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Outcry as City Moves to Cut Down South Lake Avenue Trees

Published on Monday, October 24, 2016 | 5:01 am
Volunteers at vigils for three South Lake Avenue trees slated to be cut down before October 30, 2016 have reportedly collected over 794 signatures opposing the trees' removal. Above: School girls from nearby Polytechnic School are pictured giving one of the condemned trees a group hug on Friday, October 21, 2016. Image: Lori Paul

After a nearly three-year long court battle with a property owner, Pasadena officials are now moving forward with the imminent removal of three mature ficus trees located along South Lake Avenue.

The City agreed to cut down and remove the three large trees between Oct. 22 and Oct. 30 and the property owner agreed to pay the costs in the lawsuit’s court-mandated settlement agreement.

In 2013, Rodeo Holdings, LLC of Beverly Hills, the property owners of 497-511 S. Lake Ave, contacted the city about removing the trees or granting a permit for the owners to remove the trees at the city’s expense.

The property owners claimed the trees were too large, overgrown, untrimmed and not adequately maintained by the city and that tree debris clogged roof drains and accumulated on the sidewalk. The large canopies also blocked the view of the building which affected the “rentability” of the property, the owners alleged.

Rodeo also claimed the trees’ root systems were a trip hazard for sidewalk pedestrians.

After a review of the situation by the Urban Forest Advisory Committee, the city denied the owner’s request. In response, Rodeo filed a lawsuit against Pasadena.

City Public Information Officer William Boyer said the city fought the lawsuit for three years to “protect the trees.”

“We filed a motion for summary judgement to have the whole thing dismissed which would have preserved the trees in January, 2015,” City Public Information Officer William Boyer said.

In February, 2015, the judge ordered the two sides to participate in a court ordered mandatory settlement conference.

“We were in settlement negotiation talks for a year and a half and didn’t actually settle on terms until August 31, 2016,” Boyer said.

After the property owners provided engineering and arborist reports that indicated existing and expected damage, the City agreed to the removal, Boyer said.

Local resident Lori Paul reacted to the City’s settlement by saying “The public needs to know why such a valuable asset as these trees have been condemned behind closed doors in secret meetings.”

Paul said people should demand that the city provide copies of the arborist and engineering reports that indicate the trees are seriously damaging the adjacent building to such an extent that the only solution is to cut them down.

Boyer said the decision was not taken lightly by city officials, citing the City’s position that decision was in the best interests of the public to settle the case, protect public safety and reduce liability.

Dr. Barry F. Madore (PhD) has a different opinion, and asked if the city discounted the possibility of serving both the owner of the building and the trees themselves by finding a different solution.

“Seven days a week I walk two miles up Lake Street to my office and laboratory at Carnegie,” Madore said. “Every day I walk past those glorious, heritage Indian Laurel Fig trees and marvel at their beauty.”

Boyer said trees are very important to the city, noting that Pasadena has a nationally recognized Urban Forest of more than 63,000 trees.

“City-wide, they provide an environmentally positive green canopy that enhances the quality of life and provides important habitat for birds and other mammals,” Boyer said.

Pasadena has been recognized as a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Paul, however, continues to question the reports provided by the property owners that influenced the city’s decision.

“Obviously, consultants hired by the building owners would issue reports that support the removal of the three trees,” she said. “What did Pasadena do to dispute such findings?”

Both Paul and Madore insist that there should be a delay, or injunction, to prevent removal of the trees pending an independent audit with the results made public.

“A thorough audit will very likely show the reports to be, at best, biased in favor of the landowner who paid for them, and at worst, outright fraud, e.g., by containing non-factual information,” Paul said.

Boyer said that the city understands and respects the citizens that are upset about the decision and share in their concerns.

“We’re upset about it too,” he said. We didn’t want to do it. That’s why we fought it in court.”

The cost of removal will be paid by the building owners. It includes tree removal, stump grinding, sidewalk repair and replanting of new trees.

Three new “Chinese Pistache” trees, consistent with the City’s street tree plan, will be planted at the site, Boyer said.

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