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Dispute Flares Over Spot of Shade

Times Staff Writer

An aging cedar tree has the starring role in an unusual dispute between a movie producer and a television director over beautification of a Sherman Oaks neighborhood.

Producer Ronald Schwary will ask Los Angeles city officials today to let him chop down a 60-foot tree that he claims is casting a troublesome shadow over his home at Valley Vista Boulevard and Stansbury Avenue.

But director Alan Connell will lead neighbors to City Hall to demand that officials preserve the 50-year-old tree to protect the shady serenity of their community.

Schwary--whose films include “The Electric Horseman,” “Ordinary People,” “Absence of Malice” and “A Soldier’s Story"--feels that the tree has outgrown its space in a city-owned parkway in front of his house.

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“It’s so large that there’s no sunlight beneath it. Nothing will grow underneath it,” he said. “I want to plant flowers. . . . I want to beautify the area, not grow ivy like everybody else.”

Connell--whose credits as an assistant director include “Simon and Simon,” “Misfits of Science” and “Year in the Life"--feels that the tree adds to the beauty of the quiet residential area south of Ventura Boulevard.

“You can see the picturesque look of our neighborhood,” Connell said. “We have one of the most beautiful streets in Sherman Oaks and the Valley. People who live here have a responsibility to this area.”

According to Connell, he rallied his neighbors to save the giant cedar when city workers were observed inspecting it after Schwary filed his tree-removal application three months ago.

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Homeowners will present an opposition petition at 10 a.m. today to city public works officials. They have appealed for support from Sherman Oaks area City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky and from the environmental group TreePeople, he said.

For his part, Schwary plans to tell public works officials how he would re-landscape the area beneath the tree and plant jacaranda trees like those that line other parts of Stansbury.

He said he also will explain how falling branches from the cedar tree could damage the new slate roof he is putting on his $1-million house as part of a $400,000 remodeling project.

“I could have taken my chances and chopped this tree down without a permit and maybe paid a fine afterwards,” Schwary said. “But I’m not that kind of guy.”

Connell and other neighbors said they aren’t taking any chances.

“We’re standing guard over that tree,” said Shirley Hart. “If he starts cutting it down, we’ll call the police.”


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