Litter, Graffiti Mar Beauty of Landmark Oak

Times are not good for Ventura County Landmark No. 134--a massive coastal oak that is the city's largest and almost certainly its oldest.

With the Tapo Canyon Business Center being built around it, trash and debris litter the tree's massive base, according to nearby Simi Valley residents. Its trunk has been sprayed with graffiti.

"There's no respect for it," said Rick Johnson, who frequently walks in the area with his wife. "It's just something that doesn't speak well for our environment."

Arborists cannot determine the exact age of the tree because the trunk has a large cavity, making it impossible to "cord." Some experts have estimated the tree's age as high as 600 years, according to Pat Havens, director of the Strathearn Historical Museum.

Set in a circular planter, the trunk is 9 feet in diameter and has a canopy of twisting, snaking branches more than 100 feet across. The remnants of long-forgotten treehouses still hang nailed to its limbs.

Johnson said the long-standing trash problem has become worse since the construction started. He said construction workers toss their lunch trash at the base of the tree.

But most of the trash--including ranges and sofas--comes from residents, said Bob Larson, a general contractor with Oltmans Construction Co.

"It's been a bit of a maintenance nightmare with all the debris brought in from outside," Larson complained.

He said the builders have removed the debris a number of times and will do so again when work wraps up in about a month.

Their work has not hurt the tree, he added.

"The tree is not in the construction area," Larson said.

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