Woodsmen Spared These Trees : Woman Who Chained Herself to Eucalyptuses Wins Reprieve From Newport

Times Staff Writer

When Nann Von Oppenheim of Newport Beach talked about being attached to her two eucalyptus trees, she meant it literally.

Just before Christmas last year, Von Oppenheim chained herself and six friends to the trees beside her home to protest the city's plan to cut them down them to make way for parking spaces and street improvements near Lindo and Edgewater avenues.

After spending several thousand dollars for attorney fees and a tree specialist, Von Oppenheim's efforts have finally paid off. The trees stay.

City workers Monday began constructing a new sidewalk, which will swing four to five feet into Lindo Avenue to avoid hitting tree roots, said Don Webb, engineer for the city Public Works Department.

In battling the city, Von Oppenheim, 59, an interior designer, collected 456 signatures on a petition to save the trees and hired an attorney to make her case in Orange County Superior Court.

After eight months of negotiations, the agreement was reached when city officials offered to work around the trees if Von Oppenheim dropped her lawsuit. In December, Von Oppenheim won an injunction against the city, just as city workers were beginning to build the sidewalk.

"It's a matter of principle. I think it's an important thing to keep the ambiance of the area," said Von Oppenheim, a 21-year resident of Balboa Peninsula. "It's an important thing, especially for the children, to see trees and grass and not just concrete."

She said the 80-year-old trees, which shade her second-story deck overlooking Newport Bay, have been valued at $26,000 to $30,000 each by arborist Alden Kelly, a tree specialist she hired.

The dispute began in August, 1987, when the city replaced a sidewalk at the end of Lindo Avenue that had been shifted and cracked by the trees' roots.

In the process, the city made the avenue narrower, eliminating two of the four parking spaces, Webb said.

The loss of parking spaces prompted complaints from some Lindo residents. To appease them, the city made plans to cut down the trees, straighten the road and bring the number of parking spaces back up to four.

However, that plan thrust the city into the dispute with Von Oppenheim.

In Von Oppenheim's agreement with the city, she signed a waiver freeing the city from liability if the trees should fall on the house, which was built in 1905, about the time when the trees were planted.

Von Oppenheim said she would have had to take an "emergency" vacation if she had not been successful in preserving the trees.

"I tried to prepare myself if I came there one day and those trees were gone," she said. "I know it sounds crazy, but I went through emergency preparations.

"I thought I'd have to take off for the mountains for a while."

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