Ojai Oak Felled Amid Protests

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Protesters in downtown Ojai watched in dismay Wednesday as the towering oak they fought to save was cut limb from limb and fed into the grinding maw of a wood chipper.

"Stop killing Ojai!" they screamed as a dozen Ventura County sheriff's deputies on the streets and rooftops kept them from approaching the 50-foot tree. One protester was arrested.

The move came a day after an emotional Ojai City Council session ended with a 4-1 vote to allow removal of the valley oak in the courtyard of a small downtown plaza. Mayor David Bury cast the dissenting vote during a meeting that attracted 125 people.

One of the property owners, Polly Bee, said the tree had become a hazard and was pressing onto the building's foundation and one of its walls. Her efforts to remove it were met by protests from Ojai's vocal tree champions, who said other remedies had not been tried.

About 40 demonstrators, some of whom camped out all night, greeted the cutters.

The tree, which was 100 to 125 years old, fell in big chunks to the street. Each falling branch elicited a flurry of chants and insults from the protesters.

"Are you proud of yourself?" they shouted at the tree trimmer. "Do you feel like a man now? Shame on you!"

John Christianson, who last year tied himself to a 150-year-old oak in the city's Libbey Park in a futile attempt to save it, stood across the street in tears.

"My heart is breaking," said Christianson, who founded the Ojai Oak Alliance. "This is a terrible defeat. I am determined to stop anything like this from happening again in Ojai."

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