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Tree Demonstration Extends to Headquarters of Home Builder

Passions run strong, even in people who've never seen the oak. The developer plans to move it so a road can be widened.

November 30, 2002|Errin Haines | Times Staff Writer

Among the latest protesters arguing against transplanting the 400-year-old oak called Old Glory: Whisper the dog of Seal Beach.

The fluffy white canine wore a sign around his neck reading, "Save My Tree," despite the fact that neither he nor his owner, Cynthia Stephenson, has seen the Santa Clarita Valley oak in person.

The pair were among a small group of protesters, some of whom also said they'd never visited the tree, gathered Friday at the Newport Beach headquarters of the builder planning to move the oak.

John Laing Homes, the developer of a subdivision near the tree, is required by its building permit to widen Pico Canyon Road, which runs beside the oak.

To stop the company from disturbing the tree, Pacific Palisades resident John Quigley, recruited by Santa Clarita Valley environmentalists, climbed into it Nov. 1. He has been there most of November, save a brief break in the middle of the month.

Amid the media attention, county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, in whose district the tree stands, abandoned his position that the tree be cut down and ordered its relocation, at the developer's expense.

The oak has become symbolic of the state's beauty and humanized the ongoing conflict between preserving the natural environment and urban sprawl.

Many have rallied around Quigley, sending money and food, visiting him and the tree. Others have followed his story through media reports.

Stephenson, a self-described environmentalist who said she had never before joined a protest, views Old Glory as a symbol of the state's history.

"This tree has been here longer than all of us have," she said. "To kill it is to kill the spirit of California."

Friday's protest didn't attract the crowd that has gathered around the oak in the last month, but the demonstrators said their mission was no less important.

"The tree is where the bulldozers go, but this is where the decisions are made," said Doug Korthof, one of the organizers. "These are the guys that can make the decision. This is where the attention needs to be focused."

The day's event turned out to be a dry run, since Laing Homes was closed for the holiday weekend. The protesters plan to return Monday.

The developer announced last week that it would move the tree to a nearby park at a cost of more than $250,000 -- money, said protester Lisa Rosen, that could be better spent keeping the oak in place.

"They're talking about spending thousands of dollars just to get it out of the way. The same resources should be spent to save it," said Rosen.

Arborists disagree over the survival chances of oak trees that are moved, but some have said Old Glory probably would not survive more than five years after being relocated.

"Once it's gone, it's gone, and it's been here longer than white people have been in California," said Jim Stewart, a Culver City resident and member of the environmental group Earth Day Los Angeles. "It's part of our heritage."

Korthof said the group hopes to get a response from the developer when the office reopens for business.

"If they should dare to move the tree on Monday, there will be a price to pay," he said.

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