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Neighbors Are Divided Over Whether to Penalize Builder Who Felled Tree

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The loss of an oak tree has divided residents of a Woodland Hills neighborhood who clashed Friday before a city zoning officer over whether the landowner who cut down the tree should lose his permit to build on the hillside property.

A handful of residents and a deputy to City Councilman Marvin Braude called for the revocation of the permit for the project on Marcos Road. They argued that Andrew Railla deliberately cut down the 25-foot tree Oct. 7, despite a City Council order to leave it alone.

“There should be a penalty for what’s going on here,” resident Charles Kray said. “The owner, with malice, has gone ahead and done what he was told not to do . . . the end result being that we lost a tree.”

Railla said he believed he had a right to cut down the tree. He and his supporters blamed confusing directives from city officials over a two-year period for the error. They said the protesters are just trying to prevent him from building his house.

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“I don’t see where I have done anything wrong,” said Railla, who offered to plant two trees to replace the one he cut down. “I think it’s just a plot for me not to build there.”

Railla was supported by some residents of the neighborhood, who said that those who want to punish him were wrongfully trying to deprive him of his right to build on his own land.

“I am dismayed,” said Sheldon Brown. “The whole thing is frightening. Things like this happen in other countries. He is being penalized more than people who kill people.”

After two hours of wrangling, Associate Zoning Administrator Daniel Green said he will decide in two to four weeks whether to impose a penalty on Railla.

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The city issued an order suspending work on the project after the tree was cut down. Revocation of the permit would force Railla to begin the development approval process again, setting back the project 18 months or more. Green could also order development of the lot halted for an even longer period.

Railla’s plans call for the construction of a 4,300-square-foot, four bedroom house that he said he intends to live in.

Earlier this year, some of Railla’s neighbors went to Braude, who helped secure City Council protection of four oak trees--including the one later cut down--on Railla’s sloping lot. The council’s order required Railla to reduce the size of the project, including eliminating two spaces from a parking area that would threaten the tree that was later cut down.

The council’s action took precedence over an earlier approval by a city zoning official allowing Railla to remove the oak tree, said Cindy Miscikowski, Braude’s chief deputy. She said it was Railla’s responsibility to know this and noted that an arborist hired by Railla had marked the tree so it would not be cut down.

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“The tree that was cut was clearly identified and referenced as a tree to be saved,” Miscikowski said, in asking Green to revoke Railla’s building permit. “Despite all of that, the first thing he did was cut down an oak tree.”

Railla asserted at the time that he mistakenly thought the tree was an underground offshoot of a larger tree nearby that he was allowed to trim. Miscikowski called that excuse an “afterthought” designed to explain why he “cavalierly” cut down the tree.

“We think this was deliberate,” she said. “It is a blatant violation.”

Railla said he believed the residents opposing him were using the oak tree as a means of stopping the development of the lot.

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“I appear before you as a victim of a conspiracy to deprive me of my moral and legal right,” Railla told Green. “If my permit is revoked, a large financial loss will befall me.”


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