoff.

During Wednesday's demonstration, Russo expressed environmentalists' frustration over their bid to save the tree, which has come to symbolize their campaign to preserve more of the natural landscape in an area exploding with development.

"What I would like to know is at what point did we get the [nerve] to be able to cut down a 400-year-old oak tree?" Russo said. "The whole thing is insane."

Rather than felling or moving the tree, activists said they would prefer the tree remain where it is and that a park be constructed around it. They said the adjacent Pico Canyon Road should remain two lanes, instead of being expanded to four.

"This road has incredible impacts," said Lynne Plambeck, president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, a sponsor of Quigley's treetop sit-in. "I'm hopeful we got the point across."

Antonovich did not meet with demonstrators Wednesday.

But Tony Bell, a spokesman for the supervisor, said any plan to keep the tree in place would result in "an unsafe road and a dead oak tree." He said moving the tree would result in a safer road, equestrian trails and bike lanes.

Recent calls to the supervisor's office from local residents support moving the tree, he said.

"Originally, the calls we were getting were from people saying, 'Save the oak.' Now, they've been calling for roads and schools," Bell said. "We're confident we can relocate it and have a thriving oak tree and a road that serves the needs of the community."

Meanwhile, the discovery of several small bones under the tree last week led to speculation that the site may have been a Native American burial ground. The bones were examined and "found to be clearly non-human," said David Campbell, spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office. The bones have since been incinerated, Campbell said.

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