Published : Sunday, November 6, 2016 | 6:49 AM
Despite a last-minute legal filing served on Pasadena Vice Mayor Gene Masuda at his home in the morning and a protest along South Lake Avenue late last night, three healthy ficus trees on the Avenue were cut down Saturday night and early Sunday by a property owner who had sued the City of Pasadena in order to do so.
A small crowd of dismayed demonstrators mingled under the trees last night as tree cutters prepared equipment and trucks with a chipper pulled up in front of the tree trio located from 497 to 511 S. Lake Avenue, between San Pasqual Street on the north and California Boulevard to the south.
The City earlier had agreed to allow the removal of the mature ficus trees as the result of a lawsuit settlement with Rodeo Holdings, LLC, owners of the property, who argued that the trees were damaging the sidewalks and their property.
In closed session last summer, the Pasadena City Council agreed to settle the case and allow the owner to cut down the trees at his expense. Mayor Terry Tornek and Councilmember Tyron Hampton voted against the settlement, but were outnumbered by Vice Mayor Gene Masuda and Councilmembers Margaret McAustin, John Kennedy, Victor Gordo, Steve Madison and Andy Wilson.
The plans to destroy the trees brought an outcry from residents who protested the decision and vowed to prevent their “slaughter.”
Save Pasadena Trees, the grassroots group which sprang up to defend the trees from “execution,” and their lawyer, Mitchell Tsai, said the City went back on its word and violated a moratorium on the trees’ destruction.
“The City … actively deceived the public, and informed the public that they were not going to remove the trees for another 30 days and then subsequently behind closed doors issued this permit,” Tsai said.
Pasadena City spokesman William Boyer said that to the best of his knowledge, “no City staff ever made or gave any such assurances and the statement is false.”
“We have heard that the group and/or its attorney are making this undocumented claim and attributing information to an unidentified City source,” Boyer said. “We know of no City staff who would have had such contact and no staff is authorized to make such assurances.”
The group placed on the trees copies of their 19-page legal filing requesting a court-ordered restraining order to prevent the trees destruction.
“But that doesn’t seem to protect the trees at all,” said a distressed Ann Scheid, of Save Pasadena Trees, as she stood near the trees about 9:30 p.m. Saturday night. “The workmen have come to take down the trees … that we’ve worked so hard to save. We got over 1,100 signatures on a petition to save the trees.”
Earlier in the week, Tsai had sent a letter to the City requesting a “stay” of the tree destruction and that the City hold public hearings.
Wrote Tsai in the letter, “The City has not properly followed the review provisions of the City Trees and Tree Protection Ordinance, of the Pasadena Municipal Code. saying that “The Lake Avenue Trees are “public tree[s]” within the meaning of the Ordinance, which protects “all public trees located at all places within the city.”
“The City has failed to follow the public notice requirements of the Ordinance,” Tsai said in the letter.
A man who would only identify himself as a consultant employed by Rodeo Holdings to hire and oversee the trees’ removal said the trees’ root systems had wrought extensive damage to the buildings, including pipe, drainage and roofing destruction, which would require some time to repair.
The man said the trees’ removal and the repair of the damage they caused will cost the property owner a “staggering” sum.
After the yellow caution tape went up some protesters remained inside the construction zone, which is technically a violation of the business code, but they removed themselves after trees limbs began crashing to the pavement, Pasadena Police Lt. John Mercado said.
Witnesses report that one of the foremen in charge of the tree-cutting operation pushed or shoved a demonstrator who had not moved back far enough from the work site.
Mercado said he was told of the incident, but since the alleged victim left the scene without contacting police he could not conduct an investigation. There are reports that a video was shot which shows the incident.
There were no arrests or injuries.
Pasadena City Councilman Andy Wilson, spokesperson William Boyer and Police Lt. John Mercado were also at the scene at times, as well two men who said they were consultants retained by the property owner to oversee the tree cutting.
“In this situation … the City, the building owner and the building contractors are potentially subject to civil and criminal fines for violating the law,” attorney Tsai said Saturday night, although he did not specify what action the group plans next.