Woodland Hills residents won a five-month fight with state transportation officials Wednesday over a row of trees that form the gateway to Warner Center.
Caltrans administrators said homeowners can plant 25 trees along Topanga Canyon Boulevard to replace 25 chopped down “by mistake” without having to assume liability for the new trees.
The liability issue had prevented residents of a nearby 106-unit condominium complex from planting replacement trees donated by Woodland Hills nurseryman John Boething.
California Department of Transportation officials retreated from their position during a meeting with Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge).
“Caltrans will waive the liability, which was the major stumbling issue,” La Follette said after meeting with Jerry Baxter, Caltrans director for Southern California.
Baxter also agreed to assign a Caltrans crew to dig up the stumps left behind from the old trees, La Follette said.
Caltrans crews chopped down the 15-year-old ash trees May 10 after noticing that their roots were threatening to damage the sidewalk next to the boulevard. The state has jurisdiction because the boulevard also is State Highway 27.
After angry Woodland Hills residents protested, Caltrans officials acknowledged that they had made a mistake by not trying to save the trees before removing them.
The officials at first said residents could replant the trees. Later, however, they demanded that homeowners assume all responsibility for future maintenance of the new trees and the sidewalk.
Residents of the nearby Warner Woods condominium complex balked at that, explaining that they could not enter into contracts that last longer than one year due to state laws governing the operation of condominium associations.
Caltrans’ about-face was hailed Wednesday by Jamie Gonzales-Duke, secretary of the Warner Woods board of directors. He said his organization is prepared to assign its two full-time gardeners to the replanting effort once the final go-ahead is given by officials.
Baxter could not be reached after his meeting with La Follette. But the assemblywoman said Baxter acted at the request of Robert K. Best, the Sacramento-based director of Caltrans.
“I think the new director recognizes the importance of local concerns,” La Follette said. “I have the strong feeling that Caltrans now recognizes the importance of trees to the community.”
La Follette said state officials will meet today with representatives of TreePeople, a Los Angeles environmental group, to discuss replanting techniques and ways to save other nearby trees.