Developers of a shopping complex chopped down 105 oak trees this week, angering local environmental groups who have been fighting the plans for the shopping center.
“I feel like I lost my friends,” said Lynne Plambeck, vice president of the Santa Clarita Valley Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE), after seeing the downed trees scattered about the hillside on the west side of the Golden State Freeway, south of McBean Parkway.
The Newhall Land & Farming Co., which owns the land and is co-developer of the Valencia Marketplace, started chopping down the oaks on Wednesday and continued through the next day.
“We have all the appropriate permits,” said Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land. “This is the natural progression for beginning the site preparation.”
Within the month, Lauffer said, the hills where the shopping center will be located will be graded.
SCOPE filed a lawsuit to block the project, arguing that the shopping center would destroy a valuable wildlife corridor. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled against SCOPE and said Los Angeles County could grant Newhall Land the conditional use and oak tree permits needed to develop the site. SCOPE is appealing the decision.
“Well, it’s true they have an appeal, but the Marketplace was fully approved by L.A. County,” Lauffer said. “We are entirely within our jurisdiction.”
But Plambeck says that the razing of the trees was a tactic by the developers to try to get the environmental groups off their back.
“What they did was cut every tree down as fast as they could so that no one could tie themselves to the tree,” Plambeck said. She said she learned Thursday night that the trees had been cut, when a friend left a message on her answering machine with the news.
“These are things that have been on the earth for 400 years and should be respected,” Plambeck said. “I felt it was disrespectful to the earth and nature.”
In accordance with the oak tree permit, Newhall Land will plant twice the number of oak trees it removed once the Marketplace is built.
The Valencia Marketplace will include discount stores such as Circuit City, Toys ‘R’ Us and Wal-Mart. The site is just west of Santa Clarita, which has a much more stringent oak protection ordinance than does the county--it was the first ordinance passed by the City Council after Santa Clarita incorporated in 1987.