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Crack in Sidewalk Topples Trees in Woodland Hills

Times Staff Writer

To Caltrans, it was just one of those things.

One root from one tree was lifting one concrete sidewalk panel next to Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Woodland Hills.

So the state Department of Transportation solved the problem Tuesday by ordering 24 stately shade trees to be chopped down.

Officials said the row of 15-year-old ash trees has to be removed to prevent further sidewalk damage between Burbank Boulevard and Warner Center Park.

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The chopping outraged nearby homeowners and passers-by.

For years, they had looked upon the trees as a graceful and green entryway to the urban Warner Center commercial area.

For families living in a 106-unit condominium complex next to the sidewalk, the trees helped hide traffic congestion and soften the 24-hour roar of cars and trucks on Topanga Canyon Boulevard and the nearby Ventura Freeway.

Utility, Beauty Cited

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“It’s terrible. I can’t believe what they’re doing,” said Ruth Silverstein, whose townhouse is a few steps from the sidewalk. “The trees helped keep this place cool and muffled the noise. Besides, they were beautiful.”

Residents said they had thought that the trees were just being pruned when Caltrans crews began lopping off the top branches.

Then workers started chopping.

“The trees were raising the sidewalk and breaking the curb,” said Bob Street, supervisor of the Caltrans chopping crew. “They were too big for boulevard trees. Since this is a state highway, these are our trees.”

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Street acknowledged that only one section of sidewalk had actually been lifted by a tree root.

That was enough for the state to take action, said Bob Ramey, Caltrans’ deputy district director for construction and maintenance.

“The regional manager said . . . they have to come out,” Ramey said. “The regional manager assures me that the other trees were beginning to lift the sidewalk. He assures me that only trees that are threatening the sidewalk stability are being removed.”

‘Question of Time’

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Told that only one root was visibly lifting the sidewalk, Ramey said “it’s just a question of time” until others also started loosening the concrete. “Why wait for the sidewalk to be damaged and have to be repaired?”

Ramey said the agency does not have the staff required to trim individual roots each time one begins pressing up into the sidewalk. “It’s not cost-effective,” he said. “We simply don’t have the resources to indulge in that.”

Los Angeles city officials were surprised by the tree removal.

They said that the trees had been planted by a developer to satisfy city street beautification requirements.

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Caltrans officials said they do not plan to replace the trees because Topanga Canyon Boulevard is known to them as State Highway 27.

But city Street Tree Division officials said they may have the last word about that. Despite Caltrans’ ownership of the sidewalk, the city could plant new trees through its street tree program.

“It’s quite possible we’ll get involved and replant and submit to Caltrans a reimbursement request,” said Bruce Howell, a senior street tree maintenance supervisor for the city.

“Our goals are different from Caltrans’. We like to see trees along roads.”

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