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Planned Removal of Carob Trees Arouses a Neighborhood Protest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At first the city’s goal was to repair one of Los Angeles’ more scenic streets. As work began, however, it became apparent that the repairs would probably destroy one of the elements that make the street so appealing.

Seventy-year-old carob trees line the median strip on Descanso Drive in Silver Lake, forming a canopy over the sloping street where its plunge to Sunset Boulevard offers a picturesque view of the Los Angeles Basin. Unfortunately, the street repair would require cutting away the carob roots that caused the damage, killing most of the trees.

Residents understand the city’s need to resurface their cracked and bumpy street. But the news that the project may result in the removal of as many as 25 of the 31 trees incited a protest.

As a result, a compromise will be considered Friday by the Los Angeles Board of Public Works pledging that for each carob tree removed, a live oak will be planted.

Many residents accept the city’s revised plan.

Others don’t.

“I want to stop this . . . because it’s wrong,” said Mark Brown, a Descanso Drive resident who helped organize a neighborhood protest. “The city admitted it never took into account the impact this project would have on the trees.”

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Indeed, Dennis Nishikawa, acting president of the Board of Public Works, said the first resurfacing contract was intended only to repair the street. “The original project did not include the removal of trees,” Nishikawa said. “We received a call from the contractor when he got to the site saying that a proper resurfacing required digging up roots, which would undermine the stability of the trees.”

As a result, Nishikawa said the board decided to reassess the street-repair contract, originally awarded in September, because of the city’s potential liability for any accident blamed on the bumpy road.

Bob Kennedy, supervisor of the Street Maintenance Bureau’s tree division, advised Nishikawa that proper resurfacing of the street required that curbing along the median be replaced. Removing the curbs will irreparably damage the tree roots, he said.

One resident, however, thinks that both the carob trees and the bumps they’ve created should stay.

“I know the roadbed is deteriorating and there could be liability,” Jane Alsobrook said. “But a lot of us like the bumps because they keep the speeds down. The trees are one of the reasons I bought my house in the first place.”

Resident Gerard Maguire believes that an alternative solution may be possible. “The curbing could be fixed without being ripped up,” Maguire said. “I’m sure the city could find an engineering solution to this problem . . . there must be some creative way to handle it.”

During a meeting with Nishikawa, some residents said they understood the city’s position and, consequently, wanted a guarantee that replacement trees would be planted for each of those removed.

Others, such as Brown, said any removal of the carob trees is unacceptable.

“It’s just shameful,” Brown said. “I feel sorry for this drive. This wouldn’t happen in a European city where the character of a place is taken into consideration.”

The live oaks that would replace the carobs are boxed trees large enough to provide shade along the street. They are indigenous to the area and a protected species in California.

Nishikawa said funds are now available to provide all the trees necessary to complete the project.

City Councilman Michael Woo, whose district includes Descanso Drive, said he believes that the current plan is satisfactory. “With this proposal, we’ll be able to maintain the safety of the street and keep the same number of trees there as well.”

Although the exact number of trees to be removed is still uncertain, Nishikawa said the city will try to save as many as possible.

“The plan is to make the street safer and then balance the environmental aspect with the needs of the community and the commitment to reforesting the city. I feel they are going to receive the fairest shake possible.”


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