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Arcadia divided over removal of oak, sycamore grove

Three tree-sitters are freed as activists say a homeowners association in Arcadia failed to support the fight against clearing the area to make way for sediment dredged from a dam.

January 14, 2011|By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
  • A bulldozer removes a tree to make way for sediment dredged out of a nearby reservoir.
A bulldozer removes a tree to make way for sediment dredged out of a nearby… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Several weeks of debate over the fate of a grove of oaks and sycamores in the Arcadia highlands have left a community at odds, even after nearly 200 trees were bulldozed by Los Angeles County work crews.

At least 179 coastal oaks and about 70 sycamores were uprooted and ground into wood chips on an 11-acre site just below Santa Anita Dam to make way for 500,000 cubic yards of sediment to be dredged from behind the structure.

Three of four tree-sitters arrested after a 12-hour standoff Wednesday with Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were released on their own recognizance Thursday after being charged with misdemeanor counts of trespassing and obstructing a police officer. It was not known why the fourth activist was not released with the others.

Among them was Julia Posin, 23, an anthropology student at UCLA. "It was my first tree-sitting, and I could never have prepared myself for what I experienced," she said. "They were pulling branches off trees with chainsaws and bulldozing the trunks. Startled birds did not know where to go in the chaos."

"I started to cry in the tree," she added. "A forest that had taken a century to create was demolished in a matter of hours."

The confrontation in the otherwise quiet neighborhood of tidy, upscale homes ended a month-long, emotionally charged campaign to spare the trees.

Backed by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, community activists had pleaded with flood control authorities and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich to find an alternative to destroying the grove they cherished as remnant wildlife habitat. They blamed the Arcadia Highland Homeowners Assn., which represents 860 residents in the area, for failing to take a stand against the plan.

"The association did not take a formal position on the trees," said Robert Stover, president of the association, "But the county offered us two options: Have the trees removed and the disposal site used for what it was designed for 60 years ago, or face 100,000 trucks a year in your neighborhood streets creating pollution and safety hazards."

Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for the Public Works Department, said: "The association's position was crucial in our decision to move forward with the plan."

The department had been ordered by state dam safety officials to expedite dredging sediment from the 83-year-old dam, which does not meet seismic safety standards, Lee said.

Some supporters felt abandoned by the association.

"The association was deceived by public works officials who gave them a scary choice," neighborhood activist Camron Stone said. "Understandably, they said, 'No trucks.' Over time, the association's views hardened and they wouldn't even listen to our side of the debate.

"The Department of Public Works did a hell of a job," he added. "Their strategy worked and we lost."

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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